Antheil and Berlin, part 5

Antheil’s relationship with Berlin and the German-speaking countries was inconclusive.

After five years in Paris, and an ill-conceived, over-publicized, and under-rehearsed concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, the winter of 1927-28 was a hard time, on account of little income, psychosomatic illnesses, vanishing friends, and lack of inspiration. Nevertheless, he decided to remain in Europe, looking for new stimuli and new forms of expression. The occasion came from Vienna, through the encouraging intervention of Krenek, then at the height of fame and richness thanks to his opera Jonny spielt auf. The Universal Edition accepted Antheil’s new opera (provisionally called Glare), rescuing the composer from the depression which had caught him in Paris. The central European publishing house was riding the German Operatic Renaissance, then in full-steam, thanks to almost eighty state and civic theaters, all of them interested in new operas. Again, helped by his knowledge of German, Antheil readily moved to Vienna and, for some months, to Berlin.

Abandoning his French Neoclassicism, he resuscitated the jazzy influences that had characterized some piano works and his Jazz Symphony, adapting himself, to the idea that the Germans had of America. It is not by chance that his only opera produced in Germany and printed by UE, Transatlantic (its definite title, 1928-30) is once again a summary (if not a supermarket) of the American culture of these Roaring Twenties. It was manufactured by an Antheil willing, more than ever, to capitalize on the ephemeral interest of the Zeitopern towards the modernity of Overseas. The Overture and Tango(1928/30) from the opera (the latter published separately as a piano piece in an arrangement by Alexander Steinbrecher in 1930) show the jazzy atmosphere of the opera, which deals with a presidential election. Both pieces contain the main melodic cells recurrent during the three acts. Of the same period is also Swell Music, a piece composed around 1928, which survives only in a manuscript page in the hand of a copyist. The last pieces in this compilation also deal with Berlin. The Sonatina für Radio wasprobably composed in 1928 and premiered by Antheil at a broadcast on January 4th, 1929, the same day in which his stage music for Jessner’s Oedipus Rex debuted at the Berliner Stadtstheater. For that work, in fact, Antheil was called in to substitute for Kurt Weill, who, overwhelmed by the sudden success of his Dreigröschenoper,had cancelled. Antheil thus went to Berlin again, hoping in the meantime to place Transatlantic at the Staatsoper (but its only performance was given in Frankfort). The sonatina, which was later orchestrated as the fourth movement of his Concertino for Flute, Bassoon and Piano (1930) show the ironic side of Antheil again, in another work inspired by jazz and popular culture (and quoting here and there from his own Transatlantic). A completely different panorama opens up in one of the last compositions conceived in Europe, the Sonatina 1932 for Violin and Cello or Pianoforte, which was dedicated to Aaron Copland. The indication Cold and rather dry here has nothing to do with the machine aesthetic of a decade before. The piece, originally planned as a cello concerto, but then reduced to a duo for violin and cello, or, alternatively, for piano two hands, is rather a diversion into the Neue Sachlichkeit in which Antheil is not at ease. In two, three years he would find his witty voice again, starting work with movies, and later landing at Hollywood, where he lived the rest of his life. By 1933, Antheil found the European situation so much changed, and especially in Germany, that he decided to travel back to the states, never to return to the Berlin of his youth. Not quite surprisingly his name and his music became Entartete Musik by 1937-38.

Published in: on February 23, 2013 at 6:57 am  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin, part 5  
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