Antheil and Berlin: the scores

A note on the scores which Guy Livingston is using for his upcoming CD on Wergo Records

Antheil left a huge amount of manuscript scores, almost equally divided between three libraries: UCLA has his movie and television scores collection, the Library of Congress has his main works in final form, especially from the period 1930-1950, while the New York Public Library holds almost everything Antheil left at the moment of his death (1959). In this disc, one could be surprised to find scores with new titles, or with different music passages from the pieces already known, published, and played. Schirmer acquired in 1993 the rights of Antheil‘s music, and almost all the pieces here can retrieved from their library. Still, what Schirmer has (and not always has engraved) is the catalogue as it was at that time. In the meantime, musicological research and fortuitous discoveries brought out other versions of some of the pieces, and, while many of the origins of the works played here are already explained in my liner notes above, some of them have such a story behind them, that it is worth telling here. The first regards Sonata sauvage, which was printed by the Antheil Press (i.e. Charles Amirkhanian, curator of the Estate of George Antheil since the 70). For a mistake, two complete pages of the (second movement?) were completely skipped. Only a thorough analysis of the manuscript now at the Sacher Foundation in Basel could ascertain that what is played here (Guy recorded the Sonata also in the previous Antheil cd) is the complete work, without missing notes (or pages!). Other compositions reappeared by chance, such as Piece for Merle, which I bought at an auction in New York, or the pianola roll of Serpent mecanique, which the pianist Marc-André Hamelin found at an annual clearance sale of old stuff in a famous Library (the pianola rolls is unique, and bears autograph dedication from Antheil to Jan Slivinsky!). But perhaps the most amazing of all discoveries, (and itself related to Berlin) is that of the Valse Profane With an Introduction of Fireworks(1919/21). This, work, known, distributed and recorded until now with a slightly different title, is the final version of the piece, with full agogics and a more structured second movement, in the clean hand of a copyist. It was given by Antheil to Arthur Rubinstein sometime between October 1921 and March 1922, and taken by Rubinstein to his Paris apartment (without, apparently, a public performance ever). In October 1939, recognizing the threat of the Nazi over France, Rubinstein left with his family for the United States. His property in Avenue Foch, was confiscated by the Nazi the year after, and the whole collection of books and scores (among other things) transferred to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office in Berlin). In 1945, however, the library collection was moved from Berlin to the USSR by the Soviet occupying forces, and there remained in some storage, until 1959 when the materials (but not all of them) were returned to Berlin in partial restitution of German cultural property by the USSR. Years passed, and 71 scores of this library had to wait 2003 before some musicologists analyzed them and associated to Rubinstein’s house and property. Among the many manuscripts, works by contemporary composers such as Tansman, Tailleferre and Villa Lobos, and, of course the early piece by Antheil. The collection was finally donated to the Juilliard Institute; New York, and is hosted in the Peter Jay Sharp Special Collection Library. It can be seen and actually leafed through, online, at:

Published in: on March 28, 2013 at 1:00 am  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin: the scores  

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  

Antheil and Berlin, part 4

Arriving in Berlin, Antheil transformed his earlier Second Sonata, Street Sonata (1919/21) into a piano concerto, and rename two earlier pieces, Snakes and Negroes as new movements (with Ivory) of a Sonata Sauvage (Nr. 1), finished in January 1923. Curiously enough, he had cut into a pianola roll a fragment of the II. movement, known also as Mecanique N.1, or Serpent Mecanique(1921), here recorded in a six-hand version (after a lost original manuscript). Needless to say the player-piano (or pianola) was for Antheil both a source if inspiration for his frenetic rhythms and the ideal medium to realize his musical ideas. Meanwhile, between January and May 1923 he composed up to six of these little sonatas (which he later called his six Sonates sauvages): the Third Piano Sonata Death of Machineswas premiered in Dresden on January 22nd and in its four movements without a break suggests an inner program which will be developed in toto in the Ballet mécanique, i.e. the human side of the machines, depicted as vulnerable, imperfect, even dying. We are so far now from the exaltation and glorification of the progress, so dear to the Italian and Russian futurists of a decade before: the precise motion of the opening begins to stumble immediately, tries to reprise, and looses itself in uncoordinated gestures, while the two last movements (both titled Accelerando) end abruptly, after a quotation from the opening, with a glissando representing the death of the machines, a finale that in the Ballet will assume a similar alternation of pianolas stumbling, alternated with silences and alarm bells ringing.

The Fourth Sonata for Pianoforte Jazz Sonatabearsthe indicationAs rapidly as it is possible to execute cleanly and with even touch and dynamics like a player piano. It should be considered a Twentieth Century companion to Chopin’s Minute Waltz and is a test bed for pianists (as many of Antheil’s compositions). Its mosaic-like, or radio frequency-hopping like structure is aimed, once again, at giving repeated coiti interrupti to the listener’s great expectations. Similarly constructed will be his later Second Sonata for Violin with Accompaniment of Piano and Drums (fall 1923), and the Piece for Merle, dedicated to Merle Schuster (a neighbour of the Antheils in the Paris apartment, dated 1925), while his famous A Jazz Symphony (1923/25) will, on the other side, develop for piano and orchestra much of the same material of the Jazz Sonata. Again, in the same syncopated jazzy atmosphere is the short (Little) Shimmy written for and dedicated to Böski (Oct. 3rd, 1923), a miniature of the dance which was the rage everywhere since 1917.

His last two sonatas, composed in the Spring of 1923, the Fifth Piano Sonata, (also known as Sonata V) and Sixth Piano Sonata “Woman Sonata” (recorded by Guy Livingston in the Wergo 6661 2 Antheil volume I) follow the collage technique already employed in the earlier, more famous pieces. Antheil himself probably never played them publicly, and they survive in two manuscripts and in a book of sketches (now at the Princeton University) where also the first sketches for the Ballet mècanique are jotted down. The Fifth Sonata (“Nicht schnell, mechanistically”) was dedicated to the brilliant ethnomusicologist George (Juri) Herzog, a friend of George and Böski, who was working with Hornbostel at the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, in 1923 transferred at the Musikhochschule in Berlin-Charlottenburg, and where Antheil could listen to recording of African and Asian music (especially the famous Java Gamelan ensembles), and whose rhythmic patterns continued to influence his music for the following years. Here tot, Antheil plays with popular music, even to the point of quoting directly – among other things – Denza’s Funiculì, Funiculà (or perhaps indirectly even Strauss’ own quotation of that Neapolitan song in Aus Italien, op. 16?)

At the end of this period, Antheil recognized that “the chief and most important effect of this postwar Berlin upon me was to houseclean out of me all of the remaining old poesy, false sentimentality, and overjuicy overidyllicism.” (BBM, 29). Using the collage, the “all-purpose Twentieth device” (Wyndham Lewis), Antheil reached a cohesion through arrangement and proximity, a device so typical of Modernism, at the same time denying a cognitive value to the logical consequentiality, such as of the sonata-form, and thus stating the discontinuity and non-linearity of time itself. In so doing, Antheil’s vocabulary was probably putting together Stravinsky’s ostinatos and cubistic matching of non-consequential musical cells, plus the use of vulgar and heterogeneous material, with Cowell’s clusters and a Bartókian rhythmic tapestry. But his results were, at least for the German public, sensational and astonishing.

Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 5:56 am  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin, part 4