3/2/08

Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day! is George Antheil.

(1900-1959)

Antheil was a composer and pianist from New Jersey. (I know, right?) He was a self-styled "bad boy" and cultivated a revolutionary, avant-garde image.

His first European concert tour took him to Paris, where he successfully caused a minor riot. He had arrived as the new enfant terrible!

Rumors held that, in order to develop furious piano technique, he would play until his hands bled, soak them in ice water until they were numb, and keep practicing. Which is awesome, if true.

He got a Guggenheim grant! He studied in Paris for a while in the 1920s, and hobnobbed with people like Stravinsky, Joyce, Pound, Picasso, Satie, Dali, Hemmingway, and so forth. His reputation seemed secured.

But not so much. Later he became unpopular and forgotten. He kept playing and composing, but had many other careers. He wrote articles for Esquire magazine, studied and published on endocrinology, wrote a love-advice column in newspapers, and got a patent on a (secret!) torpedo-targeting system with actress Hedy Lamarr!

His early success was exemplified by his most famous piece, the Ballet Mécanique. (You can see it here in its entirely robotic version.) Influenced by Italian futurism, industrialism, atonal music, and jazz, the piece is scored for 16 player pianos, 2 pianos, 4 bass drums, 3 xylophones, 3 airplane propellers, and some alarm bells. And stuff. Here is a picture of the beginning of the score that is fun to look at:

It caused a riot in Paris (again). However, the New York production was a flop, and left him broke and disillusioned.

Eventually he re-invented himself in a more neo-classical style. He moved to Hollywood and was a successful film music composer. He also wrote more symphonies and piano music.

Here is another example of his music for you, this time inspired by Max Ernst. He seems to be experiencing a revival of sorts, due to a PBS documentary of the Ballet and a national tour.

He was a weird dude. You should listen to his music.

2 comments:

AnthonyS said...

I love a self-styled enfant terrible. The Ballet Mechanique is pretty kick ass, though.

Épater la bourgeoisie!

Aaron said...

"Rumors held that, in order to develop furious piano technique, he would play until his hands bled, soak them in ice water until they were numb, and keep practicing."

This is a cool story, I guess, but is it really possible to play the piano if your hands are numb? I'd think he'd have a hard time with that.

Very weird dude. Bonus points for the Hedy Lamarr connection.