glass notes
George Antheil

TONIGHT, at Le Poisson Rouge in New York:

"Join us for an evening of intimate conversation and musical performance as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes and some of the most forward-thinking composers of our age, explore the extraordinary lives and legacies of two unconventional innovators: the legendary screen siren Hedy Lamarr and renowned avant-garde composer George Antheil. In a remarkable and unlikely union, Lamarr, known as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world,’ and Antheil, the self-described ‘bad boy of music,’ joined forces during World War II to invent a secret communication system that presaged today’s GPS, cell phone and Bluetooth technologies. Today, George Antheil is revered as a pioneer of electronic music. Some of his compositions were so far ahead of their time that the technology to bring them to life only materialized decades after his death. The conversation on innovation, science and music will be amplified by a series of performances of Antheil’s seminal scores and explorations of today’s most avant-garde electronica."

This event, like ICARUS, is presented by The World Science Festival.  What can you say about Philip Glass, the dude likes science.

On a side note about George Antheil, back in maybe 2003, Philip Glass was in Columbia Maryland giving a talk anbd a solo piano concert. Columbia is one of the stranger places I've ever been to. It's one of those Modernist wet-dream "planned communities" with no sidewalks and a mall in the center instead of an actual town center.  Glass was giving a talk and I asked a question about film music.  This was before the explosion of film music activity in Glass' career which started with The Hours, and he referred me to the book by George Antheil called "The Bad Boy of Music."  It's right up there with Berlioz's Mémoires as  one of my favorite music books. 

Antheil was an eccentric.  Originally a concert pianist from New Jersey, he went to Europe during the roaring 20's and found himself in the circle of artists there at that time.  He was more of a follower, mostly of Stravinsky, than an innovator but some of his early music of that time like Sonata Sauvage are cool pieces from the era.  It seems the main goal for artists of that time was to start a riot like what happened at the premiere of the Sacre du Printemps.  Therefore most of Antheil's reputation rests on his "Ballet Mécanique," which more than anything musical, is designed to be outrageous.  It worked in Europe but flopped in America when it was performed at Carnegie Hall.

But he didn't seem to double down on that type of avant-gardisme, rather following Stravinsky into neoclassicism, then later when returning to the USA and out of work, he stopped writing almost all together and wrote magazine columns and most eccentrically patented a radio controller device with bombshell actress Hedy Lamarr which was supposed to be applied for US milatary purposes during WWII.  It's also interesting to note that during his career as a pianist he always packed heat, carrying a loaded pistol on him.

He's weird but a good writer and a decent composer.  There's been a resurgence of interest in him including a film about him a couple of years ago, and I see his piano music pop up in performance from time to time.  John Adams recently wrote a piece about Antheil and Lamarr in the NY Times. 

I think the takeaway is American sticktoitiveness more than anything else.  He gave up the career as a pianist in Europe to be a composer. Was an avant-gardiste, then a neo-classicist, incorporated jazz, then a sort of main stream symphonist (having written six I believe), and after making money in the magazine trade he found some work in Hollywood as a film composer dying young at 58In any case, his cause is helped by his very entertaining book and tonight's discussion will surely be insightful.


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