GEORGE ANTHEIL (1900 - 1959)
Of German descent, the composer and pianist George Antheil was born in New York and studied composition with Constantin von Sternberg and Ernest Bloch. He went on to establish
a reputation and some notoriety for himself in Berlin and then in Paris, notably with his anti-Romantic use of mechanical procedures. He then turned to neoclassicism and to various other musical fashions of the time, and to an attempt to revive contemporary German opera. A falling-off of critical support led him in 1933 to return to America, where he collaborated with Balanchine and Martha Graham in musical ‘ballet-opera-theatre’, moving to Hollywood in an attempt to support himself by film music. Since his death there has been a revival of interest in his work.
In 1926 Antheil aroused avant-garde interest with his Ballet mécanique, a film collaboration with Fernand Léger (although the problems of co-ordinating film and music proved insurmountable and both works became autonomous). His later ballets in America with Balanchine include Dreams, and, with the choreographer Loring, Capital of the World for the American Ballet Theater. His first opera, Transatlantic, had its premiere in Frankfurt in 1930, but his most successful opera remains Volpone, first staged in Los Angeles in 1955. Three further operas followed: The Brothers, Venus in Africa and The Wish.
Antheil had hopes of a change in his fortunes when his Symphony No. 4 was accepted for publication in 1942. His Fifth Symphony, subtitled ‘Joyous’, followed in 1948 and the final Sixth Symphony ‘after Delacroix’, although later to be revised, appeared in the same year. The first movement of the latter drew inspiration from Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People. Antheil also wrote chamber music, including three string quartets and, in 1923, a Symphony for Five Instruments, scored for flute, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and viola. He provided avant-garde and then more conventional music for the piano throughout his career.