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George Antheil (Composer)

Born: July 8, 1900 - Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Died: February 12, 1959 - New York City, New York, USA

The American composer, George Carl Johann Antheil, was the son of William and Wihelmine Antheil, owners of a small shoe store. Antheil began his composition studies at the age of sixteen with Constain von Sternberg, a pupil of Franz Liszt, and later with Ernest Bloch. Studies with Bloch ended prematurely in 1921 when a lack of money sent young Antheil to Philadelphia in search of a patron. He was directed to Mrs Edward Bok, who in 1924 would found the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Having found a patron, he began to formulate his plan to tour Europe as a concert pianist and composer.

In 1923, George Antheil moved to Paris where he entered into the center of the artistic avant-garde. James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, Léger, Satie, Picasso and many others were to become his friends and colleagues. On October 4, 1934 Antheil made his public début in Paris, at the Champs Elysées Theatre, and as a result of the ensuing riot, achieved his goal and was solidly established as the enfant terrible du jour.

In 1926, George Antheil premièred the work that was to become the zenith and nadir of his career, Ballet Mécanique. Notorious for its orchestra of pianos, percussion, electric buzzers and airplane propellers, with Ballet he had reached the end of an important period in his musical development. The Piano Concerto of 1926 was one of his first large-scale essays in his new ‘neo-classic’ style and when given its first performance in Paris in 1927 it signaled the halt of Antheil’s popularity. Later that same year, the disastrous American première of Ballet Mécanique left him financially and emotionally bankrupt. The deliberately sensationalist and provocative promotion that preceded the concert alienated his audience and marred his reputation in America well into the 1940’s.

George Antheil returned briefly to Europe, where he began work on his opera, Transatlantic. Despite an enthusiastic reception at the opera’s première in Frankfurt in 1930, the worldwide economic collapse forced him to return to the States, where he found a new populist impulse had taken root with composers, painters, writers and film-makers endeavouring to reach a wider public. Antheil resonated with the new movement and became involved in the musical-theatre and film music communities in New York.

The 1930’s was a difficult period for Geeoge Antheil, who sought employment as a lonely-hearts columnist, a contributor to Esquire magazine, an author of several articles on endocrinology and later as a war correspondent. He would later write: ‘here in early 1941, I could at last label myself a complete failure.’

Following a move to Hollywood, George Antheil experienced a musical re-birth, resulting in the composition of his Symphony No. 4 (‘1942’), inspired by his work as a war correspondent. By 1946, he had reconciled his work as a film composer with his composition of ‘serious’ music and completed The Plainsman and the Lady (1946), Spectre of the Rose (1946), Sonatina for Violin and Piano (1945), Violin concerto (1946), Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 (both 1947-1948), McKonkey’s Ferry (1948), Violin Sonata No. 4 (1948), Piano Sonatas Nos. 3 and 4 (1947 and 1948, respectively), The Fighting Kentuckian (1949), Knock On Any Door (1949), and Tom Sawyer (1949). Franz Liszt’s successful premiére of Antheil’s Symphony No. 4 on February 13, 1944 helped to re-establish him as an important artistic voice and the MCA Artist survey for 1947 listed him as one of the most performed American composers.

The last decade of George Antheil’s life was busy and reasonably successful. A steady flow of film and television scores was accompanied by a renewed interest in musical-theatre. His four late operas, Volpone (1949-1952), The Brothers, Venus in Africa and The Wish (all 1954) succeeded in synthesizing artistic discipline with a popular tunefulness, but despite enthusiastic reviews have failed to find a place in the standard repertoire.

George Antheil died in New York City on February 12, 1959 of a heart attack.

Selected works

Helen Retires (1931)
Transatlantic (1930)
Volpone (1949-1952)
Venus in Africa (1954)
The Wish (1954)
The Brothers (1954)

Ballet Mécanique (1923-1925, revised 1952-1953)
Capital of the World Suite (c1955)
Concert for Chamber Orchestra (1932)
Decatur at Algiers (1943)
Hot-time Dance (1948)
A Jazz Symphony (1925, revised 1955)
McKonkey's Ferry (1948)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1922)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1926)
Serenade for Strings No. 1
Symphony for 5 Instruments (1922-1923, 2nd version 1923)
Symphony No. 1 "Zingareska" (1920-1922, revised 1923)
Symphony No. 2 (1931-1938, revised 1943)
Symphony No. 3 "American" (1936-1939, revised 1946)
Symphony No. 4 "1942" (1942)
Symphony No. 5 "Tragic" (1945-1946, withdrawn)
Symphony No. 5 "Joyous" (1947-1948)
Symphony No. 6 "After Delacroix" (1947-1948)
Tom Sawyer - California Overture (1949)
Violin Concerto (1946)

Piano Sonata No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 3 (1947)
Piano Sonata No. 4 (1948)
String Quartet No. 1 (1924)
String Quartet No. 2 (1927)
String Quartet No. 3 (1948)
Trumpet Sonata (1951)
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1923)
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1923)
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1924)
Violin Sonata No. 4 (1948)
Violin Sonatina (1945)

Of his many film scores, Dementia (1955), which contains no dialogue, only music, is believed by many to be his finest.
The Scoundrel (1935)
Once in a Blue Moon (1935)
The Plainsman (1936)
The Buccaneer (1938)
Adventure in Diamonds (1940)
Angels Over Broadway (1940)
Specter of the Rose (1946)
Plainsman and the Lady (1946)
That Brennan Girl (1946) (score music)
Repeat Performance (1947)
Along the Oregon Trail (1947)
Knock on Any Door (1949)
We Were Strangers (1949)
The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)
Tokyo Joe (1949)
House by the River (1950)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Sirocco (1951)
The Sniper (1952)
Actors and Sin (1952) (uncredited)
Target Hong Kong (1953)
The Juggler (1953)
Hunters of the Deep (1954)
Not as a Stranger (1955)
Dementia (1955)
Air Power (1956) TV series (unknown episodes)
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
The Pride and the Passion (1957)
The Young Don't Cry (1957)

Written works:
Death In the Dark, a crime novel edited and published by T. S. Eliot (1930)
Everyman His Own Detective: A Study of Glandular Criminology, (New York City: Stackpole Sons, 1937)
"The Shape of the War to Come", a pamphlet (1940)
Bad Boy of Music,(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1945; various reprints and languages)

Source: Naxos Website; Wikipedia Website (March 2011)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2011)

George Antheil: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

About George Antheil (Ballet mécanique)
George Antheil (Schirmer)
George Antheil: Composer, Pianist, Inventor (Paris Transatlantic)
George Antheil Papers (Columbia University in the City of New York)
George Carl Johann Antheil (1900-1959) (Find A Grave Memorial)

George Antheil (Wikipedia)
George Antheil (
George Antheil - Biography (Naxos)
George Antheil - Biography (AMG)
George Antheil (Classical Archives)
George Antheil (IMDB)



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