The following is a guest post from Music Archivist Chris Hartten.
George Antheil radicalized musical composition in ways that few before him had ever attempted. Born at the turn of the twentieth century in Trenton, New Jersey, Antheil traveled to Europe in 1922 to pursue “ultra-modernist” composition with financial support from arts patroness and Curtis Publishing director Mary Louise Curtis Bok. His musical style reflected a profound fascination with mechanical sounds and abstract time-space formulas, a combination that both baffled or enraged audiences and delighted leading Parisian arts figures, including composer Igor Stravinsky, writer Ezra Pound, and countless others. The success of Antheil’s Airplane Sonata (1921) and infamous Ballet Mécanique (1926) made him one of the brightest young composers in Europe by the mid 1920s.
Known as the “Bad Boy of Music” for his riotous concert performances, fiery writings, and eclectic side projects, Antheil continued to push the envelop with his jazz-infused opera Transatlantic (1930) and other works for unusual instrument combinations. In his effort to develop an “American style” during the 1940s, Antheil adopted new Romanticism and turned away from many of the mechanical qualities that had contributed to the excitement and angst of his earliest works.
The Music Division is home to the George and Boske Antheil Papers, which contain holograph music manuscripts, writings, photographs, scrapbooks and other personal papers of the composer. Notable works include the aforementioned Ballet Mécanique , Capital of the World, A Jazz Symphony, Morceau for Orchestra, Serenade for String Orchestra, and Sonata Sauvage, as well as Antheil’s intriguing political monograph, The Shape of the War to Come.