BIOGS & CREDITS
 
The Original American In Paris
The Story of George Antheil
BBC Radio 3 Documentary
by Maxwell Steer - 1988


CAST

George ANTHEIL
A Puckish voice, capable of changing timbres a/c to mood, but basically of a softer quality than the intensity of his music & personality would suggest. Should sound 25-33.
Igor STRAVINSKY
A precise Ruuschian. Doubling Williams?
Ezra POUND
Antheil wrote: "Ezra habitually rambled around in high-pitched flourishes reminiscent of Lum & Abner on the radio."
Irving SCHWERKÉ
A gruff voiced American critic
Caesar SEARCHINGER
A bluff newscastery type of late middle-age
Fernand LÉGER
Very gravely Frenchman: could be taken by Schwerke&eacute1 speech on pA
Donald FRIEDE
A fast and rackety character, a deeper voice maybe but not macho
Aaron COPLAND
Very Brooklyn
NEWSBOY 1/2
William C WILLIAMS
(Taken by Stravinsky?)
English Critic
Austrian Critic
German Critic
(Taken by Schwerké?)
US Critic
(Taken by Searchinger?)
Virgil THOMSON
- Himself?
Margaret ANDERSON
A Chicagoan. Self-confident and characterful (without caricature).
In real life it £1/1p that she was a lesbian, but I don't think that helps casting much!
Mrs BOK
Characterwise it might be necessary to make her sound older, but she was actually hardly 40 when she first patronised Antheil, and only died in 1974. I hear her as somebody with an informed sense of her own (rather traditional) ideas & priorities, naturally generous yet with that instinctive caution found in the super-rich. A voice that needs to be capable of considerable toughness.


Part OneProgram Title Announcement from CONTINUITY

MUS 1
Jazz Symphony a loud & brash bit.
Busy Street

NEWSBOY 1
Late Extra, late extra! Lindbergh - historic flight!
NEWSBOY 2
All the news - Tin Pan Propeller Opus Fails to Make Carnegie Hit.
NEWSBOY 1
Jennings Bryan in new attack on bootleggers. April 1927 ...
FRIEDE
Hey, gimme one of em all, Luke.
NEWSBOY 2
Sure thing Mr Friede. Say, it was a real shame about your Mr Antheil's concert, wasn't it?
FRIEDE
A shame? You're kidding. It was a goddam massacre.
NEWSBOY 2
But if you was the promoter couldnt'ch'ave fixed the press the way the baseball league does?
FRIEDE
Tell ya Luke, I thought I had.
NEWSBOY 2
Gee that's too bad Mr Friede.
Boys continue shouting but fade
FRIEDE
Yeah, well, I gotta get along, see what the damage is.
A Carpeted Room

MUS 1
drops to a more relaxed section
FX
Opening door
FX
Newspaper opening

FRIEDE
(reading) "George Antheil, a young American from Trenton New Jersey who has been getting the virus of Paris's Left Bank into his veins during the past few years, has come back to New York and last night at Carnegie Hall showed that he was both Barnum & Bailey of music. His compositions are supposed to be the last word in the modernist thing - and this critic hopes they are! We can safely predict no Mountain will emerge from this Antheil." O heck, its worse than I thought.

FX
turns to another

"After Beethoven, the best advertised composer in New York today is George Antheil. And that is why his 'first American appearance in a concert of his own works' was such a bitter disappoint ..."

FX
turns to another

"Music critics were quite superfluous, The official circus reviewer should have been on hand. Accounts of the dramatic reception accorded the Ballet Mécanique in Paris plainly invited us to riot. Expectations were high, but even the unprecedented introduction of scenery for the concert did not have the desired effect. Apparently New York was too bored to fight."

FX
turns to another

"The so-called 'Jazz' Symphony was accompanied by a backdrop painted to represent a coloured gentleman about to clasp some LuluBelle in a negligee about her not too reluctant waist. The music was not so amusing.

For the Ballet Mécanique a full stage cyclorama represented a view of skyscrapers as if by a Swedish artist who had never seen them, amid which a vast spark plug seemed to be striving to reach a painted sky crowded with steam shovel buckets. No doubt reflecting Mr Antheil's naive belief that taste in the city is in some way up-to-date. Had he taken cognisance that New York is a paradise of the romantic he might have fared better.

The whole event was more than a little naive, yet might have succeeded if put over by sheer outrageousness. But naiveté of conception doubled by naiveté of effect is fatally compromising. Long before the performance ended, the "attempted riot" at the back of the hall, so suspiciously manufactured in character, had died a feeble, fluttering death, and an infinitely wearied audience was passing out into the hideousness and wonder and incomparable fascination of the actual New York which has so soundly rebuffed the mechanistic wooing of this troubadour from Trenton."

MUS 1
Ends or fades

Dockside

FX
A tugboat

FRIEDE
O George, what can I say? You saw the papers?
ANTHEIL
Yes.
FRIEDE
I'm sorry. Gee, its a damned shame. I should sue them.
ANTHEIL
Look, I got to go on board.
FRIEDE
I wish I could help some, but as you know I've lost maybe $10,000 ...
ANTHEIL
You've been very good Donald, you've done everything you could. Its not your fault ...

Fade Antheil during this. Incoming speech over.

reasonable sized room
ANTHEIL
This 'gigantic tasteless vaudeville act', as one critic called it, single-handedly accomplished 2 things: it sent me back to Europe broke - and tarnished me with an air of complete charlatanism. Worse, it alienated my principal patron, Mrs Mary Louise Bok.
Antheil-Bok 'letters' acoustic
MRS BOK
(coldly yet not without character) You have returned to America, bringing your product, with the results that both you and I know. I was not present myself because, I am frank to tell you, I disliked extremely the key in which the concert was presented. However several of my most trusted musical guides were and their opinion was unanimously adverse. Therefore any further assistance other than this monthly check I do not now feel willing to furnish.
reasonable sized room
ANTHEIL
After 7 years, I was back to square 1.
Anderson neutral, Antheil in a largish room

MUS 2a
DEATH OF MACHINES (Movt 1) MS on MIDI piano c17" It should sound very small by comparison

ANDERSON
It was a Sunday Afternoon in 1920 George first appeared before us, carrying a large suitcase of music.
ANTHEIL
(entering) O. Are you Margaret Anderson? I'm George Antheil.

MUS 2b
DEATH OF MACHINES (Movt 2) MS on MIDI piano c10"

ANDERSON
He was short, with an air of vitality and concentration. His nose had been maltreated -so he said- in an airplane accident. We'd hardly been talking a minute, when he moved straight to the piano in 2 strides and began to beat upon it a compelling mechanical music. He played everything he'd written up to this point in his life, with a mastery and a hardness that were admirable.

MUS 2c
DEATH OF MACHINES (Movt 3) MS on MIDI piano c18"

ANTHEIL
When I started to study with Ernest Bloch I was 20 & had to earn the cost of my own musical education. My parents owned "Antheil's Friendly Family Shoe Store" in Trenton New Jersey. In my childhood, they burned all my manuscripts. Later, I was introduced to Margaret Anderson, founding editor of the influential Little Review. She invited me to stay.

MUS 2d
DEATH OF MACHINES (Movt 4) MS on MIDI piano (Total c32") Hold for 15" then dialog over

ANDERSON
We gave him the room with eastern windows as he began composing with the rising sun. He kept it in fanatical order - manuscript pad corresponding to the lines of the table - pen and pencil placed with the precision of mechanical music.

MUS 2d
concludes

ANDERSON
In the aftermath of the War, there was a new turning to Europe. At last we seemed to have something original to say, and we just wanted help to learn how to say it. George was ready for Europe before any of us. He was given an introduction to Mrs Mary Louise Bok, President of the Philadelphia Orchestra & founder of the Curtis Institute of Music.
Neutral
MRS BOK
What I saw before me was a young man, possibly gifted for composition, actually a good pianist and very definitely an ill and starving boy. What I did financially, I did with hope, for the musical future of America.
Antheil-Bok acoustic
ANTHEIL
By June, Mary Louise, I shall astonish everybody with my piano playing alone - even tho I were no composer. This sounds boastful but I beg honestly of you to accept it. I shall someday -not far- not months away now create a new music that will draw many hearts toward me.

I still cannot believe your goodness in making a European recital tour possible for me. $6400 is such an awesome figure of money, I shall be conscience-stricken if I deviate for a moment from the very high goals I have set myself. I can only say I must succeed. I will admit no other thought. There is something too restless in me to allow mediocrity or failure. Please believe, as soon as I've found my feet I shall some day pay every cent of it back.

MUS 3
AIRPLANE SONATA MS on MIDI piano. Fade in under, back timed approx 1'30" from the end of the Movt.

MRS BOK
Now George, live at a reasonable gait, and don't work like a horse simply in order to justify your existence by a large output. You are not strong, and if you push beyond your limits will not do good work. Live, and dream, and work as comes naturally.

MUS 3
AIRPLANE SONATA Allow to play out, approx 1'

Each sounding different
ENGL CRIT
Daily Telegraph: Mr Antheil's outstanding quality was his clear and distinct individuality. We received the impression that all the teeming ideas and forms of Modernity had been reduced to their prime elements and by an inexplicable alchemistic process mingled together to produce a new idea and a new form.
AUSTR CRIT
Vienna Zukunft: He is an entirely distinguished pianist, whose Chopin & Debussy demand the greatest respect. He has a superb sense of rhythm, and is incandescent in his performance of dance music.
GERM CRIT
Berlin Borsenzeitung: Antheil both composes & plays with immense feeling. A pianist of the first rank.
reasonable sized room
ANTHEIL
My first concert in Budapest ended in a riot. A real one! So I bought a small 32 automatic, for which I had a silken holster made to fit under my arm. Thereafter I would publicly produce my ugly little automatic, in approved American gangster fashion, and place it on the piano in full view before each recital. I never had any more trouble until the Nazis.

Nobody who didn't experience Central Europe after the First War can have any idea what it was like. My first night I met a prominent newspaperman, and his pretty wife. From the way they devoured everything in sight on the bar of our expensive hotel it was quite obvious that they were both literally starving.

3 nights later I saw her again, on the street in a poor part of Berlin -soliciting. In that split-second before she turned and ran, I saw to the very roots of the degradation that human beings can be pushed into.

FX
Small Group of hysterical fans running towards mic, followed by hubbub.

Another night, after I'd got to know Igor Stravinsky, instead of taking a cab we were walking home. It was well past midnight but I reckoned my 32 would look out for us pretty well. Suddenly, at least 50 girls came running towards us. I guess nobody except Frank Sinatra ever had such a strange feeling - to be completely surrounded by girls who had only one thing on their mind - it was really very alarming.

But Igor, who was 20 years older and wiser than I, apologised most politely to the girls, and said that we were just returning from a night out with 6 girls, 3 apiece, and that we were really very very tired. They would, he felt sure, understand -

FX
Noise tapers off

ANTHEIL
- They did -

FX End

ANTHEIL
- Professional etiquette.

O how I got to know Igor? That was very simple really. Being blissfully innocent of his mordant wit I just went up to him in the lobby of his hotel, and said "Herr Stravinsky, I'm an American composer ..." He was my God of course. We spent every day of the next few weeks in each other's company, while he waited for his mother to get an exit visa from Russia. It was only later I figured the reason why - by associating exclusively with an unknown American, Igor was able to administer a perfectly judged slap in the face to the Berlin Musical Establishment. Yet our friendship was genuine enough.

Stravinsky slightly closer to mic than Antheil
STRAVINSKY
Never in my life have I asked anyone to study with me, in fact I have turned hundreds away. But I ask you to do so - Come with me to Paris, and when I go on to Switzerland you shall live with my family until we settle you. Eh bien Georges, you play my music exactly as I prefer it.
ANTHEIL
Was it really true that the greatest living composer saw something worthwhile in me? Jshee! The moment his mother arrived Igor prepared to leave for Paris ...
STRAVINSKY
So then you will come after me, soon?, and I will present your début.
ANTHEIL
Uncertainly, perhaps a little forlornly, but I was becoming firmly established as performer in the German-speaking world, and felt a duty to honour my commitment to Mrs Bok by remaining. And I'd just fallen in love. After a week Stravinsky sent me a telegram. Not to go immediately was perhaps the first and greatest mistake of my life.
Neutral

MUS 4
VIOLIN SONATA #2 Hold for at least 45" to establish, then dialog

ANDERSON
(exuberantly) 1923 was one of those springs when everyone was in Paris. Or perhaps this is what happens in Paris every spring. Jean Cocteau's Mari&eacutes de la Tour Eiffel was given for the first time. Groups of insurgent artists prayed for scandal. After a ballet Satie & Picabia appeared on the stage in a motor car to acknowledge applause, and received enough hisses to please any Parisian. The rioting was so successful at a Dadaist performance that André Breton broke Tzara's arm. Ezra Pound made an opera of Villon's poetry which was sung at the old Salle Pleyel (where Chopin fainted long ago). James Joyce was discovered at all Symphony concerts, no matter how bad. Juan Gris was making beautiful dolls - Gertrude Stein buying André Masson - Man Ray photographing sieves and shoe-trees - Milhaud just beginning his worship of American Jazz.

Stravinsky gave Les Noces with the Ballets Russes. George Antheil contended that he stole the 4 piano idea from him in Germany the previous year. But by then George was here too, writing music for a cubist film by Fernand Léger. He'd also been taken up by Pound and written 2 Violin Sonatas for Pound's lover, Olga Rudge.

MUS 4a
VIOLIN SONATA #1 At appropriate juncture, cut seamlessly to percussive section of end of 1st Movt, probably with edits. Allow 30" then dialog over

possibly dictating his copy in a small phone booth
SCHWERKE
Chicago Tribune, Paris Edition. Monday evening, an explosion of uncontrolled modernity transpired at the Salle Pleyel. The performers were Miss Olga Rudge (violinist), Mr Antheil (hammerer of the Clavier) and Mr Ezra Pound (page-turner).

The hubbub for which Mr Antheil was responsible was quite unsolicitous of the welfare of the auditory nerve. Uninformed persons might easily be deceived into calling his compositions "ultra-ultra-modern", but anyone who is at all informed on the development and tendencies of music would not make such a mistake. Mr Antheil obstinately refuses to recognize the piano as a musical instrument at all. He depotentiates every beautiful thing of which it is capable. More than once we thought the fiddler was simply playing out of tune, but really she wasn't, Miss Rudge was merely making known to a numerous audience Mr Antheil's scorn for original melody, euphony, emotion and straight thinking. Irving Schwerké.

MUS 4a
concludes

Antheil-Bok acoustic
ANTHEIL
Dear Mary Louise, I have now acquired a real momentum. My new sonata is very radical - and it may surprise, but I hope not offend, you by its deliberate banality. It is the focused banality of a Picasso, a collage somewhat relative to his 1918 cubist period in which he assembled into one picture such commonplaces as cafe tables, mandolines, bits of actual newspaper etc.

The spirit of the music represents one phase of America - cubistic tin-pan alley. Sometimes it sounds like a third-rate string orchestra in Budapest. What I wanted to represent was the drunken energy of mediocrity, and altho the music sometimes sounds very very shocking it is parody rather than satire.

Please do not be angry with me remaining in Paris, for it is in every way more the artistic capital of Europe than Berlin. There is talk of a tour in Russia & Ansermet has even asked me to Switzerland to give my new Concerto. Once I have become noted and notorious in Europe as a new ultra-modern pianist composer I shall be ready for an almost certain success in America, where you and all those at the Curtis will rejoice in your having given me this colossal opportunity to rub shoulders with the very greatest figures of this age.

Boski & I have an apartment right above the most famous English bookshop in Paris, Shakespeare & Co; its run by an American, Sylvia Beach, who has just published James Joyce's revolutionary new writing Ulysses; (fades) and I've also met many other famous figures ...

MRS BOK
Well George, I am very happy in your success of course. But some of the names you mention give me a little unease. It sorrows me that the best in art and music is now being discarded or abused ... by the very men you seem to be associating with - outside of Paris who now takes Picasso seriously? - and have not Joyce's books been threatened with a prosecution in England? I am worried that your youthful enthusiasm may be 'going astray after unsound spirits'. All the same I wish you would not put so much emphasis on my opinion, for you know I am not in sympathy with much of the so-called modern trend. Yet, forgive me, but your delight in your new successes prompts me to caution you to remain true to only what you feel under urge to bring out of yourself. What is truly wrought will sometimes pull the public your way - but other times repel it. You must learn to accept that judgment George.
ANTHEIL
I do, believe me Mary Louise, for I seek to discard nothing of the past -truly- but if Beethoven wrote about peasant villages in his Symphonies, I was born in south Trenton saw nothing but factories. One cannot help one's mother-milk. And yet your good opinion means everything to me. You are wrong to think me a mere Modernist. This is 'being true to myself, musically'! For there is the same relentless holiness in Beethoven that there is in Stravinsky. If you haven't seen it yet, I'm sure you will. Never do I let one bar go without it blessing me. But my learning about life and music came from subways and the downtown streets - my memories are of dim electric lights in petroleum-smelling rooms. If America never develops its own authentic composers, all its Orchestras & Music Schools will be worth nothing, NOTHING. I enclose what Ezra Pound is to publish:
In a hall
POUND
(Loudly yet conspiratorially) Antheil is probably the first artist to use machines, I mean actual modern machines, without bathos. Machines are musical. Their lesson is precision. Not only has Antheil noted his rhythms with an exactitude which we may well call genius, but has invented new mechanisms of this particular age. In doing so, he has purged the py-ano and made it once more into a respectable instrument, recognising its percussive nature.

In George Antheil we have possibly the first American musician to be taken seriously by Europeans, for he is writing a kind of music that couldnt've been written before. And if America is contributing anything to general¾sthetics it is presumably an¾sthetic of machinery. Antheil's musical world is a world of steel bars, not of old stone and ivy.

Anderson neutral, Antheil in a largish room
ANDERSON
The Little Review was quite well-established in Paris by the time George got there. He had arrived from Berlin newly married & quite broke, but still flushed with his ephemeral success in that mad capital.

Up till that point George had led a charmed life, and it was a shock for him to find now that the road to fame in Paris would be long and steep and hard, especially since Stravinsky's natural paranoia had misinterpreted George's delay in coming to Paris and withdrawn his patronage.

All the same, I felt reasonably certain Paris was in the mood for Antheil's music. And I therefore arranged for George to meet Erik Satie.

ANTHEIL
At that time, Paris Music critics operated a straightforward price-list: for 3000F you could be "a genius", for 2000 "a great talent", and so on. However, this was strictly for the suckers. If one really wanted to be recognised in musical Paris it was essential to be gain entrée into one of the various all-powerful musical salons - which required the right 'sponsor'.

Margaret Anderson had undoubtedly had such a role in mind for Satie, when she invited me to tea: but, by accident or design, that red-bearded Mephistopheles Ezra Pound, was there too, and seeing cudgels Ezra had enthusiastically snatched them up out of the elder musician's hands. Because of his battles on behalf of James Joyce, Ezra was accepted in many of the foremost literary salons where his opinion was highly respected; moreover he was a very good friend of Jean Cocteau, the high priest of all modern French artistic endeavour - a mere nod from him and -poof!- a young painter, novelist, or musician became the veritable rage of the town.

ANDERSON
Ezra's reputation was then at its zenith. He claimed to specialise in discovering people ...
POUND
"I am an expert in genius"
ANDERSON
(laughing) ... he would say. All the same, I have always regretted that it was Ezra who jumped on George's bandwagon, since he could handle all that needed to be written about his music quite well himself. In the circumstances, he seemed grateful to Pound, but I always felt the gratitude should have been the other way around.

To understand Ezra, you'd have to know what midwesterners mean by a 'Cracker Barrel Philosopher'. That's someone, like a small town store-owner, who's acquired a fair amount of natural wisdom, tho invariably a good deal less than he supposes, and who wont hesitate to give you the benefit of it with every purchase.

Now the fact is that Pound was as cautious as an Idaho pork trader, and wrote not a line in praise of George until he was absolutely certain from the esteem of others that George was a sure fire genius. Then, in his highly confusing personal idiom, he attempted to explain what was already perfectly clear. The result was an excellent stroke of publicity for Mr Pound, for stocks on George were doubling daily, but in the long run it put more people off George's music than you could shake a stick at.

ANTHEIL
Ezra was unusually kind to me that afternoon. And next day he turned up at my apartment in a green coat with blue square buttons, his pointed goatee and kinky red hair above flying off in all directions. With hardly a word of greeting to Boski he propelled me to the home of a friend who had a piano where he required me to play him everything Id written. Very pleased with it all, Ezra then asked me if I'd written anything about my musical aims. As my head was still swollen from the undivided attention of such a leader of opinion I replied eagerly "Yes I have." For the truth was, I had purchased a typewriter in Berlin and had occasionally amused myself with typing out pronunciamentos that would have blown the wig of any conventionally-minded artist - with consequences I was too wet behind the ears to foresee ...
A Parisian Room
POUND
Lets see now. (reading) "In accepting Satie as master, we see that Stravinsky was nothing but a brave and jolly Rossini in an age where composers improvised rhapsodically on paper." But this is marvellous George ...
ANTHEIL
O? You think so?
POUND
"Debussy the great destructionist ..." "Les Six are charming and fickle plagiarists ..." (yelps to himself with anticipation) "Schoenberg is unmusical and his anaemic musical machinery based upon Mendelssohn" O George this is fantastische - brillante! Say, would you mind if I held onto these precious sheets for a while?
ANTHEIL
Oh sure, I'm finished with them anyhow.
POUND
Ah mon ami, your conclusions are fascinatingly original ... most fascinatingly original ...
Neutral
ANDERSON
Ezra was not altogether delighted that it was I who in fact succeeded in arranging George's official premiere.

The famous avantgarde Ballets Suédois needed a curtain-raiser to a new Ballet. Having provoked riots in Budapest & Berlin Antheil had exactly the right cachet for them. With such an explosive mixture, the film director Marcel L'Herbrier also made arrangements to film at the concert in order to incorporate the hoped-for riot into his film L'Inhumaine.

The date was October 4th 1923. George was to premiere his Sonata Sauvage. The leading european music critic Caesar Searchinger filed a report captioned "The Greatest Coup of the Age".


The Original American in Paris - part 2
Brief biography by Antheil's son Chris Beaumont
Antheil disc+ bibli- ography
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