COURTESY ANTHEIL ESTATE
A new photo archive of Antheil and his family is now available at the Other Minds site.
George Antheil (1900-1959) was an American composerborn in Trenton, New Jerseywho began his professional career in Europe, where he was friends with, among many others, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Satie, and Igor Stravinsky. In the early '20s, he lived at the literal center of English-language culture in Europe: above Sylvia Beach's legendary Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on the Rue de l'Odéon, in Paris's Latin Quarter. (Beach was the original publisher of Joyce's controversial and groundbreaking Ulysses.)
Antheil wrote over 300 musical works in all major genres, including symphonies, chamber works, film music, and operas. He was extremely outspoken and articulate, and wrote numerous articles, as well as an autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, which is still in print.
As a young composer, he considered himself to be quite the revolutionary, and his music, especially in his early career, employed many unusual sound sources and combinations of instruments. In many ways, both musical and technical, he was far ahead of his time. His concerts routinely caused riots all over Europe, which at the time was considered a sign of genius.
Besides composing, Antheil was an excellent writer, an inventor, and a student of many disciplines, including endocrinology, criminal justice, and military history. He was co-holder of a remarkable patent (with actress Hedy Lamarr) for a "secret communications system" which is today in wide use and known as "spread-spectrum technology" although neither he nor Lamarr ever received a dime for it.
Antheil left Paris in the late '20s and went to Berlin, and then as German society began to fall under the influence of the Nazis, returned permanently to America. He settled in Hollywood, where he enjoyed a reasonably successful career as a composer for film and television. He died in 1959.
A conference honoring Antheil in his hometown took place in March, 2003. Details here.
Read an essay by George Antheil about his future as a composer, which chillingly predicts the response to the Ballet mécanique written when he was 16 years old!!
More about the Ballet mécanique
Copyright © 2003, 2004 by Paul D. Lehrman. All rights reserved