On general principle, I would rather describe music than judge it, leaving readers to sort out for themselves what's up their alley. That said, it's no good to write in riddles. A reader who found my recent comment on George Antheil unenlightening has inquired whether I liked "Valses from Specter of the Rose."
On air, I spelled out that I did, though the music wasn't necessarily what I had been bracing for. In my recap, I wrote: "A notorious avant garde 'bad boy' channels Ravel without in the least scaring the horses."
My guess was that listeners who knew of Antheil at all might have expected something way out there. Why? Because the piece that made his name is the notorious Ballet Mécanique, which at it premiere in 1926 set off the greatest scandal musical Paris had seen since Stravinsky's seismic Sacre du Printemps. But how often has
In 1953, a critic for Time magazine spoke to the ever widening schism between Antheil's fame and his practice. The occasion was the premiere of his opera Volpone, after Ben Jonson's (ca. 1605), at off-Broadway's microscopic Cherry Lane Theatre, no place to make waves. "Composer George Antheil, 53, onetime bad boy of modern music, no longer scores compositions for mechanical pianos and fire sirens, and has created no major musical scandal since his Ballet Méchanique [sic] nearly panicked Carnegie Hall in 1927," the report began. "Instead, he has been quietly sitting in his Los Angeles home, industriously turning out music that is remarkably easy to listen to."
Turns out the miniatures we listened to are decidedly late Antheil, adapted from the soundtrack of Specter of the Rose, a forgotten vehicle for the forbidding Judith Anderson, released in 1946. Shocking, no. Tangy, yes.