George Antheil

American composer (1900, Trenton – 1959, New York)

He used to call himself “the bad boy of music”, George Antheil distinguished himself by deliberately creating dissonant and noisy works, in which the machine has a new and preponderant position.

George Antheil started studying music with Constantin von Sternberg (former pupil of Liszt) in Philadelphia and then continued with Ernest Bloch, in New York. Immediately after, he wanted to take part in a movement opposing the obsolete conservatism of the 1920s, by writing pieces for piano that have evocative titles: Sonata Sauvage, Mechanisms, Airplane Sonata. In 1922, he sailed for Europe to present his new compositions: first he spent a year in Berlin, then he went to Paris, where he studied under Nadia Boulanger and met the most important artists of the moment (Joyce, Hemingway, Léger, Satie, Picasso, Dalí, Stravinsky…). At this point, he was described as the bad boy of music. His enthusiasm for modernity led him to the composition of a Ballet mécanique for pianos, electric bells, percussions and airplane propellers. After a premiere in Paris, he went back to New York where a further performance of the ballet in 1927 caused a scandal and ruined him. A more conventional composition could be found in the elaboration of his first opera, Transatlantic, which involved politics and was a success in Frankfurt, in 1930. From 1936, he focused on film music for Hollywood, therefore he composed “serious” music (concertos and symphonies) and in 1945 he published his autobiography, Bad boy of music.

He was also known for having registered a joint patent for a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, that was however never used during World War II.

Six landmark dates in the life of George Antheil

1922: he traveled to Europe

1926: creation of Ballet mécanique in Paris

1927: failure of Ballet mécanique in New York

1936: he moved to Hollywood

1945: he published his autobiography

1954: another performance of his Ballet mécanique appeared to be an obsolete piece

Six works by George Antheil

1923: Sonata Sauvage

1926: Ballet mécanique, revised in 1927

1930: Transatlantic

1946: Concerto for Violin

1948: Symphony No.6 

1949: Tom Sawyer

Biography from Radio France’s document database, January 2014