WORKS: Airplane Sonata; Sonata sauvage; Piano Sonata No. 4; Valentine Waltzes; La femme 100 têtes after Max Ernst; Little Shimmy; Tango from Transatlantic
PERFORMER: Marthanne Verbit (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: TROY 146 DDD
Rather like Prokofiev, the American composer George Antheil (1900-59) began his career as a self-styled enfant terrible, his prime objective being to provoke the public with music of relentless percussiveness and primitivism. The ploy largely worked, European audiences reacting with some hostility to such mechanistic offerings as the Airplane Sonata and the Sonata sauvage. Today, of course, our ears are more conditioned to high levels of dissonance and to improvisatory structures, but these works still manage to retain an uninhibited freshness and a physical exuberance that is immensely engaging.
Yet perhaps Antheil’s spontaneity of invention is best represented in the selection of preludes La femme 100 têtes (1933), inspired by the surrealist collage-novel of etchings by Max Ernst. Here, the composer presents a veritable compendium of different musical styles, ranging from simple diatonicism to rampant brutality, the latter powerfully communicated in the concluding Prelude which even manages to outdo Bartók in terms of its aggressive pianism.
In later years, Antheil appeared to be less concerned with such exhibitions. Curiously enough, Prokofiev again seems to be the guiding spirit behind the mordant wit of the Fourth Sonata and the romantic nostalgia of the Valentine Waltzes, and it’s possible that the more cultivated style of these works will have greater durability. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that Marthanne Verbit plays Antheil’s music with total commitment, and the recording achieves an impressive richness and immediacy. Erik Levi