Antheil: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6 (CD)

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BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds

The symphonic output of George Antheil, the self-proclaimed ‘bad boy of music’, is further investigated by the BBC Philharmonic and its Chief Guest Conductor, John Storgårds, in the second album of the series.

Following his early experimentations with modernist ideas as an enfant terrible in 1920s Paris, the stylistic trajectory of his symphonies over the next decades mirrors his self-confessed desire to learn more orthodox compositional techniques. This album explores two more of his symphonies: Symphony No. 3 (compl. 1946), only one movement of which was performed during Antheil’s lifetime, and Symphony No. 6 (compl. 1950), in which the influences of Shostakovich and Ives make themselves heard.

Completing this exciting disc from the BBC Philharmonic and Storgårds are two lively symphonic pieces, Archipelago (1935) and Hot-Time Dance (1948), and a re-orchestration into a concert waltz of music from the strikingly eclectic score to Specter of the Rose (1946). This film tells the gripping story of a male ballet dancer suspected of having murdered his first wife and of being on the verge of dispatching his second in the same manner.

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MusicWeb International

"Total Hollywood immersion in the super-confident American continent, north and south."

Sunday Times

"The language is eclectic, hinting at or lifting from Sibelius, Mahler et al, and accusations of bombast are forgivable. Yet there’s also an irresistible all-embracing Americanism. The BBC Phil and Storgards deliver it all with scintillating gusto."

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George Antheil (1900-1959):

  • Symphony No. 3 ‘American’
  • Symphony No. 6 ‘after Delacroix’
  • Spectre of the Rose Waltz
  • Archipelago
  • Hot-Time Dance

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Multiple composers in one: George Antheil



The American composer George Antheil (1900-1959) was a talented chameleon. He began in Paris in the 1920s as the self-styled "bad boy of music", writing outrageously provocative works full of jazz and aeroplane propellers. Back in the States he wrote Hollywood film scores and, during World War Two, invented the "spread spectrum" radio transmitter with the help of movie star Hedy Lamarr. His later music, especially the symphonies, shows a strong influence of Shostakovich.

Antheil hungered for success, so much so that after the critical failure of his Symphony No. 3 "American", he pretended it no longer existed and named his next symphony No. 3. This confused musicologists after his death, and it is only in this century that Antheil's chaotic manuscripts have been sorted out. A groundbreaking series of recordings was made in the early 2000s by conductor Hugh Wolff with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. They still sound great, but John Storgårds' new Chandos series is an improvement in every way.

All this would be of academic interest if Antheil's music were not such fun - but it is. The short pieces Archipelago and Hot Time Dance were written to emulate the success of the other George (Gershwin) in Latin and jazz-based symphonic music. The "American" Symphony has the sound of Antheil's contemporaries Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson all over it - yet there is no denying his orchestral wizardry and boundless energy. No. 6, "After Delacroix", was inspired by the painter's famous picture of Liberty (she of the statue) leading the charge against the enemy. Critics found the 6th symphony bombastic, so the composer revised and toned it down somewhat in 1950, but Antheil was not an artist to tip-toe through a piece. The Spectre of the Rose Waltz (from a 1946 film score) is completely different again: an accomplished Ravel pastiche.

Storgårds' Antheil series is very welcome. The music is quirky, colourful, exciting, perfect for "spot the influence" games, played with pizzazz, and stunningly recorded. This is the second release (the first contains Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5), so we still await Symphonies 1 and 2, plus two extra un-numbered symphonies.