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AMERICAN VOICES

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'... compellingly energetic rhythmic forces, clear, translucent orchestration, bold themes and simple structures.'

Symphonies by George Antheil and Paul Creston -
examined by PETER DALE

 

American Classics - George Antheil. Copyright (c) 2000 HNH International Ltd.

The American composer George Antheil was an exact contemporary of Aaron Copland. They were both born in 1900. They both studied in Paris in the 1920's and, later in their careers, they both turned their backs to a degree upon modernist European music to find their own self-consciously American voices.

There the similarities end. Antheil enjoyed early successes - even notoriety with his Ballet Mécanique of 1926 - but then suffered virtually total neglect in his 30's. He gave up composition. He was never offered comfortable pastures in academe. He was reduced to hack journalism, the nadir of which was a season as an Agony Aunt! But in his last two decades he began writing successful film scores, operas, symphonies and a series of concert overtures illustrating formative events from American history. The two symphonies and the overture on this disc come from this fruitful period, and very interesting they are too.

For all that Antheil deliberately strove to write not for academics or reluctant Americans still hankering after European models but for that elusive figure The Common Man, his music sounds remarkably international. More or less Romantic (but of a rather muscular kind), it is not particularly American in flavour, even when he quotes a Civil War Song. Nor is it distinctively or idiosyncratically personal, and only rarely is it subjectively confessional. And yet it's not bland. Its virtues are quite compellingly energetic rhythmic forces, clear, translucent orchestration, bold themes and simple structures.

In these pieces there is much of a martial flavour [listen - Antheil CD track 2, 0:00-0:30] - dry, objective and forceful - as if war were a fact of life but nothing to boast about nevertheless, and somehow inhuman and mechanical. In a word: rather impressively honest. There is a controlled atmosphere of menace which also impresses because the temptation to unleashed violence on the one hand and inconsolable sorrow on the other are resisted. So are the sirens of heroic posturing, titanic struggling and strutting triumphalism.

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Copyright © 2 September 2000 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK

 

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CD INFORMATION - NAXOS 8.559033 - GEORGE ANTHEIL

PURCHASE THE ANTHEIL DISC FROM AMAZON

PURCHASE THE ANTHEIL DISC FROM CROTCHET

CD INFORMATION - NAXOS 8.559034 - PAUL CRESTON

PURCHASE THE CRESTON DISC FROM AMAZON

PURCHASE THE CRESTON DISC FROM CROTCHET

 

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