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George Antheil: Bad Boy's Piano Music
George Antheil, Benedikt Koehlen
George Antheil: Bad Boy's Piano Music
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Classical
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #1


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The bad boy was ahead of his times or level with it
scarecrow | Chicago, Illinois United States | 04/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"George Antheil has been having a healthy resurgence of interests with performances of his magnum opus Ballet mechanique with Dennis Russell Davies in New York recently and one expected San Francisco with Michael Tilson Thomas . Antheil's musical gifts here was he caught the negativity of the age, the transitional period between the Wars,when national hatreds and opposing ideologies began festering in the hearts of men,he was labeled by the French, the Futurist pianist when he gave his solo concerts there in the Twenties. But the Futurists were not a bunch I would like to be associated with in light of their Fascists affiliations.Antheil was smart enough never to have written music with such odious overtones yet his music certainly captured this dark page in politics.Needless to say these concerts were accompanied with riots and verbal slinging,if not open violence. Antheil in retrospect is a fascinating bad boy musically for having utilized such innovations for his time as chord clusters, exlpoiting the extremes of piano sonorities with high register tremoli,bass drum like thuds,glissandi,high dynamic levels,pure texture,the obviously motoric(which the Russians adopted simultaneously Prokofiev and Mosolov) infiltrated with an overwhelming demeanor of anger and brutality, something Edgar Varese also exploited in a quite different way. This disc features all the primary piano works the various Piano Sonatas all written in the Twenties a year apart from each other, the short Jazz Sonata(1922), a romp up the scale in octaves with high syncopation,jerks and jabs. The Third Sonata(1923) is here subtitled "Death of Machines" and the ever popular Second Sonata(1921) "The Airplane",the most widely played of the set. Antheil's musical language is fairly one-dimensional except for him rather than representing himself with one seminal work I think you need to here a few to get the full scale of his creativity. Mechanisms(1923) has fascinating features, a bit more abstract.less graphic than the Sonatas,but not any less compelling .This is one large work about 13 minutes if played slowly with a treatise like content of representing different aspects of motoric or mechanical like gestures. Machines at this time, recall, was like our Silicon Valley today it ,they represented the future of wealth, those who came the United States as Edgar Varese thought he was stepping into the future with the high level of citylife and the conflagrations of street noises, the human condition growing more robotic and inpersonal. Benedikt Koehlen has a fine grasp and control of these fantastically difficult pieces. Their physicalness is enough to be felt aggressivly making an indelible mark. Antheil had an innate gift for length, much of this music is like a small miniature explosion never overspending the time he allows like the Jazz Sonata a mere one and a half minutes."
American Pathfinder struts his stuff
Phillip J. Rodgers | West Central GA USA | 04/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"George Antheil (1900-1959)was a man whose music provoked riots in Paris 75 years ago. Sadly he seems to have been completely forgotten today. The piano was his instrument and he writes for it with considerable skill. Benedikt Koehlen is more than equal to the formidable demands that Antheil places on the performer. The pieces on this well recorded CD still sound quite "modern." All five of Antheil's piano sonatas are recorded here as well as six other works of considerable interest. If you like the Prokofiev of the 6th Sonata or the Bartok of the 3 Etudes, then you should enjoy this."
One of the best recordings of Anheil's piano music and the o
Discophage | France | 04/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Though released by Col Legno in 1995, this Antheil piano collection was recorded by the Cologne Radio as early as 1989/90, so it must have been a precursor in the long due Antheil rediscovery that took place in the nineties. It was followed by recordings by Marthanne Verbit (Albany, 1994: George Antheil, Bad Boy of Music), Herbert Henck (ECM, 1999: Piano Music by Nancarrow and Antheil) and Guy Livingston (Wergo George Antheil: The Lost Sonatas). Of all these, Koehlen remains one of the best.

First, it is a fairly thorough survey, at least of Antheil's piano works from the 1920s - his most innovative and daring period. Left out are the marvelous cycle of short preludes "La Femme 100 Tête" written in the early 30s - which Koelen has recorded complete on another Col Legno CD (Piano Pictures: Satie Sports & Divertissements / Antheil La Femme 100 têtes) - and the compositions from Antheil's Hollywood period that are included in the collections of Verbit and Livingston. But among the pieces included are the 1919 "Fireworks and the Profane Waltzes" (Fireworks is especially dazzling) and the mesmerizing 1921 "The Golden Bird, after Brancusi"; all these pieces date from before Antheil's departure for Europe, and to my knowledge Koehlen's is still as of today the only recording, which makes it invaluable. His is also, I believe, the only recording of the short 1922/3 Sonata V (one of the three 5th Sonatas Antheil composed! His music was rarely published and his manuscripts are apparently in a state of shambles), a kind of ragtime with a medley of tunes from Stravinsky's Soldier Tale and Sacre to Fuiculi-funiculà. The disc is, roughly, chronologically ordered.

Comparison with Henck, Verbit and various others shows Koehlen's to be an excellent interpretation, often the best. He isn't entirely successful throughout, though. In the 1922 "Jazz Sonata" Antheil instructs to play "as rapidly as it is possible to execute cleanly and with even touch and dynamics like a player piano", but Koehlen (like Henck) appears to have read the instruction only as far as the word "possible". The impression is less of a mechanical player piano than that of a frenzied, demented ragtime bringing to the dancers collapse. In the "Airplane Sonata" (1921) Antheil instructs to take the 1st movement "as fast as possible" and Koelen is here appropriately hectic, but like Verbit he takes the 2nd movement "Andante moderato" at a very moderate tempo indeed, which deprives the movement of much sense of shape; Henck's faster tempo is more effective here. Koehlen's "Little Shimmy" is teutonically slow and ponderous, and the nice bluesy flavor that Verbit and Steffen Schleiermacher (in his Music at the Bauhaus collection on MDG) capture so well is lost in the process.

On the other hand, in the Sonata "Death of the Machines" Koehlen strikes a fine balance of tempo and clear-cut articulation, neither ludicrously slow as Markus Becker (on a CPO CD of George Antheil: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; a Jazz Symphony; Jazz Sonata) nor excessively fast as Henck. In the 1923 "Sonate Sauvage" he has plenty of savagery and power, and his 1932 "Sonatina for Radio" is Gershwinesque it its merry agitation.

"Mechanism" is an extraordinary piece, an 8-movement Sonata that, for once, rarely pounds, but plays instead on mysterious chordal resonances that are evocative of some of Messiaen's "20 Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus". As the title of the last movement indicates ("Mechanism planetary" - adagio), it is, as with Messiaen, music of the celestial spheres. Koehlen plays them with a fine sense of atmosphere, although his slow tempo and "time-suspended" approach sometimes threatens to dissolve the music's shape. At a more animated tempo Henck presents a valid alternative. Livingston plays an abridged version of the same work, under the title "Woman Sonata".

The liner notes in their English version appear to be long on the composer's biography but short on information about the compositions themselves: this is only because they omit to translate the last 3 pages of the thorough and fascinating German original notes. A shame. With a total time of 52:31 there was ample space on the disc to add compositions from Antheil's later period. But still, as it is, this is the CD of Antheil's piano compositions that I recommend if you have only one - but the music is so good, it deserves to be complemented with Koehlen's recording of "La Femme 100 Têtes" and possibly Livingston's collection.