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George Antheil: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

A guide presenting Library of Congress resources related to avant-garde American composer George Antheil (1900-1959).


Man Ray, photographer. George Antheil, 1900-1959, bust portr. photo 192-. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

A radical force in early twentieth-century music, George Antheil (1900--1959) captured the exhilaration and anxiety of the Machine Age through provocative compositions featuring industrial sounds, propulsive rhythms, and experimental instrumentation. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Antheil began his career touring Europe as a concert pianist supported by the patronage of Mary Louise Curtis Bok. The self-proclaimed "Bad Boy of Music" delighted in polarizing audiences with his piano works, which reflected his fascination with machines, futurism, and space-time theories (Sonata Sauvage, Airplane Sonata). His innovation--and audacity--earned him a spot in the Parisian avant-garde movement and the admiration of leading figures such as Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. It was in Paris that he wrote and successfully premiered his best-known early orchestral work, Ballet mécanique, famous for its use of airplane propellers and multiple player pianos. Later, Antheil drifted away from his signature mechanistic style and toward American jazz and folk influences before finally adopting new Romanticism. During the latter part of his career, Antheil became a film composer, penning scores for movies such as In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart. Throughout this period he composed five more symphonies and almost twenty works for the stage.

Ever the Renaissance Man, Antheil pursued many passions and interests outside of music. He authored a mystery thriller, a best-selling autobiography, and numerous writings on politics, love, and his (largely misinformed) understanding of endocrinology. Extraordinarily, he invented a torpedo guidance system with Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr that was later adopted by the Navy.

George Antheil's story of artistic transformations offers researchers a glimpse into the tumultuous early years of the twentieth century through the eyes of a bold and uncompromising American composer.

The Music Division is home to the George and Böske Antheil Papers, which contain holograph music manuscripts, writings, photographs, scrapbooks, and other personal papers of the composer. In addition, the Division holds several other collections with related materials, as well as cataloged scores, books, and correspondence. These materials can be viewed in the Performing Arts Reading Room.

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.