ANTHEIL, GEORGE: Bad boy made good. The revival of the 1924 Ballet Mechanique. (dbl DVD)
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The first disc is a documentary about George and the ballet, with some old footage. It's a fair introduction, a little oversimplified and more like a promo film for the revived ballet than a real documentary - which is what it is, so fair enough. And there is good material here. Disc two is a whole performance of the world premiere, in 1999, of the Ballet as originally conceived - for 12 player pianos, 7 percussionists, 2 pianists, bells, sirens and airplane propellers. A landmark work, with some prescient ideas (endless repetitions, use of long silences) featuring for the most part relentless hammering; the ultimate crystallisation of futurist outrage, and one of the most blatant, howling, in your face compositions of the last century. George takes an idea, multiplies it by 100, then heaps some more on top. Written primarily to offend old ears and to cement a reputation (it succeeded), this work, unlike that of Varese or Schoenberg, has no aspiration to ground a new means of musical expression; rather it made newness, noise and the machine aesthetic an end in itself. In this it was essentially a Futurist work before it was a musical work. But a musical work it is nevertheless, and a classic. Most familiar is the much-reduced 1953 concert version. Then there was a release some years ago of a reconstruction of the 1923 version, in which 9 grand pianos replaced the 12 player-pianos when it became clear that the mechanical pianos could not be synchronised. The invention of the synclavier and MIDI have changed all that and this is a full reproduction of Antheil's original score. The DVD also contains Ferdinand Leger's 1935 experimental film 'Ballet Mechanique', made to be shown synchronised with the music, as well as useful interviews with archivist and composer Charles Amirkhanian, film composer David Raksin, composer Henry Brant and several others. Total time just under 3 hours.