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Antheil: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4

Antheil: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4

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New Jersey-born George Antheil travelled to Europe in 1922 determined to become ‘noted and notorious’. The first three violin sonatas come from this period, with the eclectic Violin Sonata No. 1 displaying the fiercely barbaric influence of Stravinsky, the more jazzy No. 2 developing experiments in ‘musical cubism’ and the Violin Sonata No. 3 achieving a synthesis of Stravinskyian rhythms and Antheil’s more song-like tendencies. The later No. 4 is built on Classical and Baroque models.


There’s a distinctly Kurt Weill vibe to the first sonata. Even here, in the midst of this Weill-like music, Antheil throws in one of his patented moto perpetuo passages set to a stiff, mechanical rhythm, his trademark in the ‘20s. Even in the slow movement, Antheil indulges in stiff rhythms, microtonal string glissandi for the violinist, and utterly strange musical progressions. Only in the third movement, marked “Funèbre, lento espressive,” does one encounter a relatively normal-sounding theme – but not for long. After the first minute, it gets the Antheil treatment.

The second and third sonatas are each only one movement. The second sonata, though not truly jazz-influenced, is clearly syncopated in a sort of ragtime manner but with skewed, asymmetric rhythm patterns and constantly shifting harmonies. Interestingly, the pianist also plays drums on this one (in the last passage), and there is a brief passage in tango rhythm. I really loved this piece because it tied so many different influences together!

Although written just one year later, the third sonata already shows a development in Antheil’s style. The music is a bit more linear and cohesive and less dependent on steadily-repeated hard rhythmic riffs. Indeed, this is clearly a kinder, gentler George Antheil.

The last sonata dates from 1947–48, by which time Antheil had mellowed somewhat, but he still wrote occasional pieces related to his early works, and this particular violin sonata is one of them. Yet there is clearly a difference. Instead of writing odd themes which are juxtaposed against one another, Antheil figured out a way to remain himself yet still write music that developed in a semi-traditional manner. In a way, then, this sonata is, if not more interesting than the first two, clearly more cohesive. The early sonatas are clearly fun to listen to despite their being a bit disjointed, but this sonata has both innovative ideas and a clear form. Oddly, the last movement, a “Toccata-Rondo,” bears a striking resemblance to Prokofiev, except that at times Antheil’s rhythms appear to be running backwards rather than forwards.

Happily, Yang and Rimmer give everything they have to this project, which is considerable. AS in the case of Yang’s Ysaÿe sonatas, I have no hesitation in recommending this splendid CD.

-- The Art Music Lounge (Lynn René Bayley)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Naxos Regular CD
    • UPC/Barcode: 636943993729
    • Item Number: 8559937