Avant garde pianist and great 20th century communications nerd




Except that Antheil was never able to hear his piece performed the way he wrote it, since he misunderstood the way player pianos worked, and there was no way to get two of them–to say nothing of 16–to play in sync with each other. (This is one of the more glaring errors in the book “Hedy’s Folly.”) That would have to wait until the 1990s, when a group at UMass Lowell using MIDI-controlled player pianos were able to perform the piece the way it should have been heard. Since then it’s been performed over 30 times, including several installations featuring an all-robotic orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZEtFwev630
The installation will next be seen at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico, in October 2015.


@PaulLehrman Hmm, looks like I read Hedy’s Folly naively. Nothing about the impossibility of synchronization in the book. It must have sounded like a total train wreck. No wonder audience members started opening their umbrellas in protest.


Well, as the first performance (in Paris) approached, Antheil realized he had a problem and re-configured the piece so it could be played with a single player-piano (and a bunch of live pianists). Even so, it was so cacophonous and loud that fights broke out in the audience (although some of Antheil’s friends planted provocateurs to make sure that happened).
The umbrella incident took place at Carnegie Hall during the piece’s single American performance: the fans that were used to create the airplane propeller sounds, which in Paris were aimed at the ceiling, were instead aimed at the audience. Hats, programs, and reportedly toupees were thus flying all over the place, prompting several audience members to unfurl their umbrellas against the gale.
Must have been quite a scene. But it spelled the end of Antheil’s being taken as a serious composer for many years.


I’ve never actually heard Antheil’s music, although I loved reading about him in college. Then, once “everything” (to certain degrees of approximation) was available online, I forgot to look him up.

In the meantime, I cherish the player-piano music of Conlon Nancarrow.

And have an irresistible urge to place guns on pianos.


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