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THE GREAT PEACE

Dreamed early 1922 by George Antheil.

INTRODUCTION

In 1922 George Antheil was a young concert pianist from New Jersey hoping to marry a respectable girl named Anne Williams. A year later he was a radical composer living in Paris with the great love of his life, Boski Markus, a Hungarian revolutionary; among their friends were Hemingway, Stravinsky and James Joyce.

What revolutionized George?

THE GREAT PEACE

... early in 1922, I had two dreams in a single night.

I dreamed, simply, that I was living during some future period, a time of "The Great Peace." This peace followed a great war, a war even larger than World War I, of which I had once very nearly become a part. The great new war had just concluded, and I remember walking alongside of some European or Asiatic river filled to the brim with corpses. But it was springtime, now, and all-pervading peace filled the air; the river and the corpses had disappeared, and I was back in my homeland.

Lovely streamlined buildings were built into the hillsides and upon the flat plains; the houses were beautiful, each with its swimming pool, its tennis court, its sheltered garden. Some of the houses were large, others small; but all were handsome. Children were running about in the nearby parks, well clothed, well fed, well educated.

The scene had the atmosphere of Chirico, without the atmosphere of ruins, factories, or wars. Except for the music of children's voices, everything was strangely quiet.

I found myself walking along a pathway of small residential buildings. Out of each of them, as I passed it, came the music of a symphony orchestra playing--my music!

But it was not music similar to anything I had written or, indeed, to anything I had known. It was not like Horst's "The Planets" or Stravinsky's "Sacre" in the sense that it was at once more difficult to catch with the ear, and easier. Its nearest relative was Beethoven or Brahms, but without their chords, harmonies, melodies. It was a sort of "Brotherhood of Man" music, the quadruple essence of nobility and man's greatest spiritual efforts.

(Needless to say, I have never been able to write this symphony awake, although, in many succeeding compositions, I've tried.)

I woke up, and as I have a very retentive, almost "photographic" ear--which often outwits me when I get to liking and hearing too much of any one composer's work--I immediately snatched a piece of blank music paper and, for the next two hours, wrestled with the problem of getting down as many fragments of the music as I could remember.

These, as I discovered the following morning, were very unsatisfactory; they were but chords, pieces of melodies, a few rhythms I had never heard awake, and some rapid orchestral sketches.

Yet every time that I was to play this page for myself in the future, the atmosphere of that particular dream returned as vividly as the scene of a drama acted out in technicolor and with perfect sound recording. It did not return wholly, but the fragments recorded into musical notes returned...

I went to sleep again, and towards morning I had another dream.

This dream was not about the deep future, but the more immediate future or present. I dreamt that I stood in the reeking smoking ruins of a European battlefield of the war just concluded. Standing sadly among these ruins was a girl with dark short hair, dressed--I remembered this very particularly for some reason--in a dark plaid skirt. As I was also to make a written note on my music manuscript about this dress, I can tell you that it was on a green background, red and yellow crossed stripes.

I approached her, took her by the hand, led her away. She followed me without question. But she seemed to be looking elsewhere, paying no attention...

Psychoanalysts, of course, will have a field day with these two dreams. They will, for one thing, point out that any child in 1922 knew that there would be another and greater war in twenty or more years. They will point out that because of my association with Margaret Anderson's group I undoubtedly was already aware of the growing implications of modern architecture. They can, if they choose, say that my dream of the symphony in every house was the purest of wish-fulfillment dreams, and grandiose at that!

They can say that the short-haired girl in the Scot kilt...

In any case, let them say what they wish; probably most of it could be true. What is more interesting to me, however, is that from now on I proceeded in life as though this dream were a prophecy.

When, one month later, Anne Williams and her mother disappeared, I suddenly turned to this piece of paper as though there, in its almost unintelligible scratchings, were the hieroglyphics through which I could escape into my true future--if I could only decipher them in time.

I sat down at my piano and played them, over and over. Then, grabbing a piece of music paper, I wrote as if by automatic writing a whole but very difficult piano sonata, the "Airplane Sonata." I called it that because, as a symbol, the airplane seemed most indicative of that future into which I wanted to escape.

Not so many months later I was to play it in Europe and it, in turn, was to father a whole series of other similar sonatas even nearer to the "dream"; the "Sonata Sauvage," "Death of the Machines," and the "Mechanisms."

After I had written the "Airplane Sonata," and realized at long last that now I was finally embarked upon my true pathway in music, I suddenly remembered the Five Songs and the Symphony [earlier works his mentors liked] and that the new sonata was not even remotely like them. I knew in my heart that my friends would not like this new strange music; I cringed before the thought of showing it to Bloch [his teacher].

I repeat, I was twenty-one, with one foot well upon the ladder of American musical success; yet now I was about to find powerful recognition for the wrong sort of music!

When I discovered that Anne and her mother had left for Europe, it was almost like the Hand of Fate. The direction in which I must go was indicated, and I had to obey, no matter how illogical it seemed on the surface...

And so my First Symphony was not premiered in Philadelphia.

THE GIRL FROM THE DREAM

One day in December 1922 I came back home to my Berlin apartment to find a letter from Paris awaiting me. It was a letter from Stravinsky; he wanted me to come to Paris, where he had arranged the promised piano concert.

I went out and wired him that I would come. Then I went to a cafe not far removed from my abode.

A girl and two men soon entered the door of this cafe and sat down quite near me. The girl was dark, had high cheekbones, but otherwise was delicately, rather sensitively beautiful. She was dressed in a black dress and blouse, wore no cosmetics whatsoever. The two men with her were young, evidently brothers, and astonishingly enough resembled twin Mephistoes. They looked as if they were Mongols.

All now ordered coffee and when it came drank it in almost complete silence. What little they did say seemed to be in Chinese or some sort of Mongolian dialect. They spoke in no language known to me; and I spoke German, French, and New Jersey, with some knowledge of Swedish, Italian, and Russian.

The girl and the two men were sort of "arty''-looking.

Late the next afternoon I wandered as a soul possessed into an expressionist art gallery, called "Der Sturm." Here, from time to time, I had bought various modern paintings from a young girl attendant, Fraulein Eva Weinwurstel, a good-looking slim girl of about twenty-three.

Eva was interested in the fact that I reputedly composed music of a wildly unorthodox order; she was a sort of high priestess of modern art, as so often girls in bookshops, art galleries, or modern museums are, the eternal but utterly nice Sylvia Beaches of all climes.

Eva was a person who could help me about that girl if anyone could. Nothing occurred in the art life of Berlin without Eva's knowing of it; she sat at a sort of central headquarters of art intelligence.

And Eva was able. She said she knew the girl in the cafe. Her name was Boski Markus. The two young men with her were related to her by marriage, the elder of the two being her older sister's husband. No, Boski did not like the unmarried one very much. They probably all went into the cafe together because their group treated in turns and it was the turn for one of them to treat. They were all very poor. Not because their parents did not have money, for Boski was related to various well-to-do Viennese and Budapest families, but Boski had turned radical and run away from her family in Budapest. More, Eva did not know. Wait a minute: Eva had also heard that Boski had somehow been mixed up with the Revolution and barely escaped Budapest with her life after its downfall. Not much more. She was only eighteen or nineteen, wild, untamable. At present she studied at the Berlin University.

"She will hate you for an American capitalist," Eva remonstrated, "what with your buying three or four hundred dollars' worth of modern paintings at a time, wearing full-dress clothes in the evenings, and invariably going to the most expensive restaurants, the choicest salons. You're crazy to try to meet her. Moreover, and if by any mad chance she does take a liking to you, her own very clannish group will disown her. This group have been her closest friends since childhood, including her beautiful older sister whom she loves devotedly. She will not bother with you for long. Why bump your head against this impossible wall?"

"Logically," I replied, "you are fantastically correct. Yet I must meet Boski Markus. Please, Eva, help me."

And I suggested a plot wherein Eva should invite Boski Markus to the premiere of my First Symphony the week following at the Berlin Philharmonic under Schultz von Domberg. I pressed two box seats into her hand. After the concert Eva was to maneuver Boski into having after-concert dinner with me and Eva.

Eva sighed. "I'll try," she said. Eva was a nice kid and very attractive, but not my type.


...I stood at the entrance of this dismal Berlin Philharmonic long after it had emptied and turned dark, but no Markus or Weinwurstel were to be seen.

The next day I went around to the Sturm gallery. I asked Eva if she and Fraulein Markus had attended my concert.

"Oh yes," she replied suavely.

"And where were you both after the concert? I thought you and I had arranged to get all three of us together after the concert?"

"I tried to," Eva said. "But Boski pulled me away; she just wouldn't keep the appointment."

"Why not?"

"Well... she didn't like your music."


Stravinsky had scheduled my piano concert in Paris for some time during Christmas week. He expected me there on or before, December 23, but, because I wanted every last moment to practice upon my hard-action piano in Berlin, I delayed my trip until the last moment. However, I had faithfully done all my practicing; moreover, I had even bought my tickets, packed my bags, a suitcase with my evening clothes and a satchel with toilet articles for use on the train.

Eva Weinwurstel phoned on December 23, just a few hours before my train time for Paris. She said that at long last she had, with great effort, been able to arrange a dinner that evening with Boski Markus and had prevailed upon her to allow me to be present. Scarcely believing my good fortune, and realizing that I would have until midnight to catch the Paris train, I accepted.

I met them both at the Sturm gallery at closing time and took them to the best restaurant in Berlin, Horchneis.

We sat in an alcove. Boski Markus took off her hat.

Her hair was as black as a raven's; and short, very short!

She took off her coat, a long winter one.

The dress! Her dress. It was a green plaid one, with red and yellow stripes! The dream!

I knew that this was it.

We ordered our meal, proceeded to eat it. My mind, naturally, was in a turmoil. This was the exact girl, the exact short hair, the exact dress I had dreamed about on the evening of the dream of future music. I had a feeling of desperation, as if something drastic had to be done, and quickly. On Christmas Day Stravinsky would be waiting for me in Paris, not because it was important to him, but because he liked doing something for a young American pianist whose piano style he favored or, if not that, because he favored Americans, American music, youth. In any case he liked me, and Stravinsky was not given to liking people; in fact, he had a justified reputation for being dour, dry, preoccupied. To come to Paris, if only as a pianist, under his beneficent sponsorship would have, without doubt, been a most excellent thing--although, on the other hand, whatever might it do to my composition? Would I be strong enough?

Eva went out to make a telephone call. I turned quickly to Boski Markus and said:

"You now have a week's vacation from Berlin University. Let's spend it in Paris!"

"All right," said Boski Markus, "but not in Paris. I am Hungarian, and the French won't give me a visa." (Hungary had only recently been an enemy of France, and France was chary of her visas in this direction.)

I was thunderstruck. Boski Markus had said "All right." That was the main thing. Let Stravinsky wait. I said, "I am packed and ready--I knew you'd say, 'All right.' "

"All packed and ready?" she echoed, dismayed. "How did you know that I was going to say yes?"

"I'll prove it," I said. "After we take Eva home, just come up to my apartment, and you'll see that I'm packed for immediate departure. Why, otherwise, did you think I came to this dinner tonight?"

Boski looked bug-eyed at this American method of doing things.

"Clearly," she told herself, "these Americans are peculiar people!"

But she was intrigued. After we had taken Eva home we stopped in at the Post Office Telegraph, and I dispatched a telegram to Aunt Kolinski:

ARRIVING ON LATE AFTERNOON TRAIN CHRISTMAS EVE AS ARRANGED LAST MONTH STOP
PLEASE MEET BOSKI AND MYSELF AT STATION STOP
MUCH MUCH LOVE STOP
GEORGE
After which we continued up to my apartment, where Boski saw with her own eyes that I was packed and ready, utterly.

On my piano was a little group of four-hand piano pieces dedicated "To Boski Markus."

"Such confidence," Boski said, "should not go unrewarded. I had no intention of spending my Christmas vacation with you, of course. But now I am very intrigued as to whether there is an Aunt Kolinski in Poland or not... Yes, let's go!"

So we drove to Boski's garret room, packed a few things, and drove to the railroad station. We had no difficulty getting accommodations, as few people traveled during these early days of the inflation.

On the train I explained to Boski that I hoped she would not think I was making an improper advance, because from the very first I had intended that Aunt Kolinski act as our chaperone. At this Boski Markus looked more bug-eyed than ever, but I could see that she had gained some respect for me in that I possessed and admitted that I possessed poor peasant relatives in Poland.

As she explained, she rather imagined that I was the son of an American capitalist, which would not have done at all.

I thought of poor Dad in his modest shoe store in Trenton, swallowed hard, crossed my fingers and said,

"Oh no, he's no capitalist, but a Chicago gangster. A Big Boss. I decided to run away from all that nonsense. Before I left home, Mother made me take this along"--and I opened my coat and shirt to disclose my black silken holster under my left armpit. [In fact, George had a gun because Nazis had threatened to bomb one of his concerts.] Making sure that the train-compartment window was closed, I took out my automatic and showed it to her.

"Handle it carefully," I said, "it's loaded."

Boski gave it back to me very thoughtfully. Obviously, although extremely strange to all European standards, I was nobody to be trifled with. She relapsed into silence for a long time and then went to sleep on my shoulder.

She was still wearing the plaid dress.


[Antheil's manager Hanson disapproved:]

"Whenever and if you do get married," he said, "be sure to marry a rich wife. Mere composers may be inspired by poor mistresses, but great piano virtuosi must live in a sumptuous atmosphere in which the ordinary girl of middle-class family does not fit. In fact, she much too often becomes bored in such an arrangement, raises the devil in one way or another. But a rich wife is used to all of this. Moreover, not only will she like to travel all over the earth with you, but she will also be able to pay her own expenses..."


On the train back to Berlin I finally and forever decided for Boski and thereby for composing instead of concertizing. For music paper instead of piano keys. For the "dream."

But it was not going to be easy. We, Boski and I, were not very much alike.

She represented much of that war-torn, disillusioned Europe of 1923; I a young, hopeful, but utterly naive America of the same period.

I came back to Berlin to compose several new works. Hanson, in splendid spirits, left for New York.

I now saw Boski often. But I soon had to realize more and more often that all of her immediate friends strongly disapproved of me. I was simply not of The Faith! Our meetings soon grew into a string of quarrels, mostly about philosophical niceties or political subtleties. These incessant bickerings between us gradually exhausted me. "Your friends have been talking to you!" I'd accuse. She did not deny it.

Still she continued to see me, apparently against her own will, her better judgment.

Finally, one evening, she came to me with a new spirit of determination.

"It can't go on," she announced firmly. "You and I have absolutely nothing in common. I disapprove of everything about you--except you personally--and that is bad. You are nice personally, but everything I live for, you and your background negate. I do not really like your music, your friends, or your whole sensational concertizing. I do not like your clothes, your conversation, your ideas, the expensive night clubs you take me to..."

I thought I talked her out of her macabre mood. I insisted that we go to a restaurant, an inexpensive one this time.

She sat there all evening and glowered.

But she stayed... I thought this much, at least, a victory.

The next day, however, Boski's sister told me that Boski was in the Hopital des Westends. Her life was despaired of. She had swallowed enough morphine to kill two people; and it was only because she was young and extra-hardy and had been discovered in the nick of time that she had any chance whatsoever of survival.

I went home and prayed earnestly.

I also thought, "Attempted suicide was her way of getting her conscience and her liking me straightened out. Well, it won't work. I'll reform! I'll reform because Boski is going to live."

When she was well enough to go walking again, we went for a stroll in the Tiergarten. It was nearly spring in the air, balmy and sweet.

I said, "Let's go to Paris, Boski, just you and me. We'll live in a little room. I have enough money to last for a year or two, or perhaps even three--if the room is little enough. I also have some Picassos I've stored with a friend in America, and some Braques, the ones I bought from Eva Weinwurstel. We'll sell them when we run out of money--the price on them is sure to go up. At last I'll write the music I want to write. And you'll help me. I will not play any more concerts after Paris, except my own music. I love you very much, Boski, and a career of any kind means nothing to me unless you share every moment of it."

Boski listened seriously and said that she would think it over. Tomorrow she would phone me.

Tomorrow she did phone and said:

"Yes."

SOURCE: George Antheil's Bad Boy of Music, p.20-22, 47-51, 58, 70-73, 86-87.



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