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Avant-Garde Art \ Futurpiano [LTMCD 2541]

Futurpiano showcases three influential avant-garde composers associated with Futurism, by way of piano music composed between 1913 and 1933.

Arthur-Vincent Lourié was the first Russian Futurist musician and a signatory of the original St Petersburg Manifesto in 1914. The five Synthèses written that same year offer a form of dodecaphony, while Formes en l'air from 1915 is a Cubo-Futurist conception using an innovative form of notation, dedicated to Pablo Picasso.

Born in the Ukraine, but raised in New York, Leo Ornstein gave his first major recital of 'Futurist Music' at the Steinway Hall in London on 27 March 1914. The programme included the two bold pieces featured on this album, Suicide in an Airplane and Three Moods.

American-born 'Bad Boy of Music' George Antheil is represented by Mechanisms (1923), along with a series of preludes written in 1933 and inspired by a graphic novel by Surrealist artist Max Ernst, La Femme 100 Têtes.

All selections on Futurpiano are performed by noted Italian pianist Daniele Lombardi and were recorded in Rome and Lugano in 1995.


1-5. ARTHUR-VINCENT LOURIE Synthèses, Op.16
6-8. ARTHUR-VINCENT LOURIE Formes en l'air
9. LEO ORNSTEIN Suicide in an Airplane
10-12. LEO ORNSTEIN Three Moods
13. LEO ORNSTEIN A la Chinoise
14-16. GEORGE ANTHEIL Mechanisms
17-36. GEORGE ANTHEIL La Femme 100 Têtes (after Max Ernst), 20 Préludes

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Daniele Lombardi

Daniele Lombardi was born in Florence, Italy. Since 1969 he has established an international reputation both through his own compositions, and with an avant-garde repertoire exploring Futurism and other modernist works. His collection Musica Futurista won an Italian Recording Critics Award in 1987, and he has edited the tri-monthly contemporary music magazine La Musica. When not writing and performing he teaches piano at the Conservatoire G. Verdi in Milan.

Futurpiano [LTMCD 2541]
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Liner notes:

Recorded by renowned Italian pianist Daniele Lombardi in Rome and Lugano in 1995, Futurpiano collects together key works by three radical composers linked with the Futurist movement, and the 20th century musical avant-garde.

In his founding Manifesto of February 1909, Futurist leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti recognised that the Futurist ideology would include sound and noise in the armoury of the war against traditionalism. Italian Futurist composers would include Francesco Balilla Pratella, Luigi Russolo and Franco Casavola, with Russolo's celebrated noise machines (intonarumori) best-known and most radical manifestation of Futurist music and the 'art of noises.'

Futurism inspired many artists and composers outside Italy, most notably in Russia. Like their Italian counterparts, the Russian Futurists were fascinated with the dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life, and purposely sought to arouse controversy and to attract publicity by repudiating static art of the past. However, the Russian movement was primarily literary, and included writers, poets (but also painters) such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burliuk, Kazimir Malevich, Benedikt Livshits and Georgy Yakulov. When Marinetti first arrived in Moscow on 26 January 1914, however, he found few if any Russian Futurists waiting to greet him on the platform. Instead, most were away, or living in St Petersburg, and in any event resented Marinetti seeming to affect the pose of a celebrity general come to inspect a provincial garrison.

Marinetti travelled on to St Petersburg at the beginning of February, dutifully reciting from Zang Tumb Tuum, but left many native Russian Futurists unimpressed. Two of the dissenters, Benedikt Livshits and Arthur-Vincent Lourié, delivered lectures of their own, addressing Shared Aspects of Italian and Russian Futurism and Italian Futurist Music. The pair were already co-signatories to Mi i zapad (We and the West), essentially an independent St Petersburg Futurist Manifesto, published immediately prior to Marinetti's arrival.

Born in Belorus in 1892, Arthur-Vincent Lourié was a partly self-taught composer, and after graduating from Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1913 began to experiment with Impressionist and proto-serialist atonal techniques. Lourié also began to associate with several Futurist artists, and with them proclaimed principles common to painting, poetry and music. Essentially the first Russian Futurist composer, by 1914 Lourié had arrived at an early form of dodecaphony, well-illustrated by the five Synthéses: Lent; Moderement animé; Vite (aigu); Assez vite, mais toujours animé; Mesuré. The following year Lourié produced the Formes en l'air. Dedicated to Picasso and sub-titled 'sound script', this was an essentially Cubo-Futurist concept using an innovative form of notation (or design) in which different systems are placed spatially on the page in independent blocks, with staves omitted in the place of rests.

Unfortunately little writing by Lourié on Futurist music and theory survives in translation, and thereafter he stepped back from the avant-garde, composing his first religious piece before taking up a post as music a music commissar in 1918. Lourié moved to Berlin in 1921, where he met Varése and Busoni, and then became acquainted with Stravinsky after another move to Paris in 1924. Lourié left for America in 1941, becoming a citizen six years later, and dying in Princeton in October 1966.

Leo Ornstein was born in 1893 in Kremenchuk, a large town in the Ukrainian province of Poltava, and as a child studied at Petrograd Conservatory. To escape various pogroms, in 1907 his family emigrated to the United States, settling in New York's Lower East Side, where Ornstein enrolled in the Institute of Musical Art with mentor Bertha Fiering Tapper. Two years after making his New York debut performing standard repertory, in 1913 Ornstein wrote his first modernist compositions, Dwarf Suite and Danse sauvage, with Suicide in an Airplane also completed around this time. This was followed by European tours in 1913 and 1914, where his first major performance of 'Futurist Music' (more accurately, modernist) took place at the Steinway Hall on the afternoon of 27 March 1914. As well as Schoenberg and a group of Bach transcriptions by Busoni, Ornstein also performed several of his own pieces, the programme as a whole creating a major stir. The critic of the London Standard was impressed, declaring that 'Schoenberg and Scriabin are poor Futurists beside Ornstein... his compositions equal the sum of Schoenberg and Scriabin squared.'

However, for the most part the recital provoked derisory comment, for example this passage from the Daily Sketch on 28 March: 'Wild outbreak at Steinway Hall. Pale and frenzied youth. Mr Ornstein, dressed in velvet, crouched over the instrument in an attitude all of his own, and for all the apparent frailty of his form dealt it the most ferocious punishment one listened with considerable distress. Nothing so horrible as Mr Ornstein's music has been heard so far - nothing at all like it save Stravinsky's Sacrifice to Spring. Sufferers from complete deafness should attend the next recital.'

In a review of the same performance published on 30 March, the Daily Telegraph was hardly less severe: 'The audience remained to the end, hypnotised as a rabbit by a snake... in Three Moods by Leo Ornstein an appalling noise was made by a method which was quite new. It was produced by putting the fingers close together, stiffening the hands and striking alternately down on the keyboard perpendicularly in ramrod fashion as hard as possible, with the loud pedal down. Another startling effect was produced by slapping the upper notes - I did not matter which - in the bass. Mr Ornstein greatly favoured this slapping process, and the second of the Notre Dame Impressions succeeded in suggesting a battle royal of cats and tiles.'

Another early performance provoked a near-riot, Ornstein later recalling: 'At my second concert, devoted to my own compositions, I might have played anything. I couldn't hear the piano myself. The crowd whistled and howled and even threw handy missiles on the stage.' A series of four recitals at the Bandbox Theatre in New York in January and February 1915 also provoked hostile notices, the Boston Evening Transcript remarking that: 'Ornstein, Futurist pianist, looks like the poet in Shaw's Candida but he pounds his grand until it froths at the mouth.'

However, Ornstein's bold radicalism also began to attract supporters. Written circa 1913, Suicide in an Airplane was one of Ornstein's most distinctive works, involving his trademark tone clusters. The score calls for a fast bass ostinato pattern meant to simulate the sound of engines and capture the sensation of flight. Ornstein became a cult figure between 1914 and the middle 1920s, and this piece in particular served as an inspiration for Airplane Sonata (1923) by George Antheil, of whom more shortly. Writing in 2000, pianist and historian Joseph Smith cited Suicide in an Airplane among those pieces that 'represented (and may still represent) the ne plus ultra of pianistic violence.'

Three Moods (1914) evokes a trio of emotional states (anger, grief and joy), involving extended tradic harmonies, pentatonicism and parallelisms, while A la Chinoise (written circa 1918) is a very bright piece, composed almost entirely in the middling and high registers, the arpeggio accompaniment adding to the impression of oriental music. Neglected for several decades, innovator Ornstein was rediscovered in the 1970s, though much of his output remains unknown. He died in Green Bay, Wisconsin in February 2002, aged 108.

At the beginning of 1922 Ornstein had been due to perform a series on concerts in Europe, but after parting company with his agent his place was taken by another American immigrant radical, George Antheil. The son of Lutheran immigrants from Germany, George Antheil was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in July 1900. Beginning in 1916, Antheil studied piano under Constantin von Sternberg and then Ernest Bloch, from whom he received formal instruction in theory and composition. After giving his first European recital at the Wigmore Hall in London on 22 June 1922, Antheil settled in Berlin, where he met Stravinsky and further developed a cold, anti-romantic, rhythmically propulsive piano style, typified by compositions such as Airplane Sonata (1921), Mechanisms (1922 or 1923), Sonata Sauvage (1922 or 1923), Death of Machines (1923) and Jazz Sonata (1922 or 1923), and well as the celebrated Ballet méchanique, written between 1923 and 1925 for eight pianos, percussion, airplane propellers and effects.

In a somewhat fanciful memoir published in 1947, Bad Boy of Music, Antheil claimed that early performances in Berlin, Budapest and Paris reliably provoked such extreme reactions that: 'I bought a small thirty-two automatic, and when I arrived in Berlin I went to a tailor with a sketch for a silken holster which was to fit neatly under my arm. I had read about Chicago gangsters wearing their guns in this fashion. From then on, my thirty-two automatic accompanied me everywhere, especially to concerts. Quite a number of observers have commented on my coolness during various riotous concerts which I performed at during those first tumultuous years of the armistice between World War 1 and World War 2. The reason is very simple: I was armed... Without a further word I placed my ugly little automatic on the front desk of my Steinway, and proceeded with my concert. Every note was heard...'

Unencumbered by modesty, Antheil gave the following excited description of a performance at the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris on 4 October 1923: 'My little group of piano pieces, the Mechanisms, the Airplane Sonata and the Sonata Sauvage were to go on as a prelude to the opening of the brilliant Ballets Suédois of Rolf de Mare. The theatre was crowded with the most famous personages of the day, among others Picasso, Stravinsky, Auric, Milhaud, James Joyce, Erik Satie, Man Ray, Diaghilev, Miro, Artur Rubinstein, Ford Madox Ford and unnumbered others. They had not come to see me, but the opening of the ballet. My piano was wheeled out on the front of the stage, before the huge Léger cubist curtain and I commenced playing. Rioting broke out almost immediately... I felt for the automatic under my arm and continued playing.. I remember Man Ray punching somebody in the nose in the front row. Marcel Duchamp was arguing loudly with somebody else in the second row. In a box nearby Erik Satie was shouting, "What Precision! What precision!" and applauding. The spotlight was turned on the audience by some wag upstairs, hurting his sensitive eyes... In the gallery the police came in and arrested the Surrealists who, liking the music, were punching everybody who objected.'

Antheil's self-serving account of the premiere of La création du monde by Darius Milhaud is both self-serving and exaggerated. Nonetheless, soon after Antheil was invited by Fernand Léger to write music for his experimental film Ballet méchanique, which Antheil claimed had been inspired by Mechanisms. Antheil also suggests that his work immediately inspired Erik Satie to create Relâche with René Clair and Francis Picabia, and Arthur Honegger to compose Pacific 231, a work often described as Futurist, but in fact modelled on the chorales of Bach. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Antheil was something of a braggart, and perhaps an opportunist. Nonetheless, the composer and critic H.H. Stuckenschmidt confirms that Antheil's music (Airplane Sonata, Death of Machines) was known at the celebrated Bauhaus school in Germany, and performed by their avant-garde orchestra. Indeed in 1927 the Bauhaus advertised a forthcoming book by Antheil, Musico-Mechanico, although sadly this did not reach print.

Antheil spent the years 1923-33 in Paris, and on a visit to Cagnes-sur-mer on the French Riviera found inspiration in a Surrealist collage novel: 'A book of Max Ernst's pictures called The Woman with 100 Heads, happened to become the book I would most often see at my bedside, so I wrote 100 short piano preludes to illustrate it. Later these were to be used by Martha Graham to make her Dance in Four Parts, a Surrealist-psychoanalytical ballet - probably the first of another trend.' If Antheil actually wrote 100 preludes, only 45 were retained for the final version, in which the mechanistic style of his earlier work is contained within a more controlled framework, ending on a Percussion Dance for piano.

By 1936 the impoverished former enfant terrible had relocated to Hollywood to become a composer of relatively tame film music, operas and ballets, as well as portmanteau work as a writer, inventor and lonely-hearts columnist. Antheil died in New York on 12 February 1959. A Futurist by inclination, if not cultural allegiance, Antheil confirmed in Bad Boy of Music: 'I called the Airplane Sonata that because, as a symbol, the airplane seemed most indicative of that future into which I wanted to escape.'

James Nice