(Fictional) Correspondence between Ezra Pound and George Antheil

George Antheil was certainly a celebrated figure in Paris in the 1920s. There was an undeniable fascination with the ultramodernism of his compositions, which was championed by Ezra Pound. Pound, however, misrepresented Antheil’s work, appropriating it for his own purposes, and consequently exaggerating Antheil’s influence on the music of Paris.[1] This is evident in a collection of recently discovered letters from Pound to Antheil, reproduced below, which indicate a concern for Antheil’s increasing conservatism. This trend in Antheil’s later works not only conflicted with Pound’s vision for Antheil’s music, but also contributed to Antheil’s dwindling fame.[2]


July, 1923

Mr. Antheil,

First of all, I can’t begin to thank you for your support of my work. The writings you have provided me with both affirm my beliefs and provide me with the evidence I need to publish them. The cause of our movement – the musical vorticists, if you will – will no doubt be won by your tirade against improvisation![3] Musical machinery is the way of the future and I am confident that you, with your unique compositional style, will be the one to lead us there.

You said so yourself, it is time to move away from referring to the “architecture” of music.[4] “Mechanisms,” I could not agree more, is a much more suitable term. Your insistence that music exists in time-space, differentiating it from other art forms, echoes my sentiments that time is “the element most grossly omitted from treatises on harmony”.[5] I look forward to hearing this concept play out in your future compositions!

I am sorry to learn of your recent disagreements with Igor Stravinsky. I know how much that relationship means to you; it is never a good feeling to be rejected by your hero.[6] But don’t fret! Igor will come around. Besides, he will be unable to ignore you for long. Yours is the true voice of the modernist; Stravinsky was a relief from Debussy, and not much more.[7]

You can count on me to make your presence known in the coming months! As you’re no doubt beginning to realize, if you wish to be recognized in this most prestigious community, you must find your way into the musical salons; the literary salons were the foundation of my own career. It truly is all about who you know, and you are lucky to know me, because I can guarantee your way in! You, my friend are a genius. And I, an expert in genius, if I do say so myself.[8] Between you and me, the musical future of this city, and consequently, the world, will be forever altered!

Your new friend,

E. Pound


September, 1923

Dear George,

I would like to feature your works sooner rather than later, to showcase our musical innovations. Please consider preparing a couple of pieces for Olga Rudge to perform. I don’t believe you’ve composed for violin before… well, there’s no time like the present![9] I will arrange to have any Parisians of importance present.

I intend to publish my treatise on harmony within a year, including of course the section devoted to your own writings on the new direction of music. This will surely set you apart from your contemporaries.

With gratitude,

E. Pound


June, 1926

My dear George,

You have no doubt seen the review of your string quartet in the Comoedia from last month! I trust you are as thrilled as I that the public is responding to your influence. True, they can’t seem to discuss your work without mentioning Stravinsky, but believe me when I say that your distinction will be clear in time.[10]

Focus, then on the positive! A generally favorable review in Comoedia! And who could forget your scandalous premiere? You’re most certainly giving Stravinsky a good run for his money.[11]

With excitement for what’s to come,



July, 1926


Do you despise success? Do you seek to antagonize me? Your Second Symphony ignores everything I warned you about in terms of falling back on old conventions. I couldn’t bear to stay for the entire performance![12] It is true, I once supported your growing reputation, but you’ve become nothing more than “George Antheil, the famous noisemaker.”[13] Is this how you wish to be remembered?

I ask you one last time to reconsider the direction your music is taking. I sincerely hope you decide to further the cause of musical vorticism which you once championed so well.

E. Pound


May 1927

Mr. Antheil,

It is clear that the United States is not quite ready for your composition. To be fair, the press surrounding the Carnegie Hall performance of your Ballet Mécanique did not help your case. Perhaps, however, it is best to focus your efforts in Paris. My treatise is now published, and we should start to see the effects of my ideas on the new music to come.

If I may be so bold, you could benefit from reading it over. Quite frankly, you’re losing your status among the musical avant-garde. You’re relying too heavily on that which has already been done![14] Your entire appeal was founded in going beyond the conventional. Why, then, abandon the fame that your Ballet Mécanique has brought you?

E. Pound


[1] George Antheil, Bad Boy of Music (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1945), p. 120

[2] Tim Page and Vanessa Weeks Page, Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson (New York, NY: Summit Books, 1988), p. 70

[3] Ezra Pound, Antheil (Chicago, IL: Pascal Covici, Publisher, inc., 1927), p. 57

[4] Ibid., p. 41

[5] Ibid., p. 9

[6] Hugh Ford, Four Lives in Paris (San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1987), p. 17; Antheil, p. 106

[7] Pound, p. 37; Ann Saddlemyer, “William Butler Yeats, George Antheil, Ezra Pound Friends and Music,” Studi irlandesi. A Journal of Irish Studies, n. 2 (2012), pp. 55-71

In reality, Antheil’s intentions were more in line with Stravinsky’s than Pound made them out to be. Saddlemyer claimed Antheil was representative “alongside Stravinsky” of the “new music” Pound was advocating for.

[8]Antheil, p. 117

[9] Ibid., p. 121; Ford, p. 22

[10] Paul Le Flem, “Un concert de Musique américaine,” Comoedia (Paris, France), May 10, 1926

« Le Quatuor à cordes de M. Georges Antheil rappelle avec une insistance – bien vive parfois – les sympathies stravinskystes du musicien. »

[11] Ford, p. 23, 26

Antheil’s Paris premiere “resulted” in a riot. It was a bit of a hoax, however, as the audience had been primed with celebrities in order to film a riotous response to the first act of the performance. Antheil’s Airplane Sonata just so happened to follow this first act, once again stirring up the already rowdy crowd.

[12] James J. Wilhelm, Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908–1925 (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1990), p. 269

[13] Régis Michaud, “Les nouveaux ferments,” Comoedia (Paris, France), Feb. 2, 1929

« Il soutenait la renommée grandissante de George Antheil, bruitiste célèbre. »

[14] Linda Whitesitt, The Life and Music of George Antheil (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983) Here, Antheil is falling back on neoclassicism, which he is supposed to have transcended, but which he turned to in the works following his more mechanistic Ballet Mécanique.