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this particular Bird's tail. All his life Bill Bird had wanted to go into the printing business. As a boy he had fussed with printing presses; and when he found himself set down comfortably in Paris for what looked like a good long tenure of office, he decided that the opportunity was at hand to gratify his hobby. So he bought a fine hand press and other equipment and set up a printing shop on one of the quays of the Ile St.-Louis, with the idea of producing books of the Mosher type.
About this time Ernest Hemingway introduced Bill Bird to Ezra Pound, and the poet's fertile brain at once conceived of a greater destiny for the new publishing house. Why (he asked Bird) be content to repeat what others have done ad nauseam? Why get out any more de luxe "Rubaiyats" and "Kubla Khans" when there are the unpublished works of living men and women equally deserving of such form? In other words, why not help lead the advance in letters and establish that rare, that almost unique thing, a publishing house hospitable to the free and rebellious spirits of contemporary literature?
Whereupon Mr. Pound, with the acquiescence of Mr. Bird, undertook to get together the manuscripts for a book list which should be a cross section of contemporary writing of significance, or rather (to quote the prospectus) "a critical enquiry into the state of prose in 1922-3". For the sake of those who would be well informed about what is going on in letters, this list of titles is here inserted:
It includes "Indiscretions" by Ezra Pound himself; "Women and Men" by Ford Madox Ford; and "In Our Time" by Ernest Hemingway - three of the six titles therefore by members of the Paris circle. The volume entitled "The Great American Novel"
is by W. C. Williams, an American country doctor who was a college mate of Ezra Pound's. "Elimus" is by B. C. Windeler, a British wool broker who was a colonel with the Air Force in India when he wrote it; and "England" is by B. M. G. Adams, an upper class Englishwoman. Three British authors, three American.
All these books have been published by the Three Mountains Press - as Bird named his establishment — and beautifully published, on handmade paper, forty to eighty pages to the volume, two dollars per book. So thoroughly has Mr. Bird entered into the spirit of the young intellectuals that there are to be no second editions of the books, and the first editions are limited to three hundred copies, that being a sufficient number to place one in the hands of every person whose opinion could possibly matter. The Three Mountains Press publishes for the intelligent few.
The Press boasts a printer, but sometimes it is the pleasure of Mr. Bird and of Mr. Pound also to work there themselves. Now and then you can find the two of them in the little quay shop, their sleeves rolled up over their elbows and their hands inky as they pull the pages of the new ultralimited edition of Mr. Pound's epic, of which more is to be said farther on.
William Bird could be regarded as the official publisher of the bookshop group were it not for Robert McAlmon, who is not only an author and a member of the circle but also a publisher of books. His house is the Contact Publishing Company, the address of which is Miss Beach's bookshop. The Contact Publishing Company now has a list of seven books of the sort, as its unitalicized prospectus says, "not likely to be published by other publishers for commercial or
legislative reasons". Just as necessary to the rebellion in letters as the free Parisian atmosphere is a free avenue of public expression, which accounts for the three publishing ventures — Miss Beach's, Mr. Bird's, Mr. McAlmon's
which the young intellectuals have set up for themselves in Paris. Assuming that the stupidity or commercialism of American publishers is stifling our most advanced genius, at any rate no broad public harm is being done, if we take the valuation which the young intellectuals set upon their own work. The edition of each of these Three Mountains and Contact books is limited to three hundred copies, and the announcements promise that there will be no subsequent printings. Thus if there should happen to be a masterpiece among them, it must, until copyrights expire, remain unknown to the people, a legend, unavailable even at many public libraries.
Mr. Bird has published a book by Ernest Hemingway and so has Mr. McAlmon. This fact and the further one that he is intimate with the bookshop circle seem to mark Mr. Hemingway for young intellectualism's own; but there are indications that his sojourn is to be only temporary. In other words, his work promises to remove him from the three-hundredcopy class of authorship. One of his short stories was proclaimed by the O'Brien anthology to be the best of the 1923 crop, and he has recently finished a novel which is said to break new ground. While an admirer of James Joyce, Hemingway is in no sense an imitator of him; he pursues his own ways, and his friends expect him to go far. He is a young man of vigorous health and physique who has been soldier and war correspondent, who now represents a Toronto newspaper in Paris, is versed in European politics,
the bookshop - a convenient location, for if anybody asks for him in the bookshop Miss Beach can step to the curb and call up, and if George is at home he can signify his presence by sticking his head out of the window. George is almost offensively young a short, chubby, fresh complexioned American boy who looks as if he might be getting through high school next year — but he nevertheless at his actual age of twenty three has a past which he would fain live down. It is risking his esteem to reveal the skeleton in his closet, but it must be done for the sake of the picture. George Antheil is, or has been, a virtuoso a performer on the piano excellent enough to win showers of applause and good notices in such critical music centres as Munich and Vienna. And he reached this celebrity
think of it! - by playing to his audiences Beethoven and Chopin.
All that is a closed book now with him. When first he heard an automatic piano play a scale he knew that the human hand and the human equation in the rendition of music were doomed. Virtuosity could never hope to equal the flawless even beauty of that performance; and so George Antheil turned to the composition of precisian, machine made music for electric driven pianos. He has already composed a string of sonatas, ballets, symphonies, and even an opera, in the new form.
He is so engaging because he is so
passionately sincere, so utterly certain that he and the handful who think with him are right about music and that the world is wrong. Start him talking, and his thoughts and ideas jostle each other in their hurry for utterance. He thinks of music as a grey polished shaft of high speed steel
- his compositions are written to be played at terrific velocity and without crescendo or pianissimo effects whatsoever. He hates long hair and virtuosity and sentiment and everything the popular taste demands in musical performance. He believes in melody but admits that only his ear and one or two others as highly trained can detect the melodies which fill his own works; others find in them only time-swift, throbbing, exciting, African war drum time and when the ordinary dissonances will not serve, George Antheil invents quarter tone sharpings and flattings for such instruments as can take them.
He thinks that Stravinsky is twenty years behind the times, that Irving Berlin comes close to being a genius, that ragtime is the most vital thing to come into music in modern times. He is indeed trying to do for ragtime what Moussorgsky did for Russian steppe music to organize it artistically and improve it, to make it more vulgar, more a thing of the people to make jazz jazzier. How, asks George Antheil, can you express America with music of the classic type? Such music was a European invention, and so, wherever it is composed, it implies Europe and sounds like Europe. America has to have its own form. He himself is an American. He was born in Trenton, the son of a Polish political exile. The sounds of Trenton - its machine shops, its potteries, the Pennsylvania trains rushing through the station are the sounds of America
that he remembers. At an early age his parents took him back to Poland, and he was educated in music there and in Germany, and finally in Paris under Stravinsky, whose distant relative he is through his mother's family the Dabrowskas.
Stravinsky thus became his spiritual father and at first his fast friend; but now the two have quarreled, and George on his travels no longer gets the daily friendly telegrams he once received from his last master. But Stravinsky has stood still for years, and George has gone on ahead. Who is the more significant of the two now as a composer of advanced music? George by actual count has had a hundred and ten riots at his concerts in Europe; and how many, he asks scornfully, has Stravinsky had? Only one. That
ought to prove something. In fact, the only unriotous concert in which George ever played his own modern compositions took place in Paris last winter; and that was a paper house, invited by Ezra Pound, which was too highbrow to riot.
So George Antheil talks tremendously in earnest, tremendously believing in himself, and lieving in himself, and tremendously youthful: a stocky high school boy with cropped neutral color hair that sticks up in back and won't hold a part. He warms to his theme and tells about the trip he made alone into the heart of Africa across desert and veld-to gather native jazz themes; filled a notebook with them several hundred. He rushes to the closet and drags therefrom an evil smelling goatskin drum he brought from Africa, and pounds upon this instrument and yells savage jungle tunes until his hair is more tousled than ever, his face flushed, and his forehead dewed with sweat.
His six "Savage Sonatas for the Piano", his "Ballet Mécanique", his
two violin sonatas, all have faded into the second rank of importance beside the work he is just now finishing electric opera, of which the so called "Cyclops" chapter of James Joyce's "Ulysses" forms the book.
"Ulysses", it must be pointed out, is largely an analogy to Homer's "Odyssey". The novel itself does not openly indicate this truth; but the critics and reviewers (with or without hints from Mr. Joyce) discovered it, and now the resemblance is plain to everybody. In the original Cyclops story, the one eyed Polyphemus, after being blinded by a burning stick, hurled a boulder after the ship of the fleeting Ulysses and his companions, but missed them. In the "Cyclops" chapter of the novel, Leopold Bloom, the modern Ulysses, gets into a barroom fight in Dublin and is pursued into the street by an irate Irishman who has picked up an empty biscuit tin to hurl at Bloom. Bloom grabs the tail end of a passing jaunting car and gets away. The Irishman throws the biscuit tin after him, but the setting sun dazzles him and he misses; the tin hits the pavement.
Such being the story of the opera, it is evident that the music, in the hands of Mr. George. Antheil, winds up with a bang. But there are several other bangs in "Cyclops". The opera has music and it has words, but there its resemblance to other opera ceases. It is, for instance, to be performed - as much as it can be performed - without human players at all, or at least visible ones. The "orchestra" is to consist of a battery of twelve electric pianos, eleven of them hooked up mechanically with the twelfth, which plays the master roll. Noting the rubber drums, the steel and wood xylophones and various blare instruments, all of which are to be played by
the master roll also, it must be mentioned that the score is to be run off at one swift tempo and at a level forte without any crescendos or diminuendos except as these effects are gained by switching pianos on or off. Each individual instrument, when it plays at all, plays at utmost speed and power.
No singers appear on the stage. They are concealed below, where they vocalize into receivers connected with loud speakers scattered through the auditorium. This device enables the voices to be heard above the din of the pianos and xylophones and also saves the audience the unpleasantness of having to gaze upon singers who do not in the least resemble characters whose rôles they are assuming. Instead of singers on the stage the Joyce-Antheil opera provides for a ballet interpreting in pantomime the action as it progresses. The responsibility for the ballet interpretation Mr. Joyce has taken upon himself, contributing full stage directions.
Do not think that this devastating opus has been born to die unsung. Even as these sentences are being written, a contract for "Cyclops" has been closed between the authors and the Provincetown Players of New York, who have guaranteed to give it an American production. "Cyclops" is on its way into the American operatic repertoire.
Almost on the pedestal with Joyce himself George Antheil places his closest friend, Ezra Pound. Ezra is easily the most eminent poet of the Latin Quarter writing in English or largely in English. Actually he follows the modern mode of interspersing English with oddments of foreign languages dead and alive, common and rare. Ezra will be coasting along easily in English, writing stuff that reads at least as if it ought to
be intelligible to a true intellectual, when suddenly he will roll in some such obstacle as "ANAXIFORMINGES! Aurunculeia!" and the low grade intellect that has dashed headlong into the obstruction will pick itself up nursing a shanty on its mental eye.
A few bumps like this one, and a person begins to get the scheme of it. There are intelligences so keenly discriminating, so microscopically calibrated, that the tongues of all men are none too rich in words for the exact expression of their ideas. Any single language is too lean for the modern genius. Tobacco smoke, it is said, looks blue because its particles are so fine that they intercept only the short blue rays of light. In like manner do the tongues of men serve the muse of Ezra Pound and the other moderns. There are times, it seems, when only the Icelandic phrase, the Hindustani idiom, the Manchu ideograph, or some such thing, can capture the blue and ultraviolet wave lengths of the Poundian sunshine.
Ezra Pound is a sort of college professor type who has leaped the corral of conventionality and now ranges the literary open spaces. He follows up abstruse lines of original investigation, such as the higher mathematics of musical harmony, and bandies about such themes carelessly and casually like Olympian small talk. He is quizzical in manner and complexly humorous, is prone to answer one question by propounding another that seems simple but is actually a baffler, and has other mannerisms; in spite of which, however, the somewhat difficult Mr. Pound is a pleasant enough chap. He has a big shock of wind blown blond hair and a full blond beard roughly trimmed to a point. At work in his studio in the Rue Notre-Damedes-Champs, he often wears a blue
shirt with roll collar open at the throat, and also a black velvet coat. Sometimes he walks abroad in his velvet jacket, but then he dons a Latin Quarter hat. Only from the waist down does he wear the raiment of mortals who dwell not on Parnassus; otherwise he is completely and utterly the poet.
The Latin Quarter divides him with Italy, where he browses in old libraries among the mediæval manuscripts. His passion for the medieval has led him into a study of music which has carried him so far that he is now as much musician as poet. He began by studying the verse of the old troubadours, but found it to be verse so wedded to music that he had to gain a mastery of this also. Then he began reconstructing troubadour music in modern form, and has brought out collections of troubadour songs which his researches unearthed in England and Italy.
In France his study of Villon's verse led to the creation of an opera called "The Testament", of which the book is the poetry of François Villon and the music by Ezra Pound - music based on ancient forms. The medievalists noted neither time schemes nor lengths of tones in their music scores their performers understood these things instinctively — but instinct, Mr. Pound discovered, would not come to the rescue of the modern musician. So he bowed to the inevitable and called in George Antheil as assistant; and while Ezra sang the score and tapped on his desk, George made the necessary time notations. The structure of mediæval music is such that the score of "The Testament" averages eight changes of time to every bar, or practically a special notation for every measure of it. It is unusual, it is difficult, but it is playable.
Nevertheless it is upon verse that