George Antheil: McKonkey’s Ferry


Composed in 1948, George Antheil’s concert overture, McKonkey’s Ferry was inspired by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s famous oil painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776. The concert piece was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra in December 1948. 


The Music

Opening with a flourish from the brass, the bold main theme is set out by the heavy brass. The woodwind section takes over as the strings play a synchronized pizzicato accompaniment. The music has drive and Antheil’s use of tutti passages keeps the intensity high throughout McKonkey’s Ferry. A number of soloists emerge from the orchestra, such as the flute and trumpet, and these small corners of virtuosity keep the music both interesting and complex for both the performers and the listeners. 

Antheil’s extensive use of the brass and percussion sections adds to the boldness of the music, with the opening bombastic character rearing its head throughout the overture. A quieter central section shines the spotlight on the piccolo flute, who carries the melody in this section. As Antheil slowly builds the texture back up throughout the orchestra, the melody begins to flourish after a long development-like section. A big climax sees the orchestra unite for the final few pages of McKonkey’s Ferry. Big dynamic swings paired with the driving force of the tempo creates a whizz of excitement before the work comes to its big galloping conclusion.

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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