Though renowned as one of the finest short order cooks Italy has ever produced, Francesco Antolini has until recently been largely ignored as a composer. Indeed, one may conclude that his passion for bicycling naked through the streets of Rome may have been, sadly, detrimental in the public mind-set to his rightful ascension as a Great Italian Composer.
Yet recent examinations of his work (and discovery; apparently, Antolini was fond of composing using hunks of wet pasta, and it is only through extensive and painstaking reconstructive efforts that music-lovers have been able to discern this portion of his work) have revealed a staggering output of creative achievement.
Though his heavy use of cowbells, chalkboard scratching, and plagiarism from Mozart have made skeptics of some critics in the past, new insights have opened the door to a thorough reappraisal of his works.
1818 to 1895: The Formative Years
Like most, if not all, great composers, Antolini began writing music very young. The most reliable records place his age at the time of his first compositional efforts at 42, but more sketchy reports purport that there existed rough precursors from the time the composer was only 38 years of age.
But what he lacked in maturity he more than made up for in zeal, packing his first symphony with a whopping 732 instruments, including a dead duck and the gulping of water. Though the piece was short (roughly 28 seconds in length, if the ‘Allegretto’ indication is respected), critics see in this the birth of what is called in many circles the Antolini Genius: that is, the warm lyricism and stunning counterpoint, combined with a complete disregard for keeping time. In fact, Antolini is famous for having once remarked: ‘Melody is the last refuge of the tortured soul, but rhythm is for losers.’
The celebrated critic and close friend of Ozzy Osbourne Dr. Blow Dry had this to say about Antolini’s first period: ‘We can truly observe over the course of these formative decades the blossoming of genius. I can think of no one while sober who can compare to Antolini in terms of musical architecture, ingenuity of phrasing, and, like, just the amount of notes, you know? I mean, that first symphony is almost three pages long, if you include the accompanying illustrations.’
1895 to 1897: The Explosion of Genius
In the fall of 1895, the 77 year-old composer traveled to Vienna to study with the metal farmer and noted arranger Theo Svebski. It was in the fields of his land, hard at work, that Antolini first met Svebski upon his arrival. Famous for his eccentricity, Svebski had taken up metal farming – what he called ‘the agriculture of the future’ following his release from the Vienna Hospital of Juvenile Mental Illness, where he was certified, according to the medical records of the era, ‘Too old.’ This miraculous recovery after so many years of treatment imbued Svebski with the passion to pursue his lifelong dream, that of ‘growing and cultivating the metal that God has given us from His soil, and thus halting the need for the human vanity that is mining. And besides, I’m getting tired of seeing the same old potatoes,’ as he put it in a letter he scratched into a table in the hospital dining hall.
It was with this association that Antolini’s genius truly sparked. Svebski’s encouragement is said to have been the deciding factor in the genesis, but Svebski always modestly rebuked these kinds of affirmations, remarking once: ‘I didn’t give a shit what the guy wrote. I just wish he hadn’t left all those dead ducks lying around all over the place.’
The dead duck mentioned by Svebski, present in Antolini’s work since the very beginning, was a confusing mainstay of his compositional output. Every finished work was the same: a brilliantly brief score, with no time signature, and the inexplicable words ‘Insert dead duck here’ written into the margin. A friend, in fact Antolini’s only friend Alberto Patrone, once alleged that: ‘He’d get drunk and think it was hilarious to add that to the score. He was a hard man to know.’
Confusion over fowl notwithstanding, Antolini wrote his best work in this period, including the Sonata for Violin and Choking Man and Concerto Number I-Don’t-Care for People Who Like Bad Music. Antolini’s wry wit is obvious in the nomenclature of his pieces. [Ed: The first of the aforementioned pieces has never been performed or heard. Apparently volunteers are scarce.]
January 1897 to Mid-February 1897: The Last Breath of Brilliance
It is in Antolini’s final period that some his most sublime, mature work appeared. It is obvious by the tone of his last works that the composer was finally coming to face the end of an extraordinary life. In his traditional and endearing self-deprecatory style, Antolini wrote this about himself in his last known letter, addressed to No One, or Nosy Mail-Carrier:
I believe that I have lived a life blatantly removed from the currents of skill or artistry. At no point in my thoroughly unremarkable and ridiculous career have I even come close to producing anything other than a bad joke. Anyone who ever appreciates my work has the taste of a dachshund, and anyone who performs anything I have ever written ought to marry one. However, I do not consider my life a total waste. The other day, I made the most perfect fried egg I have ever set eyes upon. It was my single greatest achievement. In fact, it was the only thing relating to me that I have ever really cared about.
Francesco Antolini died of patricide the next day.