Krenek, Ernst

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Krenek, Ernst [ Ernst Křenek] (b Vienna, 1900; d Palm Springs, Calif., 1991). Austrian-born composer (Amer. cit. 1945). His chamber mus., neo-classical in style, was played at Donaueschingen and Nuremberg, and his Die Zwingburg, to a text by Franz Werfel, was prod. in Berlin, 1924, under Kleibecategr. In 1925–7 he was ass. to Paul Bekker as gen. man. of opera at Kassel and Wiesbaden. In 1926 he completed his opera Jonny spielt auf (Johnny strikes up), using jazz idiom. After rejection by several Ger. opera houses, it was staged in Leipzig in 1927 and was a sensational success, being perf. in over 100 cities and trans. into 20 languages. It made Krenek's name and fortune. He returned to Vienna in 1928 and made extensive study of 12-note technique, later writing for Frankfurter Zeitung 1930–3. During this time he wrote an elaborate opera, Karl V, using the 12-note method. (Its scheduled prod. in Vienna was cancelled when the Nazis occupied Austria and he was categorized as a composer of ‘degenerate music’. It was perf. in Prague, 1938.) In some later works he employed a free atonal technique and also applied a ‘principle of rotation’, in which serial variants are formed through the systematic exchange of the pitches of a given series with their adjacent pitches. He also used elec. procedures and later returned to a more lyrical style. He emigrated to USA in 1938, becoming prof. of mus. at Vassar Coll. 1939–42 and at Hamline Univ., St Paul, 1942–7. In 1948 he settled near Los Angeles, devoting his time to comp., lecture-tours, etc. After 1945 he preferred his name to be spelt simply as Krenek. Prin. works:OPERAS: Die Zwingburg, Op.14 (lib. by Werfel) (1922); Der Sprung über den Schatten, Op.17 (1923); Orpheus und Eurydike, Op.21 (lib. by Kokoschka) (1923); Bluff, Op.36 (1924–5); Jonny spielt auf, Op.45 (1925–6); Der Diktator, Op.49 (1926); Das geheime Königreich, Op.50 (1926–7); Schwergewicht (1926–7); Leben des Orest, Op.60 (1928–9); Kehraus um St Stephan, Op.66 (1930); Karl V, Op.73 (1930–3); Cefalo e Procri, Op.77 (1933–4); Tarquin, Op.90 (1940); What Price Confidence?, Op.111 (1945–6); Dark Waters (1950); Pallas Athene weint (1952–5); The Bell Tower (1955–6); Ausgerechnet und verspielt (1961); Der goldene Bock, Op.186 (1963); Der Zauberspiegel (1966); Sardakai (1967–9).BALLETS: Der vertauschte Cupido, after Rameau (1925); 8-Column Line, Op.85 (1939); Jest of Cards (1957).ORCH.: syms.: No.1, Op.7 (1921), No.2, Op.12 (1922), No.3, Op.16 (1922), No.4, Op.34, wind, perc. (1925), No.5 (1949), sym. (unnumbered, 1947), Little Symphony, Op.58 (1928), Sym. Pallas Athene (1954), Symphonic mus., 9 instr., Op.11 (1922); pf. concs.: No.1, Op.18 (1923), No.2, Op.75 (1937), No.3 (1946), No.4 (1950); 2-pf. conc. (1951); Concerto grosso No.1, Op.10, (1921), No.2, Op.25 (1924); vn. concs.: No.1, Op.29 (1924), No.2 (1954); 7 Pieces, Op.31 (1924); Potpourri, Op.54 (1927); Symphonic Piece, str., Op.86 (1939); Little Concerto, pf., org., chamber orch., Op.88 (1940); I Wonder as I Wander, variations on N. Car. folksong, Op.94 (1942); Symphonic Elegy, str. (on death of Webern) (1946); Brazilian Sinfonietta, str. (1952); Kette, Kreis und Spiegel (1956–7); Quaestio temporis (1958–9); Marginal Sounds (1960); conc., vn., pf., small orch. (1950); vc. conc. No.1 (1953), No.2 (1982); Capriccio, vc., small orch. (1955); hp. conc. (1951); Horizon Circled (1968); Dream Sequence, concert band (1975); conc., org., str. (1979); Im Tal der Zeit, sym. sketch (1979); org. conc. (1982).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1, Op.6 (1921), No.2, Op.8 (1921), No.3, Op.20 (1923), No.4, Op.24 (1923–4), No.5, Op.65 (1930), No.6, Op.78 (1937), No.7, Op.96 (1943–4), No.8 (1952); vn. sonata (1919); Suite, Op.28, cl., pf. (1924); Suite, solo vc., Op.84 (1939); org. sonata, Op.92, No.1 (1941); fl. and va. sonatina, Op.92, No.2 (1942); sonata, solo va., Op.92, No.3 (1944); Pentagram, wind quintet (1957); str. trio No.1 (1948), No.2 (1987); wind quintet (1951); solo vn. sonata (1948); va. sonata (1948); ob. sonatina; guitar suite; fl. piece in 9 phases (1959).CHORAL: The Seasons (Hölderlin), Op.35 (1925); Symeon der Stylit (1935–87); Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae, Op.93 (1941); The Santa Fe Time Table (1945); In Paradisum (1945); 6 Motets (Kafka) (1959); Canon ‘Igori’ (for Stravinsky's 80th birthday, 1962); German Proper of the Mass for Trinity Sunday (1966–7); Opus sine nomine, oratorio (1989).SONGS: 9 Songs (1921–3); Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen (Diary from the Austrian Alps), Op.62, 20 songs to own words (1929); Die Nachtigall, Op.68 (1931); 5 Songs (Kafka) Op.82 (1938); Ballad of the Railroads (1944); Sestina, sop., 10 players (1957); Wechselrahmen (Change of Frames), 6 songs, sop., pf. (1968).PIANO: sonatas: No.1, Op.2 (1919), No.2, Op.59 (1928), No.3, Op.92 No.4 (1943), No.4 (1948), No.5 (1950), No.6 (1951); 2 Suites, Op.26 (1924); 5 Pieces, Op.39 (1928); completion of Schubert's C major sonata (1921); Echoes from Austria (1958); 8 Pieces (1946); George Washington Variations (1950); 6 Vermessene (1958).ELECTRONIC: Spiritus intelligentiae Sanctus, oratorio, vv. and sounds (1956); San Fernando Sequence (1963); Quintina, sop., tape, chamber ens. (1965).MISCELLANEOUS: Edn. and orch. of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (Vienna 1937); perf. version of 1st and 3rd movts. of Mahler's 10th sym. (with Berg and F. Schalk) (Vienna 1924).

Ernst Krenek

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Ernst Krenek

Prolific Austrian-American composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) experimented widely with styles and techniques of composition, including atonality, neoclassicism, the twelve-tone system, serialism, and electronic music.

Ernst Krenek was born on August 23, 1900, in Vienna, Austria, to Czech parents. His musical instruction began when he was six years old, and in 1916 he studied with the famous opera composer Franz Schreker— first at the Academy of Music in Vienna and later at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. By his early twenties, Krenek was composing distinctive works of his own, such as the opera Die Zwingburg (text by Franz Werfel).

In 1923 Krenek was invited by a patron of contemporary music to spend two years in Switzerland, where he produced two more operas, Der Sprung über den Schatten and Orpheus und Eurydike. However, his greatest operatic success, Jonny spielt auf (Johnny Strikes Up the Band!), came in 1927. This opera about a black jazz musician is rarely staged today, but was originally received with great enthusiasm and performed worldwide.

In 1928, after three years as an assistant at opera houses in Kassel and Wiesbaden, in Germany, Krenek returned to Vienna. His hopes for artistic success in his native city were shattered in 1934, when the performance of his twelve-tone opera Karl V at the Vienna State Opera was canceled for political reasons. Four years later he emigrated to the United States.

Citizenship and Work

Krenek taught composition at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, from 1939 to 1942 and at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1942 to 1947. He became an American citizen in 1945 and settled in California.

An intensely productive composer, Krenek's list of compositions included 195 opus numbers by 1965. He became increasingly interested in serial composition as well as in electronic techniques. Some works including these elements are Spiritus Intelligentiae, Sanctus (1956), for voices and electronic sounds; Sestina (1957), for soprano, violin, guitar, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and percussion; Ausgerechnet und verspielt, a television opera (1959); and Quintina (1965), for soprano, six instruments, and audio tape. A more conservative work is the Deutsche Messe (1968), which displays Krenek's willingness to use any style that serves his needs of the moment.

In addition to several books and the operas Pallas Athena Weeps (1955) and Sardakai (1969), Krenek composed the oratorio Opus sine nomine, his final work, which was performed in Vienna in 1990. He died in Palm Springs, California, on December 23, 1991.

Further Reading

Available in English is Krenek's Music Here and Now (1939).There is no adequate biography of Krenek in English. His manuscript autobiography, now at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., may not be read, by his own request, until 15 years after his death. For background see Wilbur Lee Ogdon, Series and Structure (1956). □

Křenek, Ernst

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Křenek, Ernst (1900–91) US composer, b. Austria, who emigrated to the USA in 1938. From 1920 he experimented with atonal music in Berlin. Living in Vienna after 1930, he adopted the twelve-tone music technique of Schoenberg. He created a sensation with the jazz opera Jonny spielt auf (1925–26).