Ernst Krenek : August 23, 1900 – December 22, 1991

Ernst Krenek (August 23, 1900 – December 22, 1991) was an Austrian, later American, composer of Czech origin. He explored atonality and other modern styles and wrote a number of books, including Music Here and Now (1939), a study of Johannes Ockeghem (1953), and Horizons Circled: Reflections on my Music (1974).

Krenek’s music encompassed a variety of styles and reflects many of the principal musical influences of the 20th century. His early work is in a late-Romantic idiom, showing the influence of his teacher Franz Schreker, but around 1920 he turned to atonality, under the influence of Ernst Kurth’s textbook, Lineare Kontrapunkt, and the tenets of Busoni, Schnabel, Erdmann, and Scherchen, amongst others.

A visit to Paris, during which he became familiar with the work of Igor Stravinsky (Pulcinella was especially influential) and Les Six, led him to adopt a neo-classical style around 1924. Shortly afterward, he turned to neoromanticism and incorporated jazz influences into his opera Jonny spielt auf (Jonny Strikes Up, 1926) and one-act opera Schwergewicht (1928). Other neoromantic works of this period were modeled on music of Franz Schubert, a prime example being Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen(1929).

Krenek abandoned the neoromantic style in the late 1920s to embrace Arnold Schoenberg‘s twelve-tone technique, the method exclusively employed in Krenek’s opera Karl V(1931–33) and most of his later pieces. His most uncompromising use of the twelve-tone technique was in his Sixth String Quartet (1936) and his Piano Variations (1937). In the Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae (1941–42) Krenek combined twelve-tone writing with techniques of modal counterpoint of the Renaissance.

In 1955 he was invited to work in the Electronic Music Studio at WDR in Cologne, and this experience motivated him to develop a total serial idiom. Beginning around 1960 he added to his serial vocabulary some principles of aleatoric music, in works such as Horizon Circled (1967), From Three Make Seven (1960–61), and Fibonacci-Mobile (1964).

In his later years his compositional style became more relaxed, though he continued to use elements of both twelve-tone and total serial techniques.

Wikipedia secondary sources

  • Krenek, Ernst (1964). “A Composer’s Influences”. Perspectives of New Music 3, no. 1 (Autumn-Winter): 36-41
  • Purkis, Charlotte (1992b). “Krenek, Ernst”. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie, 4 vols. London: Macmillan Press.
  • Bowles, Garrett H. (comp.) (1989). Ernst Krenek: A Bio-bibliography. New York and London: Greenwood Press.
  • Bowles, Garrett H. (2001). “Krenek, Ernst”. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.

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