Ernst Krenek

Even during his lifetime, Ernst Krenek, who left behind an oeuvre of more than 240 operas when he died at the age of 91, held quite an extreme position in music history. Because of his great versatility, critics in Europe often spoke of him as constantly changing his style of composing, tacitly implying that a creative life must be stylistically uniform. In the United States, however, he was deemed the one-man history of twentieth-century music, a unique and nearly unbelievable fact Krenek lived up to through his creation of work that spans more than seven decades of the twentieth century, from the end of the 1910s until the end of the 1980s. When taken seriously, this bon mot does not refer to the temporal concordance of his works or his participation in the latest developments in music throughout his life; it rather points to his role as a twentieth-century contemporary.

In the early 1920s, when Krenek's chamber music first became well known through his participation in the avant-garde music festivals in Donaueschingen and Salzburg, he was seen as a representative of new music a form of music that responded to the reshaping of society after 1918 and to the accelerated developments in technology by counteracting the high expectations of art with humor and timeliness. A typical example of this attitude is the genre of the Zeitoper or contemporary opera, which Krenek also worked with. Yet, even then Krenek did not follow a specific pattern in working on his compositions: shortly before his contemporary opera Jonny spielt auf became a smash-hit, his expressionistic opera Orpheus und Eurydike, based on a play by Kokoschka premiered, and even prior to this (many years before Brecht's attempt) Krenek had already written an epic music-theater piece, Zwingburg (1922).
 
Because Krenek was not one of Schoenberg's Viennese students and was almost an entire generation younger than Berg and Webern, it was not until 1930 that he first approached dodecaphony out of compositional necessity, but also out of an aesthetic understanding. The agreement of his musical ideas with intellectual analysis became one of the trademarks of Krenek's work. (This agreement also had a political component in his first work using the twelve-tone technique, the musical drama Karl V, which had already been banned in Austria in 1934; it was the reason its premiere at the Vienna State Opera was prevented, and eventually also led to Krenek's exile to the USA in 1938.) In the 1950s, Krenek's contacts to the younger European avant-garde music scene encouraged him to begin composing electronic music, the serial arrangement of musical material and its counterpart, random operations. It was not simply his fascination with certain pieces works of this kind that utilized these techniques that sparked his interest but again, because he wanted to fundamentally explore these new possibilities both intellectually and artistically it was also the new intellectual and artistic possibilities that could be explored through them.

Back in the early 1940s in the USA, he had already begun to experiment with sequence rotation in his Third Piano Sonata (which later became one of Glenn Gould's favorite pieces) and the great a capella work Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae in doing so, he did not seek to push the dodecaphony further in the direction of serialism, but instead to create a bridge to modal music. Significantly, his interest in linking this to history arose in the early years of exile, a time when Krenek feared that his loss of Europe could lead to a loss of history altogether. This played an audible role in his later works as well. During this phase, there are two particularly remarkable elements: the juxtaposition of phrasal techniques and historical elements (with quotations or allusions, also to some of his earlier works) and the breaking up of the work's continuity into fragments. The one insured his compositions a place within (his own) history, while the other enabled him to reflect on them as irrevocably fragmented giving him the ability to express his refusal to downplay the specific break in history, one of the most incisive experiences that the twentieth century inflicted upon its contemporaries.

Claudia Maurer Zenck
Professor for The History of Music at the University of Hamburg

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1922 Symphony No 2 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Members of Gewandhausorchester cond. Lothar Zagrosek

ENTARTETE MUSIK

1922 Symphonische Musik No 1 Opus 11 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Rosetti Wind Quintet
1924 Violin Concerto No 1 Opus 29 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Chantal Julliet - Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin cond. John Mauceri

ENTARTE MUSIK

1926 Jonny Spielt Auf 4.50 stars LP
Jonny soielt auf Comments:
This is one of those pieces you read about, but which are very hard to get hold of. It's fame is being the first opera with a leading part by a negro. Jonny, ze Jazzbandgeiger and a cheeky devil at that.

Great scandal, great success. In 1927.

Evelyn Lear, Lucia Popp, Gerd Feldhoff, Wiener Volksoper, conductor Heinrich Hollreiser. So no low budget affair.

1926 Jonny Spielt Auf 4.50 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Complete Edition

Synopsis:

ERSTER TEIL
Anita hat sich in der Bergwildnis verirrt und trifft den Komponisten Max, der einen Gletscher bewundert. Die Saengerin erkennt den Musiker und erzaehlt ihm, dass sie in einer seiner Opern die Titelpartie gesungen hat. Beide kehren gemeinsam in das Berghotel zuruck.
Max hat sich in Anita verliebt. Diese verspricht, nach Paris zu fahren und in seiner neuen Oper zu singen. Max will noch bleiben, der Manager draengt zum Aufbruch.
In einem Pariser Hotel spielt eine Jazzband. Das Stubenmaedchen Yvonne ist mit dem Geiger Jonny - einem Schwarzamerikaner - liiert; sie macht gerade das Zimmer des beruehmten Daniello - ebenfalls eines Geigers - sauber. Jonny kommt, um dessen Amati-Geige zu stehlen, wird aber durch Anitas Ankunft daran gehindert. Daniello trifft sich mit ihr und faehrt sie, nachdem er die wertvolle Geige weggelegt hat, in sein Appartement. Jonny beobachtet dies, stiehlt die Geige und versteckt sie im Futteral von Anitas Banjo.
Anita nimmt von Daniello am naechsten Morgen Abschied. Er will sie noch nicht fortlassen. Daniello gibt Yvonne einen Ring, den er gerade von Anita erhalten hat und den sie Max geben soll. Dann lauft er Anita hinterher. Jonny verfolgt sie ebenfalls, weil er das Banjo-Futteral, in dem die kostbare Violine steckt, an sich nehmen will.

ZWEITER TEIL
Inzwischen ist Max, der seine Geliebte sehnsuechtig erwartet hat, eingeschlafen. Als Anita endlich kommt, ist die Begruessung kuhl. Yvonne hat inzwischen den Ring gebracht. Waehrend dieser Zusammenkunft dringt Jonny in Anitas Zimmer ein und nimmt die Geige aus dem Banjokasten.
Max ist wieder in sein Gletscherhotel zurueckgekehrt und will sich in den Abgrund stuerzen. Da ertoent aus dem Lautsprecher Anitas Stimme und gleich darauf Jazzmusik. Daniello hoert seine Geige und verstaendigt die Polizei.
Jonny ist es gelungen, den Polizisten zu entkommen. Er haelt sich am Bahnhof auf, wo er eine Fahrkarte nach Amsterdam kauft, sie jedoch verliert. Max kommt auch auf den Bahnhof, wo er Anita, der er telegrafiert hat, erwartet. Er stellt seinen Koffer hin. Jonny legt den Geigenkasten daneben, weil er Polizisten gesehen hat. Max wird fuer den Dieb der Violine gehalten und festgenommen. Daniello meint, er habe aus Eifersucht so gehandelt. Anita versucht dem Virtuosen klarzumachen, dass Max nicht der Dieb sein kann, und stuesst den aufgeregten Kuenstler so unglaecklich, dass dieser auf die Gleise stuerzt. Ein einfahrender Zug toetet Daniello.
Jonny gelingt es, die Polizisten, die Max abfaehren, auf die Seite zu stossen und mit dem Geigenkasten zu fliehen.
Max ist freigekommen und springt auf den fahrenden Zug, wo ihn Anita und der Manager erwarten. Jonny wird auf der Bahnhofsuhr sichtbar, die sich in einen Globus verwandelt.
Die Akteure des Stuecks singen einen Epilog, Jonny spielt auf der Geige dazu.

Solists;
Members of Gewandhausorchester cond. Lothar Zagrosek

ENTARTETE MUSIK

1926 Der Diktator 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Urban Malmberg - Baryton
Celina Lindsley - Soprano
Robert Woerle - Tenor
Gabriela Ronge - Soprano

Deutsches Symphony-Orchester Berlin cond. Marek Janowski

1926-1927 Das geheime Koenigreich 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Michael Kraus - Baryton
Claudia Barainsky - Col. Soprano
Urban Malmberg - Baryton
Par Lindskog - Tenor
Celina Lindsley - Soprano
Sylvia Weiss - Mezzo Soprano
Michelle Breed - Alto
Falko Maiwald - Tenor Buffo
Egbert Junghanns - Bas Buffo

Deutsches Symphony-Orchester Berlin cond. Marek Janowski

1927 Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre der Nation 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Urban Malmberg - Baryton
Celina Lindsley - Soprano
Robert Woerle - Tenor
Gabriela Ronge - Soprano
Bogna Bartosz - Mezzo Soprano
Daniel Kirsch - Tenor
Marcus Sandmann - Tenor

Deutsches Symphony-Orchester Berlin cond. Marek Janowski

1937 Variations in three movements 4.00 stars 3 CD
Comments:
Til Koerber - Piano
1952 Zwei geistliche Gesänge 3.00 stars LP
Krenek Comments:
Carla Henius - Soprano
Aribert Reimann - Piano
1962 Alpbach Quintet Opus 180a 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Rosetti Wind Quintet
1966 Vier Stücke 4.00 stars LP
4 Stücke Comments:
For Oboe and Piano

Heinz Holliger - Oboe
Jürg Wyttenbach - Piano