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Biography of

Ernst Krenek

23 aug 1900 (Wien) - 22 dec 1991 (Palm Springs)
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Ernst Krenek (August 23, 1900 – December 22, 1991) was an Austrian and—from 1945—American composer. 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 wrote two pieces using the pseudonym Thornton Winsloe.



Krenek was born in Vienna as the son of a Czech soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army. Throughout his life, however, he insisted that his name be written Krenek rather than his father's Křenek, and that it should be pronounced as a German word. He studied there and in Berlin with Franz Schreker before working in a number of German opera houses as conductor. During World War I, Krenek was drafted into the Austrian army, but he was stationed in Vienna, allowing him to go on with his musical studies. In 1922 he met Alma Mahler, wife of the late Gustav Mahler, and her daughter, Anna, whom he married in March 1924. That marriage ended in divorce before its first anniversary.

Jonny spielt auf, the title page of the 1926 vocal score (1st edition)

At the time of his marriage to Anna Mahler, Krenek was completing his Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 29. The Australian violinist Alma Moodie assisted Krenek, not with the scoring of the violin part, but with getting financial assistance from her Swiss patron Werner Reinhart at a time when there was hyper-inflation in Germany. In gratitude, Krenek dedicated the concerto to Moodie, and she premiered it on 5 January 1925, in Dessau. Krenek’s divorce from Anna Mahler became final a few days after the premiere. Krenek did not attend the premiere, but he did have an affair with Moodie, which has been described as "short-lived and complicated". He never managed to hear her play the concerto, but he did "immortalize some aspects of her personality in the character of Anita in his opera Jonny spielt auf". In 1924, Krenek also dedicated his Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 33 to Alma Moodie,[1] and his Kleine Suite, Op. 28 (1924) to Reinhart.[2]

His journalism was banned and his music was targeted in Germany by the Nazi Party beginning in 1933. On March 6, one day after elections in which the Nazis gained control of the Reichstag, Krenek's incidental music to Goethe's Triumph der Empfindsamkeit was withdrawn in Mannheim, and eventually pressure was brought to bear on the Vienna State Opera, which cancelled the commissioned premiere of Karl V. The jazz imitations of Jonny spielt auf were included in the 1938 Degenerate art exhibition in Munich. Nonetheless, despite protests by conservatives and the fledgling Nazi party, that work was a great success in Krenek's lifetime, playing all over Europe and becoming so popular that even a brand of cigarettes, still on the market today in Austria, was named "Jonny".[3]

In 1938 Krenek moved to the United States of America, where he taught music at various universities, including Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota from 1942-1947. He became an American citizen in 1945. He later moved to Toronto, Canada where he taught at The Royal Conservatory of Music during the 1950s. His students included Milton Barnes, Lorne Betts, Samuel Dolin, Robert Erickson, Halim El-Dabh, Richard Maxfield, Will Ogdon, and George Perle. He died in Palm Springs, California.

Completions of other composers' unfinished works

After meeting Krenek in 1922, Alma Mahler asked him to complete her late husband's Symphony No. 10. Krenek assisted in editing the first and third movements but went no further. More fruitful was Krenek's response to an approximately contemporary request from his pianist and composer friend Eduard Erdmann, who wished to add Schubert's Reliquie piano sonata to his repertoire, for completions of that work's fragmentary third and fourth movements. Krenek's completion, dated to 1921 in some sources[4] but to 1922 in his own memory,[5] later found other champions in Webster Aitkin in the concert hall[6] and Ray Lev[5] and Friedrich Wührer[7] on records.

In his notes to the Lev recording, dated July 1947, Krenek offered insights into the challenges of completing another composer's works in general and the Schubert sonata in particular.

Completing the unfinished work of a great master is a very delicate task. In my opinion it can honestly be undertaken only if the original fragment contains all of the main ideas of the unfinished work. In such a case a respectful craftsman may attempt, after an absorbing study of the master's style, to elaborate on those ideas in a way which to the best of his knowledge might have been the way of the master himself. The work in question will probably have analogies among other, completed works of the master, and careful investigation of his methods in similar situations will indicate possible solutions of the problems posed by the unfinished work. Even then the artist who goes about the ticklish task will feel slightly uneasy, knowing from his own experience as a composer that the creative mind does not always follow its own precedents. He is more conscious of the fact that unpredictability is one of the most jealously guarded prerogatives of genius. … However, scruples of this kind may be set aside once we are certain that the author of the fragment has put forth the essential thematic material that was expected to go into the work. If this is not the case, I feel that no one, not even the greatest genius, should dare to complete the fragments left by another genius."

As an example, Krenek explains that a careful student of Rembrandt's style might be able to complete a painting lacking one or two corners but could never supply two entirely missing paintings from a four-painting series; such an attempt would result only in "more or less successful fakes." Turning to a musical example, Krenek, evidently unaware of the surviving sketch of a third movement, avers that Schubert's own "Unfinished" Symphony "was left by its creator with only two of its four movements written; of the other two there is no trace. It would be possible to write two or more movements to the symphony in the manner of Schubert, but it would not be Schubert."

Musical style

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.
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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).[9]
  • Krenek abandoned the neoromantic style in the late 1920s to embrace Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique,[8] the method exclusively employed in Krenek's opera Karl V (1931–33) and most of his later pieces.[10] His most uncompromising use of the twelve-tone technique was in his Sixth String Quartet (1936) and his Piano Variations (1937).[11] In the Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae (1941–42) Krenek combined twelve-tone writing with techniques of modal counterpoint of the Middle Ages.[12]
  • In 1955 he was invited to work in the electronic music studio at WDR in Cologne, and this experience motivated him to develop a serial idiom.[13]
  • 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).[14]
  • In his later years his compositional style became more relaxed, though he continued to use elements of both twelve-tone and serial techniques.[13]



See List of operas by Krenek.


  • Mammon op. 37 (1925)
  • Der vertauschte Cupido op. 38 (1925)
  • Eight Column Line op. 85 (1939)

Vocal Music

  • Die Jahreszeiten (Hölderlin), op. 35 (1925)
  • Kantate von der Vergänglichkeit des Irdischen, op. 72 (1932)
  • Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae, op. 93 (1941–2)
  • Santa Fe Timetable, op. 102 (1945)
  • Missa duodecim tonorum, op. 165, mixed choir and organ (1957–8)
  • O Holy Ghost, op. 186A (1964)
  • Three Madrigals, SSA a cappella (1960)
Solo vocal

With piano unless otherwise indicated:


  • Symphony no. 1, op. 7 (1921)
  • Symphony no. 2, op. 12 (1922)
  • Symphony no. 3, op. 16 (1922)
  • Symphony for winds and percussion, op. 34 (1924–25)
  • Little Symphony op. 58 (1928)
  • Symphony no. 4, op. 113 (1947)
  • Symphony no. 5, op. 119 (1949)
  • Symphony "Pallas Athene", op. 137 (1954)
Concertos and concertante works
  • Violin
    • Violin concerto no. 1, op. 29
    • Violin concerto no. 2, op. 140
  • Cello
    • Violoncello concerto no. 1, op. 133
    • Capriccio for cello and orchestra, op. 145
    • Violoncello concerto no. 2, op. 236
  • Piano
    • Piano Concerto no.1
    • Piano Concerto no.2
    • Piano Concerto no.3
    • Piano Concerto no.4
  • Harp
    • Concerto for harp and chamber orchestra, op. 126
  • Organ
    • Organ Concerto op. 230
    • Organ Concerto op. 235
  • Other
    • Little concerto for harpsichord, organ and chamber orchestra, op. 88
    • Concerto for violin, piano and small orchestra, op. 124

Wind Band

  • Three Merry Marches (1924–26)

Chamber works

  • Monologue for clarinet solo (1956)
  • Serenade for clarinet and string trio, op. 4
  • Five Pieces for trombone and piano (1967)
  • Flute players serenade: rondo for four flutes (as Thornton Winsloe)
  • Sonata for viola solo, op. 92 no. 3 (1942)
  • Sonata for viola and piano, op. 117 (1948)
  • Sonata no. 1 for violin solo, op. 33
  • Sonata no. 2 for violin solo, op. 115
  • Sonata no. 1 in F-sharp minor for violin and piano, op. 3
  • Sonata no. 2 for violin and piano, op. 99
  • Sonatine for Bb bass clarinet and piano (as Thornton Winsloe)
  • String quartet no. 1, op. 6
  • String quartet no. 2, op. 8
  • String quartet no. 3, op. 20
  • String quartet no. 4, op. 24
  • String quartet no. 5, op. 65 in E-flat
  • String quartet no. 6, op. 78
  • String quartet no. 7, op. 96
  • String quartet no. 8, op. 233
  • String trio, op. 118
  • String trio Parvula Corona Musicalis: ad honorem Johannis Sebastiani Bach, op. 122
  • String trio in 12 Stations, op. 237
  • Suite for cello solo, op. 84
  • Suite for guitar, op. 164


  • Sonata no. 1, op. 2 in E-flat (1919)
  • Sonata no. 2, op. 59
  • Sonata no. 3, op. 92, no. 4 *
  • Sonata no. 4, op. 114
  • Sonata no. 5, op. 121
  • Sonata no. 6, op. 128
  • Sonata no. 7, op. 240

Electronic music

  • Spiritus Intelligentiae, Sanctus, op. 152, two solo voices and tape (1956)
  • San Fernando Sequence, op. 185 (1963)
  • Exercises of a Late Hour, op. 200 (1967)
  • Orga-Nastro, op. 212, organ and tape (1971)
  • They Knew What They Wanted, op. 227, narrator, oboe, piano, percussion and tape (1977)

*The rest of op. 92 contains works for other instrumental combinations, including solo viola and solo organ.


  • Bischof, Günter, and Anton Pelinka (eds.) (2003). The Americanization/Westernization of Austria. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 076580803X
  • Bowles, Garrett H. (comp.) (1989). Ernst Krenek: A Bio-bibliography. New York and London: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313252505
  • Bowles, Garrett H. (2001). "Krenek, Ernst". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Dreyfus, Kay (2003). "Alma Moodie and the Landscape of Giftedness". Australasian Music Research 7:1–14. (Subscription access)
  • Křenek, Ernst (1943). "New Developments of the Twelve-Tone Technique". The Music Review 4, no. 2 (May): 81–97.
  • Krenek, Ernst (1964). "A Composer's Influences". Perspectives of New Music 3, no. 1 (Autumn-Winter): 36-41
  • Lawson, Colin (1995). The Cambridge Companion to the Clarinet. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521470668 (cloth) ISBN 0521476682 (pbk)
  • Lev, Ray (1947). Album notes for Franz Schubert — Piano Sonata no. 15 in C Major (Unfinished); Allegretto in C Minor. Ray Lev, piano (78 RPM). [N.p.]: Concert Hall Society, Release B3.
  • Ogdon, Will, and Ernst Krenek. 1972. "Conversation with Ernst Krenek". Perspectives of New Music 10, no. 2 (Spring-Summer): 102–10.
  • Purkis, Charlotte (1992a). "Karl V". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie, 4 vols. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-73432-7.
  • Purkis, Charlotte (1992b). "Krenek, Ernst". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie, 4 vols. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Tregear, Peter John (2001). "Musical style and political allegory in Krenek's Karl V". Cambridge Opera Journal, 13, 55-80.
  • Stewart, John L. (1991). Ernst Krenek: the Man and His Music. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520070143
  • Taylor-Jay, Claire (2004). The Artist Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist. Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN 0754605787
  • Wührer, Friedrich (ca. 1955). Album notes for Franz Schubert Piano Sonatas vol. 3 (LP). Vox VBX 11.


  1. ^ Dreyfus 2005,[page needed].
  2. ^ Lawson 1995, 102.
  3. ^ Bischof and Pelinka 2003, 109.
  4. ^ Biographical page at Music Information Center Austria
  5. ^ a b Lev 1947.
  6. ^ Bandoneon Recordings Webster Aitkin page (in Chinese)
  7. ^ Wührer ca. 1955.
  8. ^ a b c Krenek 1964, 37.
  9. ^ Krenek 1964, 37–38.
  10. ^ Purkis 1992a.
  11. ^ Krenek 1964, 39.
  12. ^ Křenek 1943, 90–93.
  13. ^ a b Garrett 2001.
  14. ^ Garrett 2001; Ogdon 1972, 106.

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ernst Krenek. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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