Krenek, Ernst (1900–1991) By Beard, Phillip
Ernst Krenek, twentieth-century composer, was born in Vienna in 1900. Krenek composed over 240 works from 1917 until 1989, and his career includes works in many genres, including symphonies, operas, chamber music and music for piano. Krenek was stylistically protean, and indebted at various points to Schubert, Mahler, Bartok, and Schoenberg. In 1974, Glenn Gould called Krenek ‘the most prolific major composer of our time.’ Krenek wrote several symphonies in the 1920s intended to extend the idiom of Mahler (Krenek was briefly married to Anna Mahler, the elder composer’s daughter, in 1922). He wrote an opera titled Jonny Spielt Auf (1927) that mixes jazz motifs in modernist, atonal settings. This work was banned by the Nazis for its reflection of African-American styles. Krenek’s works of the 1920s are atonal but still melodic; he called this music of his early period “rich in dissonant polyphony.” Beginning with his opera Karl V (1930) (which engages complex religious and political questions, presenting Karl, a sixteenth-century Hapsburg Emperor, as a Hamlet-like antihero), Krenek began working in music based in twelve-tone rows, derived from the theory and works of Arnold Schoenberg. Throughout the rest of his career, Krenek would return to varieties of serialization, often involving twelve-tone rows, trying to exploit “the dialectical cohabitation of predetermination and chance” inherent in serialism.