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Austrian (later American) composer, and writer on music.

Career Summary

Krenek, of a Bohemian catholic family, studied counterpoint and composition with Franz Schreker in Vienna (1916-20) and Berlin (1920-), where he developed his own contrapuntal-atonal style with which he soon became an "enfant terrible" of modern music. Following the scandal-tainted performance of his Second Symphony in 1923, he lived in Switzerland until 1925, subsequently holding positions in the opera houses of Kassel and Wiesbaden, and returning to Vienna in 1928.

His First String Quartet (1921) gained him a contract with Universal Edition, this resulting in the publication of his Symphonische Musik (comp and pubd 1922), his scenic cantata Die Zwingburg (1922, pubd 1923), operas Orpheus und Erydike and Der Sprung über Schatten (1923, pubd 1924), and other works, culminating in his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf (1925, first performed 1927), the work that brought him world-wide fame and independence while marking a return to tonality. In the early 1930s, he turned to twelve-tone composition, producing an opera using that technique, Karl V, in 1933.

From 1933, Krenek's writings and compositions were banned in Germany by the Nazis. At the annexation of Austria in 1938 he emigrated to the USA, by which time he had composed eleven operatic works, several ballets, three symphonies and some dozen other orchestral works, numerous chamber works including five string quartets, and much vocal music. In the USA, he taught at several universities over the next fifty years, from 1947 living in Los Angeles, then Palm Springs, and continuing to be highly active as a composer to the late 1980s, with forays into electronic music, integral serialism, and aleatory.

His many writings include:

  • Über neue Musik (1937)
  • Studies in Counterpoint (1940; trans. as Zwölfton Kontrapunkt Studien, 1952)
  • Die Amerikanische Tagebücher 1937-1942
  • Selbstdarstellung (1948) [autobiography]
  • and several other books from the American period.

As a journalist he wrote over 500 articles, for Musikblätter des Anbruch , Pult und Takstock (1925-35, both UE house journals), the Frankfurter Zeitung (1929-33), the Wiener Zeitung (1933-38), and Swiss and American papers and journals.

Krenek and Schenker

Schenker viewed Krenek (of whose teacher, Schreker, he disapproved) as one among many practitioners of the "modern music" that he so lamented, especially when they were promoted by UE. His letters and diaries contain caustic remarks about Jonny spielt auf (he deplored jazz as much as atonal music) at the time of its first Vienna performance on December 31, 1927. As a regular reader of the Frankfurter Zeitung, he must have encountered Krenek's articles in that paper.


  • NGDM2 (2001 and online)
  • Bakers1971
  • MGG
  • OeML Online

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