Ernst Krenek

From Wind Repertory Project
Ernst Krenek


Ernst Krenek (23 August 1900, Vienna, Austria – 22 December 1991, Palm Springs, Calif.) was an Austrian-born American composer.

Krenek studied in Vienna 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 1924. That marriage ended in divorce before its first anniversary.

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which the Nazis gained control of the Reichstag, Krenek's incidental music to Goethe's Triumph der Empfindsamkeit was withdrawn in Mannheim, and eventually pressure was brought to bear on the Vienna State Opera, which cancelled the commissioned premiere of Karl V. The jazz imitations of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 "Johnny".

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. His students included George Perle, Robert Erickson, Halim El-Dabh, Will Ogdon, Thomas Nee, and Richard Maxfield.

Krenek 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 compositions are quite eclectic, a reflection of the diverse influences he was exposed to throughout his career. His music spans five distinct periods: atonal (1921-1923), Neo-classic (1924-1926), Romantic (1926-1931), twelve-tone (1931-1956), and serial (after 1957). Krenek completed over 200 works, including 20 operas, 7 string quartets, 5 symphonies, and a variety of instrumental, vocal, electronic, and film scores.

Works for Winds


  • Ernst Krenek Institute website
  • Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. 2002. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 4. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 772.