Austrian-born US composer and theorist. Following early popular success with the jazz-influenced operas Jonny spielt auf/Johnny Strikes Up (1926) and Leben des Orest/Life of Orestes (1930), he supported himself as a critic while working on the ambitious 12-tone opera Karl V/Charles V (1938). He moved to teaching posts in the USA in 1939 but remained in contact with post-war developments in extended serialism and aleatoric music with Quaestio Temporis/In Search of Time (1957), and with electronic music in Spiritus intelligentiae sanctus (1956).
His writings include the study Johannes Ockeghem (1953) and Horizon Circled (1974).
Křenek studied with Franz Schreker in Vienna, Austria, and Berlin, Germany. In the 1920s he appeared at several of the smaller festivals in Germany and 1925–27 was conductor at the operas of Kassel, Wiesbaden, and other smaller towns in order to gain experience in operatic stagecraft. His first wife was Gustav Mahler's daughter Anna. After the success of Jonny spielt auf, he worked in 12-note music as a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg. In 1933, when the Nazi régime gained the upper hand, he settled in Vienna and worked on behalf of progressive Austrian composers, but he was opposed by the fascists and his Karl V was banned from the Vienna Staatsoper. He left Austria for the USA in 1937, where he later became dean of the School of Fine Arts and director of the music department at Hamline University, St Paul, 1942–47; he lived in California from 1948. His book Über neue Musik, first published in Vienna in 1937 and then translated and revised as Music Here and Now (New York, 1939), is a defence of the 12-note system.
Amends for the hostile treatment he received in Vienna were made with the 1990 first performance of his 1930 musical satire Kehraus um St Stephan – a revision of Karl V had been given at Vienna in 1984. Belated recognition in his homeland was also shown with the 1988 Salzburg Festival premiere of his 1935 oratorio Symeon der Stylit.
WorksOperaJonny spielt auf (1926), Leben des Orest (1930), Karl V (1938), Der goldene Bock (1964).
Choral musicLamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae (1941).
Orchestral five symphonies (1921–50), two Concerti grossi; four piano concertos (1923–50), two violin concertos (1924, 1954), cello concerto; theme and 13 variations for orchestra (1931).
Chamber and solo vocal 8 string quartets (1921–52); 25 songs, song cycles Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen (1929), Gesänge des späten Jahres.
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