, September 2008
Krenek’s music has long interested me because of its highly individual approaches to atonality, although his music went thru many changes and styles reflecting some of the main musical influences of the 20th century. He studied with Franz Schreker and was married less than a year to Anna Mahler. Though Czech and not Jewish, his writings and music were targeted by the Nazi beginning in 1933. In spite of that his jazz-influenced opera Jonny spielt auf was a huge success in Europe. Krenek moved to the U.S. in 1938 and taught at various universities, dying in Palm Springs in 1991.
The composer claimed his Five Piano Pieces of 1926 anticipated the change of style he made in Jonny spielt auf. Towards the end of the ‘20s he was writing in his own version of Schoenberg’s 12-tone style. However, the Second Piano Sonata has a neo-romantic flavor sprinkled with jazz elements. Its last movement even has hints of Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. The Fourth Sonata of 1948 is more seriously into Schoenbergian techniques, but used together with tonality-centered musical means - which I find makes it much more expressive and listenable.
The George Washington Variations is an extremely strange piece. (For some reason I happen to have the sheet music for it. I think I was trying to play it on the harpsichord.) Krenek used an 18th century American military march at the beginning and in the finale an 18th century “military cotillion” theme. Some of it is very tonal and classical, whereas other sections veer into atonality, and much counterpoint also ensues.
Russian pianist Korshev has a wide repertory, but is especially interested in 20th century music and has presented an all-Krenek program on Austria’s top classical music station. He seems to have an affinity for the composer’s special style, and Phoenix gives him excellent sonics on this disc.