Saturday, February 17, 2007


The composer Ernst Krenek lived for many years in Palm Springs, and, although his works received most of their performances in his native Austria, his music did turn up from time to time in programs in California. I had learned the name first from his little book, Studies in Counterpoint, which was actually an introduction to writing melodies in a twelve-tone technique. I found it in the Claremont Public Library in 9th or 10th grade and actually did a number of exercises from it, the beginning and end of my twelve-tone career.

Once, while I was in college in Santa Cruz, Krenek rolled onto campus as part of a tour down the state by a string quartet playing an all-Krenek program. Krenek showed up at the Music Department office, expecting to have a talk with students. Someone, somewhere, had failed to organize the event, but they quickly telephoned about and soon found four or five of us willing to join Krenek for a chat.

He talked at length about his "famous" (Krenek's own term) opera Karl V, of which not one of us had then heard a note, and then played a recording of one of his quartets. The response was not enthusiastic. He opened the room up for questions. There was silence for a moment and I blurted out the first thing that came into my head, which was to ask if he had known Josef Matthias Hauer, a composer who had developed a body of techniques for composing based upon using the entire twelve-tone gamut that were both roughly contemporary with those of Schönberg and substantially different in conception. Krenek responded that no, he did not know him well, and that he found Hauer's music to have exhibited a "profound emptiness".

The group of students in the room took in those words, "profound emptiness", nodding to one another with the particular sense of appreciation that can probably only be described by an appeal to the Californian Zen ethos of those days under the Jerry Brown Governorship. Hauer? Profoundly empty? Sounds cool to me.

Krenek noticed the reaction, and then said, "I mean this, of course, as a critique."

I've since heard quite a bit of Hauer, and Krenek's characterization has proven to be quite appropriate. But, writing now as a terminal Californian, I don't consider "profound emptiness" a critique.


PWS said...

Hey Daniel-knowing your taste, I highly recommend that you try and track down some of Krenek's writings on Renaissance music, for instance his study on Ockeghem. He probably had strongest grounding in "Western Music History" of all the Schoenberg 'school'. Schoenberg ignored music before Bach, Webern was interested by a few composers here and there, and Berg followed Schoenberg's example.

Man knew his shiznet.

Richard Friedman said...

At our New Music Séance yesterday, Kate Stenberg and Eva-Maria Zimmermann performed Hauer's Zwölftonspiel 2/9/1956, and number 5 from his Fünf Stücke from 1925. The first was quite dry and sounded more like an exercise. But the second, subtitled "Jazz", was much more approachable, sounding more like Kurt Weill or Hans Eisler. Interestingly, the evening also included Webern's Four Pieces Op. 7 from 1910, which seemed more contemporary and radical than most of the very recent compositions on the program.

While there does seem to be a lot of interest in Hauer, valid historical interest, I'm afraid that what I've heard (and there isn't that much available) rarely satisfies the interest. Maybe we need to hear more?