Ernst Krenek’s physical life spanned the twentieth century, and his creative life reflected its turmoil. Born August 23, 1900 in Vienna, Austria, he died December 22, 1991 in Palm Springs, California. As a composer, his mode of musical expression changed many times: from the post-impressionism of his teacher Franz Schreker, to a dissonant, motoric style influenced by Béla Bartók, to a Schubertian neo-romanticism, to a dissonance based upon the twelve-tone technique that employed serial and electronic mediums, to an atonalism incorporating elements of the twelve-tone technique. These changes of style have often confused listeners and critics alike, for as he progressed, Krenek did not always adhere strictly to the stylistic techniques he was currently employing.
“Looking back over the evolution of my musical style, I am not astonished that even benevolent observers became confused and vacillating in their faith. Whenever they thought I had comfortably settled down in some stylistic district, I was not at the expected place the next time, and the business of classifying had to start all over again. ...I have been striving for an ever-freer and more incisive articulation of musical thought.” (Krenek, “The Composer Speaks” in The Book of Modern Composers, edited by David Ewen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942, pp. 345–55.) Yet even through all his changes, Krenek always displayed a strong interest in instrumental color and sonority, which he presented in an ever-musical context. Although the Fifth and Eighth String Quartets are dramatically different in style, they still speak with Krenek’s distinctive voice, for the quartet was a genre he turned to throughout his life.
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