Symphonic Music for 9 Solo Instruments, Op. 11 (for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and strings)
Symphonic Music for 9 Solo Instruments, Op. 11
(b. Vienna, 23 August 1900 — d. Palm Springs / California, 22 December 1991)
No introduction to Ernst Krenek would be complete without acknowledging his extreme versatility as composer, and existentially, as a general artist. Critics simultaneously admired him as a “one-man history of twentieth-century music”, and criticized his stylistic inconsistency. He was curious and well connected, living in a politically tumultuous but culturally rich time, with relationships with literary and visual artists, including Karl Kraus, Oscar Kokoschka, Rainer Maria Rilke, and of course so many more. His life and artistry spans generations and distance, from high-class west-coast American living to war-torn Nazi-regime Vienna.
Ernst Krenek wrote his Symphonic Music for 9 Solo Instruments, his op. 11 in 1922, as a 22 year old man who was in love with Anna Mahler, Gustav Mahler’s daughter. In Ernest Krenek’s life, the world in political turmoil, his music shows extreme variability and experimentalism. In a short life as a successful composer, before 1922, he had experimented with all possible techniques, and this piece was composed at the very early stages of his atonal compositions . It premiered in July that year, shortly after Krenek finished his Second Symphony (dedicated to Anna Mahler), at a music festival in Donaueschingen, directed by Hermann Scherchen. At this premiere, the program noted, in Krenek‘s own words: „The structure of the Symphonic Music in two movements is quite simple, and completely understandable to the listener, so in my opinion, any further analysis is unnecessary.“ In his op 11. Krenek seems directly inspired generally by Bartok and specifically by Schönberg‘s Kammermusik.
One must mention that the overall effect to the listener is quite often symphonic, the “solo instruments” in the title should not be overlooked. It is a complex piece of chamber music, with each instrument taking on extensive important solo or duo roles throughout.
The piece is in two equal-length movements, titled merely “I and II” and without tempo-marking headings. It is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and strings. Part I opens with a clear angular theme which will be repeated throughout, in ritornello style. This main theme is introduced fugally. The intervals in between have very different characters, which always devolve into a long segue back to the main theme. One episode is lyrical and contrapuntal, relaxed and static. Another episode contrasts with tutti triplets, and an insidious growth to an harmonically-unsettling climax of oscillating triplets which quickly subside dynamically. The entire movement ends on a single dry pizzicato.
Part II is marked Adagio at the beginning, and the double bass initiates a chromatic fugue with all the strings before giving way to the winds, and an extensive flute solo. Throughout the movement, motifs from the first movement appear. After a well-developed rhythmic and energetic interlude the movement comes to a kind of inside-out climax, motion and harmony nearly ceasing completely before the main theme from the first movement begins again, albeit without the same characteristic rhythm. From here the flute initiates running sixteenths, which are taken over by other instruments in turn before the motion tapers away again at the end of the movement for a calm and gentle conclusion.
Irma Servatius, 2016
For performance material please contact Universal Edition, Vienna.