Krenek's 'Sonata for Viola' and 'Sonata for Viola & Piano'

'Sonata for Viola' and 'Sonata for Viola & Piano' by Ernst Krenek. (Universal Edition, €14.95 and €24.95, respectively)

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Viennese-born Krenek’s first success was his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf (Jonny Plays On) in 1926, subsequently performed in over 100 cities and the Met in New York to ecstatic audiences. An émigré from Nazi Europe in 1938, he settled in California. In 242 works, his music encompasses a variety of styles, reflecting the influences of his era, from late Romanticism through atonality to serialism. Busoni, Stravinsky, Milhaud and Les six, and finally Schoenberg were his inspirations, but his own style is unmistakable. The solo viola sonata, Op. 92, No. 3, was composed in Colorado in 1942, alongside his landmark book Music Here and Now. In four concise movements, the solo viola sonata goes beyond serialism and the techniques of the Second Viennese School in a technique called “row rotation.” The result juxtaposes harmony and dissonance in a remarkable way. The composer’s reverence for Bach is shown in the final movement, a chaconne and the whole shows a true affinity with the viola and its unique timbres.

The sonata with piano, Op. 117, was completed in LA in just four days. Again departing from conventional 12-tone rules, Krenek used a freer atonal/serial technique. Its three brief movements—andante, allegro vivace, and andantino—are highly charged rhythmically and emotionally intense, both parts skillfully interwoven. Albeit with technical challenges, violists will rejoice in rich tone textures.

*This article appeared in Strings December 2010
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