Ernst Krenek (1900-1991), German-American Composer

Heinz Moehn corresponded with Krenek when he was doing freelance editorial work for Bärenreiter after his retirement. Moehn helped with the preparation for publication of Krenek’s Messe "Gib uns den Frieden" (“Give us Peace” Mass), Op. 208, and also with creating a piano reduction of the orchestral accompaniment. A letter from Krenek to Moehn, dated 26 April 1971, praises Moehn for his editorial work: “Your work is outstanding, and I am very indebted to you for it” (“Ihre Arbeit ist ausgezeichnet, und ich bin Ihnen sehr verbunden dafür”).

Moehn and Krenek also share a connection through Franz Schrecker. Krenek studied composition with Schrecker at the Vienna Musikakademie (Music Academy) and in Berlin in the 1910s and 20s, and Krenek’s compositions sometimes bear traces of Schrecker’s post-impressionistic musical language, combined with other stylistic features.

Krenek was one of the central targets of the Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) exhibition mounted by the Nazis in 1938. The main poster for the exhibition is a parody of the cover page of Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf (Jonny strikes up), made into a crude and offensive image. Rather than featuring the character Jonny, an African-American jazz musician, the poster shows a monkey wearing a star of David in the same pose. Krenek’s outspoken admiration of Schoenberg, and his incorporation of jazz, atonality, and other contemporary styles into his music roused the ire of the Nazis, and performing institutions began cancelling planned productions of his works in the late 1930s. In 1939, under harassment, he emigrated to the United States, and he became an American citizen in 1945.

Return to Moehn's Network


Bowles, Garrett H. Ernst Krenek: a Bio-Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Bowles, Garrett. “Krenek [Křenek], Ernst.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Kater, Michael H. Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Krenek, Ernst. Ernst Krenek to Heinz Moehn, 26 April 1971. Letter.

Levi, Erik. Music in the Third Reich. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1994.

Potter, Pamela M. Art of Suppression: Confronting the Nazi Past in Histories of the Visual and Performing Arts. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2016.

Stewart, John L. Ernst Krenek: The Man and His Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.