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I dreamt of a traveling train…
Composer Ernst Krenek’s Life Journey, or “The One-Man History of Twentieth-Century Music”

Be swept off your feet by him: the great composer Ernst Krenek, whose works—when seen in all their vibrant abundance and fantastic multiplicity—are virtually breathtaking.

Be taken away by him: Ernst Krenek, no less prolific as a man of letters, who frequently composed the lyrics to his song cycles himself, wrote book reviews and travel essays; Ernst Krenek, the thinker, sought after as a brilliant conversation partner, by, among others, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, Karl Kraus, Oskar Kokoschka, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky.

Travel with him: at the Ernst Krenek Forum. By traveling from station to station with this significant figure, through difficult and easier times, we are taken on a fascinating journey through the twentieth century, from his early years in Vienna, on to Berlin, Switzerland, and Kassel, all the way to his adopted home in California. To put it differently: this journey takes us from the Habsburg imperial era, to the Weimar and First Republic, to Nazism and the corporative state, from World War II to the McCarthy era, the period during the Vietnam War, the student revolts, and the fall of the Iron Curtain. What a crescendo! Krenek does not simply live through all of this as a passive bystander; instead, he plays an active role in shaping the history of music and registers the political events of his times with an adept and watchful eye.

Travel with him; now we can travel with him at the Krenek Forum. Here we can listen to the composer’s wondrous metamorphoses. Late-romantic melos, atonally skewed chords, jazzy, operetta-like, cleverly constructed, sublimely polyphonic, theatrical, lyrical, gigantic, miniature, experimental, edgy, round, futuristic electronic, insistently rhetorical, and playful—all of which can be found in Krenek’s work, although it does not come anywhere close to describing his work. Examples of his work can be heard on the loudspeakers that light up like acoustic falling stars and fade at once.

Travel together: this is what he longed to do. As a boy, Ernst longed to travel to far-away places and meet people. He would have liked to have gone everywhere and met everyone. As a child, he played with his toy train in his parent’s apartment and loved to go to the nearby railroad yard of Franz Josephs Bahnhof. Little did he know that these fancies were already indicative of his work to come. A recurring theme in his works is the metaphor of traveling by train, be it in his worldwide smash-hit opera Jonny spielt auf / Jonny Strikes Up the Band!, in The Ballad of the Railroads, or in the series of Karl Kraus’ poems that he set to music in Durch die Nacht, completed in 1931, from which the line “I dreamt of a traveling train…” gives the exhibition its namesake.

With this in mind, I wish all those who visit the Ernst Krenek Forum a good trip and hope your enjoy your stay!

Matthias Henke
Exhibition curator