The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (161): Here’s …. Jonny

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (161): Here’s …. Jonny


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2020

The composer Ernst Krenek would have turned 120 today.

His greatest hit was the 1927 opera Jonny spielt auf, which the Nazis targeted as the epitome of decadent modernism.

Krenek went into US exile, dying in 1991.

Jonny is hardly ever seen nowadays.


  • I saw a trilogy of short Krenek operas a couple years ago at the Frankfurt Opera that was fantastic.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Bravo Krenek, and Happy Birthday!!
    So much of the Weimar era music was brilliant – scathing, sarcastic, caustic, rebellious – I love this musical era.
    Jonny Spielt Auf was a spit in the face to the musical and (not quite yet – that came in 1933) political establishment.
    Even the popular jazz-drenched dance music of the time was absolutely marvelous.
    And the songs? And musical shows? Hollaender? Weill? Some of the finest music ever written.
    The the Nazis came and f****d everything up.
    Thanks, Hitler. A**hole.

  • V. Lind says:

    Hmm. It’s a problematic little piece, innit. Can’t imagine BLM-ers would like it, given that Jonny, the only black in it, is a thief. Traditional classical music fans might resent the libretto’s message, well underscored by the music, that classical music is dying out and the future is with popular stuff. Old and stodgy and repressed vs. you and liberated and the voice of the future.

    And yet…I suspect it would be a hit as a movie. Could be a shot in the arm for opera!

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    One of the champions of Ernst Křenek was Glenn Gould.
    Notably in his writing:‘ernst-who’
    As of course in his playing:

    For those who would like to discover Křenek in a lighter, obliquely humorous vein — but beware of the obsidian-sharp undertones — may I suggest the delightful ‘Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen’ (1929).

    Finally, my heartfelt thanks to our genial host: the plea expressed in my sobriquet is vindicated.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Krenek du Jour, your day has come. Wolfgang Holzmair’s CD of Krenek’s Tyrolian travel folkish songs, in faux-wood rustic clapboards, is delightful, ideally sung in clear, charmingly Austrian-accented German.

      Holzmair began as a bassooner, which helps.Wunderlich was a horner, Hans Hotter organist, and Stephen Costello trumpeteer Good backgrounds. They could even read music, like Klemperer.

      But can you help me? I’m told his surname is pronounced “Kray-SHEN-yeck’. Is that right?

      He was briefly married to Mahler’s sculptress daughter Anna, and contributed a final chapter to Bruno Walter’s book on Mahler. He taught some years in Canada at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Sounds an interesting man, life, and composer., together with his work toward comopleting Schubert’s “Relique” sonata and Mahler’s tenth. Some impressive pianist played his music: Friedrich Wuehrer, Ray Lev, Webster Aitken. Good Wiki-articles in German and English.

      • Le Křenek du jour says:

        Re the pronunciation of his name: more like Kr/zhenek, originally. Here’s some reference on the phoneme, plus audio example:Ř

        He dropped the haček upon immigration to the U.S.
        Nowadays even Austrians pronounce it plain “Krenek”, even though, as the saying goes, every true Viennese must have a Czech grandmother.

        Re his brief marriage to Anna Mahler: he would not dwell on the subject when I interviewed him at the Schönberghaus in Mödling some 35 years ago, but he remembered Anna’s mother Alma and her relentless meddling vividly. His expression for life around Alma was “a constant merry-go-round”, except not always that merry. Apparently Gropius told him to make his peace and cut his losses: marriage, with Alma as his mother-in-law, would always be a crowded affair.

        On a less gossipy level about Křenek and Gropius: the Bauhaus at Weimar tried to be very much au fait about contemporary music. One notable early Bauhaus concert in August 1923 featured Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and Křenek‘s “Concerto grosso”. Křenek was just shy of his 23rd birthday. Such was the regard he garnered in those early years.

        • ´dgar ßelf says:

          Many thanks, Krenek du Jour, for these informations. You must know the story, repeated a little too otten, of Alma’s telephone conversation withTthomas Mann when her ultimate Eehmann, Franz Werfel, died. Presumably it’s true, for a fiction writer has no need to lie, truth being so much stranger. There is anotier story about Kokoschka, his automobile, and a life-sized, anatomically correct d0ll. She may have been a woman like George Sand or Dagny Taggart determined to have a partner of genius, or at least of distinction, even if necessary to destroy him lest he destroy her, or reduce her to a cipher. Such are the ways of love..

          Die Witwe Mahler’s aptly horizontal gravestone must be a long one to acccomodate Alma Schindler Zemlinsky Mahler Gropius Kokoschka Werfel with space for how many others, documented or not..

        • John Borstlap says:

          Very interesting.

          The Bauhaus: the craddle of the square sterility eyesores destroying the old European city scapes.

        • Edgar Self says:

          Everyone seems to have remembered Alma’s meddling.

      • ira says:

        i asked the family some years ago. they said it was shrenek in europe but now krenek.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That unbearable ‘Wanderlied’ is an imitation of early Schoenberg. His ‘Jonny spielt auf’, according to the fragments of the video in this post, is just terrible music – fun, yes, but of a very unsophisticated, illiterate kind. No wonder he travelled through many styles, having nothing specific to say for himself. And eventually, we get this:

  • Novagerio says:

    Well, the lead tenor colours his face á la Al Jolson, in order to impersonate a black jazz musician, who also is a thief. Should we leave it buried after all, given the current sensitive times?…

    • V. Lind says:

      How about engaging a black tenor? Problem solved.

      • Larry L. Lash / Wien says:

        Uh… the lead tenor is Max, a composer. Jonny, a jazz violinist, is a baritone.

        We had a highly-anticipated premiere of “Jonny spielt auf” at Wiener Staatsoper in 2002 (the last production ran for 33 performances between 1927 and 1931). With Jonny’s entrance, the production (seen only 14 times) promptly dropped dead: Bo Skovhus, grotesquely made-up with black shoe polish, was nearly impossible to watch. Even a kickline of scantily-clad chorus girls snaking its way through the audience couldn’t help.

        Jonny is sung by Black baritone Krister St. Hil on the Decca/Entartete Musik recording led by Lothar Zagrosek. I actually prefer the single disc of highlights recorded in the 1960s with Heinrich Hollreiser leading a cast which includes Gerd Feldhof (Jonny), Lucia Popp (Yvonne), Evelyn Lear (Anita), and Thomas Stewart (Danillo, a classical violinist, the true villain of the piece).

  • Edgar Self says:

    Good idea. Roland Hayes and George Shirley being unavailable, Lawrence Brownlee might be ideal. He recently opined on the matter of black singers, is an excellent tenor, and veratile.

  • Larry L. Lash / Wien says:

    The 1960s recording of highlights of which I spoke in another post has been uploaded to YouTube. This gives a much better idea of the playful seductiveness of the opera (the Ludwig Hoffmann recording is of interest to the historically curious, but it reduces the jazzy “Leb wohl, mein Schatz” duet/ensemble to a solo).

    If you have a spare 50 minutes, try this: