Exploring Music. Ernest Krenek. Calder & Boyars. 35s.
Anton Webern. Friedrich Wildgans. Calder & Boyars.30s.
Darius Milhaud. Notes without music. Calder & Boyars. 12s. 6d.
Krenek’s Exploring Music is a collection of essays written at various times between 1929 and 1956. Krenek, born in 1900, is an Austrian composer and teacher who has lived in the us since 1938. His early theoretical writing, e.g. ‘New Humanity and old objectivity’ (1931) has something in common with that of T. W. Adorno.
In the past the composer worked within a ‘cultural collective’, an organic social culture in which the use of living conventions gave objective validity to his music for a limited audience. The dissolution of limited cultural groups into the mass public of modern industrial society is paralleled in the breakdown of musical conventions. The modern composer is confronted by a ‘general public’ of consumers whose taste in conditioned by mass production: unless he consents to write stereotyped and easily digestible music for leisure consumption, he is forced to withdraw into the isolation of individual subjective expression, without any framework of socially approved conventions.
In his own music Krenek has at times tried to bridge the gulf by using formulae familiar to modern audiences (e.g. those of jazz), but more recently he has devoted himself to uncompromising research into the inner musical problems of an advanced serial language, in the belief that music can best express the ‘spirit of the age’ and keep alive the ‘freedom of the human spirit’ not by complying with the demands of the market but by pursuing its own autonomous development.
Krenek’s writing is marred by the use of such concepts as ‘the general public’, ‘the collective feeling of the age’, ‘modern man’, etc—his uncritical use of these monolithic abstractions makes the thought turgid and inexact. The opposition ‘individual’—’masses’, and the fear of mass culture as a threat to individual freedom is characteristic of that current of German thought to which the writing of Adorno and Marcuse also belongs.