Entartete Musik (III) – Why did Ernst Krenek become a composer of Entartete Musik?

Ernst Krenek was one of the eliminated composers during World War 2. His music was classified in a different frame by the Nazis because Krenek’s music was reflecting the modern period. At the time of  he lived, direction of music was totally changed and some new concepts such as twelve tone technique and atonality came into the music. However, at the time of 1920s, he impressed neo-classical style of Stravinsky and in my opinion his first Violin Concerto was composed under this impact because it has a form like A-B-A in the first movement. After this concerto, in 1926, he composed the opera named Jonny Spielt Auf . This opera was about black jazz musicians and in the opera, there were symbols of modern life such as telephone, radio and train.  Furthermore, his second opera Karl V included twelve tone technique which was also marked as symbol of modernism. The opera had one performance in Prague and after that the second one was cancelled by the Nazi regime. Krenek’s music was marked as Degenerate Music which reflects the idea of opposition of the modernism and race.

The title Degenerate  is a term for people who are different from Nazis in terms of thought, personality, ethnicity and race. Krenek’s music was including all subjects which can be counted as Degenerate. As an example, he was one of the pioneers who use ethnic subjects in his compositions. Krenek’s first opera was about black jazz musicians and in my opinion, this was already enough to be marked as Degenerate. In addition to this, he also used twelve tone technique which became the initial symbol of modernism. In the exhibition ‘Entartete Kunst’ to insult the composers, there was a picture for the Krenek’s opera named Jonny Spielt Auf. On the picture, there was black jazz musician with saxophone and wearing Jewish star. Just because of color, different race and modernist approach in the music, not only Krenek, but also almost all Jewish and modernist composers of the time were in the list of Degenerate Music.In my opinion, if these composers were not Jewish or different ethnicity, their music may not be marked as Degenerate because the aim of the Nazis was to eliminate all Jewish and ethnic people.

All of these are so horrible and disturbing for the composers. However, they progressed the same way when they were composing. They did not give up and they continued to be against to them. Nonetheless, If I were one of them, I do not know, I could continue to compose. All of them are much more important for me now.


  • žBowles, G. H., Ernst Krenek A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, Inc., 1989, p. 1-14.
  • žStewart, J. L., Ernst Krenek- The Man and His Music, University of California Press, 1991, p. 21-24, 73-74, 154-156.
  • žwww.centerforjazzarts.org/classical

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