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05.05.2009 – A Quotation from Ernst Krenek

I am currently reading a book called Choral Music in the Twentieth Century by Nick Strimple. I have had this book in my possession for months, but have only just now endeavored to read through it. My perception of it when I bought it was that it would be great as a reference, but would be dry and difficult to read through. I now understand the truth to be quite to the contrary. The style is as engaging as it is informative. One composer I was just reading about is Ernst Krenek. Stravinsky said of him that he was “an intellectual and a composer, a difficult combination to manage, and he is profoundly religious, which goes nicely with the composer side, less nicely with the other thing.” This grabbed my attention because I have always seen in myself that same dichotomy of the intellectual and the spiritual. What I really wanted to post here, though, was a quote Krenek published in the late sixties on the topics of listening and composing. The last part is particularly meaningful for me.

“Music may be appreciated on different levels, separately or simultaneously; as a vital force that affects us immediately, at the core of our being; as a symbolism that through traditional associations suggests emotional qualities; as an artful combination of sound materials that fascinates our intellect. In a great work of music these elements are integrated, and the listener will enjoy such a work to the fullest extent if he is mentally equipped for such a three-fold integrating perception. Aesthetic study will go very far in explaining the artistic perfection of a great work. Psychological investigation may reveal just what musical factors cause the particular emotional reactions to such a work. It is the element of vitality that seems to defy analysis. We only know that it must be present, for without it neither the subjective soulfulness nor the intricate construction will suffice to arouse our sustained attention. One may call this mysterious element “inspiration,” which is substituting one unknown quality for another. The only control that a composer has over the factor of inspiration is that he must not release any musical thoughts of which he is not absolutely sure that they completely satisfy his inner vision. In other words, he must like what he has written to such an extent that even after thorough search of his own conscience he would not consider changing a single note. If he does that, he has done all that is humanly possible. Whether the criteria by which his nature compels him to decide what he likes are the right ones in order to endow his work with greatness and vitality, is a matter of divine grace.”