Krenek’s Lecture at the Society of Austrian Engineers and Architects, Incongruous Ideas

To this end he proposed a theory of music not confined to any idiom but embracing all musical phenomena and based on five premises, several of which had long been fundamental to his thought:

  1. Musical content does not represent anything extramusical.
  2. Musical thoughts cannot be rendered in any other medium.  The creation of music involves thinking directly in musical language, which cannot be grasped directly in conceptual terms.  Thus, for example, a composer thinks in terms of triads, dominant sevenths, and so on, and not in terms of things for which the music “stands” or “means.”
  3. Music is autonomous.  It obeys its own laws.  It is to be valued for itself and not for what it “expresses” historically, psychologically, or in any other way.
  4. The “laws” of music are not preordained, not “given in nature” and discovered there by man.  Just as the axioms of geometry are free assumptions of the human intelligence for the purpose of geometric thought, so these laws are assumptions for the purpose of musical organization, for the articulation in tonal language of musical thought processes.
  5. Major-minor tonality is but one set of assumptions.  Others, equally valid and effective, are possible.  One such is the twelve-tone technique.

Still, one feels that in some degree this really was a paper amusement, the more so as it was followed by some extravagent analogies and claims for contemporary music.  Starting with the instructive comparison of the so-called laws of music with the axioms of Euclidean geometry, which he rightly said were simply postulates to enable one to think in certain ways, he got carried away and asserted that the twelve-tone technique was like non-Euclidean geometry and yielded results similar to those produced when this geometry was applied in physics.  Retrogression in twelve-tone music, he maintained, abolished ordinary time much as the concept of the fourth dimension does…”A musical retrogression could well create the impression of time moving backward.”

Stewart, J. L. (1991). Ernst Krenek: The man and his music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bolding by me.  Compare that last statement with some of the assumptions Krenek made about “musical phenomena”, specifically numbers 1 and 3.  Stewart duly notes in his biography that it’s silly to think of a retrograde row as giving an impression of time moving backwards (after all, we just hear the music continuing forward as sound in time as listeners).  But I find it more interesting that the example Krenek provided (and I bolded) directly conflicts with his strident claims about Music’s identity.

As someone who writes a lot, I sympathize with Krenek a bit, it’s hard to be entirely consistent all the time and especially hard to not say stupid stuff.  Take this, and this for example.

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