This week we have a guest post by the pianist Aurelio Viribay, you can also read his original post in Spanish. He's talking about Krenek, after listening to his Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen op. 62 in Madrid some days ago. We're listening to the first song of the cycle, Motiv, performed by Markus Köhler and pianist Reinhard Schmiedel (I'm afraid I wasn't able to find the translation). Thank you very much, Aurelio!
In den schweizer Alpen - Eugen Bracht
In the Swiss Alps - E. Bracht
Last January 7th, thanks to my attendance at a fantastic song recital, I found a very stimulating issue in response to Sílvia Pujalte’s invitation to collaborate with this blog about Art Song. It's the Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen op. 62 or Travelbook from the Austrian Alps, an infrequent song cycle by Ernst Krenek (Vienna, 1900 - California, 1991) that I was fortunate enough to listen to the baritone Florian Boesch and the pianist Roger Vignoles live in the first concert of the series "The antimoderns" at the Juan March Foundation in Madrid.

The concert series, that serves a framework for this recital, is intended to provide a sample of those aesthetics that didn't follow the avant-garde tendencies derived from the aesthetics initiated by Schoenberg and the composers of the Second Viennese School. One of these tendencies is neoclassicism, aesthetics adopted by Krenek in his Travelbook from the Austrian Alps, a cycle of twenty songs that musicalizes his own notes about a journey to the Alps in his native Austria. It is quite significant that these Lieder are not based on poetic texts, as usual, but in prose, which results in great freedom for the composer and it is shown through music according to the various expressive registers of these texts.

In this cycle, the contrast between seriousness and frivolity is a constant in both texts and music that was masterly performed by the Austrian baritone Florian Boesch and the British pianist Roger Vignoles, two of the most outstanding Art Song performers of today. Thanks to the brilliant idea of projecting the Spanish translation of the performed texts (can be downloaded here), the audience at Juan March Foundation was able to follow the adventures and reflections of Krenek in the Alps without losing the nonchalance and friendliness the baritone showed on stage while singing very naturally this cycle Lieder.

Some texts of this Travelbook by Krenek refer to trivial issues such as those related to the inconveniences of tourism that make the listener smile for being so familiar. Criticism, irony or forwardness, comments about the weather, praises to drink, mood swings, philosophical reflections, customs can also be found. There is even a premonition of what was about to come to Germany at the Lied entitled Politik (Politics), in which Krenek makes a tragic appeal: "Ihr Bruder, schickt den blutigen Hanswurst endlich heim, beendet die Todesmaskerade, denn es ist genug jetzt!" (Brothers, send home once and for all the bloody clown, end this deadly masquerade, because enough is enough!).

It seems pretty clear who was the "Bloody Clown" Krenek referred to when he composed this cycle in 1929, a few years before his exile in the US escaping from the Nazis. Along with this tragic premonition about the hellish times about to come, the more casual passages find correspondence to light music, characteristic from the "Roaring Twenties", with light waltzes and lively music with influences from jazz and "modern" music, something very common in neoclassical composers contemporaries of Krenek as Milhaud and Poulenc. Funnily enough, almost fifty years after the composition of this work, Krenek went back to some themes from his Travelbook op. 62 in another song cycle - Spätlese op. 218 (1973).

It's easy to think of Schubert's Winterreise - unavoidable obsession for all Art Song lovers - when listening to this Krenek's journey, and although a century and a stylistic gulf separate this two works, differences aside, we can only marvel at the fresh creativity that the best Krenek offers us in this work which is worth discovering and knowing. You can listen until the 2nd February the podcast of Radio Clásica broadcast of this recital (from 31' on), or at this link, performed by the baritone Markus Köhler and pianist Reinhard Schmiedel. Undoubtedly, listening to this attractive Krenek song cycle can be a pleasant surprise for those who are not familiar with it. I left absolutely delighted the recital at the Juan March Foundation, thinking how fun, a Lieder recital from such a modern composer as antimodern Krenek, could be. Now, we can only hope that Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles will soon record their magnificent version so that we can enjoy it.

Ich reise aus, meine Heimat zu entdecken.
So ist’s mit uns:
Unglaube gegen uns selbst ist zutiefst in uns verwurzelt,

was anderen selbstverständlich, ist uns Problem:
ob wir daheim sind wo wir geboren.
Zusammengebraut aus verschiedenstem Blut,
mit vielem begabt, doch mit Zweifel zumeist,
irren wir hin und her, suchend uns selbst und die Heimat,

und kennen am Ende fast alles,
nur nicht das Land, dem wir gehören.
So reis’ ich aus der Stadt
in die Berge, die in mein Fenster schauen
und den Horizont unsrer Tage freundlich umschließen,
neugierig, ob ich’s finde:
mein Vaterland.


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