Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


School of Music

Document Type



Ernst Krenek’s 1927 opera Jonny Spielt Auf represents Zeitoper, or “opera of the times”. The opera’s story line and characters symbolize Krenek’s internal debate of a divided artistic world between all that is modern and innovative and the older mindset of romanticism, both of which he used in his compositions. This dissertation intends to peer into Krenek’s world and influences of the 1920s to consider the symbols in the opera that represent Modernism and Romanticism. The Golden Age of the Weimar Republic occurred from 1924 to 1929, between the World Wars. During this time, Austrian and German composers had the funds to publish their works and have their operas performed. Performers from America, including African American jazz bands, were making their first tours to Europe and had a large impact on European composers. During the Third Reich, beginning in 1933, the Romanticists were honored and praised by the Nazi regime while the Modernists’ music, along with jazz and the music of Jewish composers, was banned and labeled in an exhibit as Entartete Musik or Degenerate Music. The poster for Jonny Spielt Auf was used as the poster of this exhibit because of the character Jonny in the opera. Though Jonny was performed by a white man in blackface, he represents an African American jazz musician. Max Spilcker, the original singer to play Jonny, had relations to Hitler, creating a possible tie to the Entartete Musik poster. The symbols found in an underlying story of Jonny Spielt Auf further reflect Zeitoper. The story centers around a composer, Max, who represents Krenek. Daniello, a virtuoso violinist, represents Romanticism, while Jonny, a jazz violinist, represents Modernism. Krenek uses both styles of music in his score. The first clue in the opera of Daniello and Jonny’s contrasting ideals vii is found in the violin solo from Act 1, Scene 3 labeled “Tango”. The solo intertwines with a saxophone solo as if to demonstrate an interplay between the two characters. Every moment of the opera has a double meaning related to Krenek’s world of the 1920s, with much of its symbolism yet to be analyzed.



Committee Chair

He, Lin