The Secret Kingdom




AUG 18 - 25, 2022


Ernst Krenek - b. Vienna Aug 23, 1900; d. Palm Springs, Dec 22, 1991

Chamber Arrangement by R. Schottstädt 2002

THE SECRET KINGDOM is a cri de coeur for the simple life; submission to Nature, joy in little things, and renunciation of ambition, fame, and glory. The composer wanted to say ‘no’ to modern civilization, which, he felt, consisted of dehumanized haste, degrading commercialization, and hopeless universal corruption.

The plot is an elaborate fairy-tale involving a kingdom in revolt, a monarch of Hamlet-like despondency who would like nothing better than to abdicate, and a queen who seeks to usurp her husband’s throne and establish a new kingdom with the leader of the rebellion.

In the end, all of the characters are thwarted, and a new kingdom, based on a love of nature is magically created in a remote forest.

In his long, diverse, and extraordinarily productive career, Ernst Krenek passed through many compositional styles and aesthetics, from the unbridled atonal Expressionism of his youth to an energetic espousal of indeterminacy in his old age, and was not averse to trying his hand at Tin Pan Alley songs. The music is glorious - awash with a Hollywood soundtrack and jazz club vibes. The story, sadly prescient in 1922, is of a corrupt society and an undervalued environment on the brink of collapse.

The King
The Queen
The Fool
The Rebel

The Three Singing Ladies

First Revolutionary
Second Revolutionary
A Watchperson


Place: a fairy-tale land.


Scene 1, a room in the King’s palace:

While cries from the rebellious population are heard offstage, the Fool muses about the King, the people, and himself. The King hands him his crown; he wants to fight for his true kingdom in the streets. A captive rebel is brought in, a handsome man who captures the interest of the Queen, but his only concern is to obtain the crown and hand it to his followers. Now the Queen too demands the crown. With the help of the Three Ladies, some wine, and a deck of cards, she manages to trick the Fool into losing his motley and the crown. The Rebel, now freed from prison by the Queen, incites the people to storm the palace. The Fool, the Queen, and the King, dressed in fool’s motley, flee in panic.

Scene 2, a moonlit forest:

The Rebel wants to kill the Queen, who still has the crown. In her duress, she begins to disrobe. The Rebel weakens and flings himself upon her. But a higher power transforms her into a tree. Horrified, the Rebel rushes out of the enchanted forest. Two drifted into a pristine being. The King suddenly recognizes the beauty of his realm, the grandeur of nature, and a flower as a divine miracle. He enters his true kingdom and falls asleep. The Fool ends the play by delivering an epilogue to the audience.

Chamber Arrangement by Rainer Schottstädt 2002

Performed in English