Ernst Kanitz was born April 9, 1894 in Vienna. Besides the study of law at the University of Vienna (J.D. 1918), Kanitz devoted himself to the systematic study of piano, theory and composition with R. Heuberger (1912-1914) and Franz Schreker (1914-1920). Early successes as composer [principally the premiere of the oratorio Das Hohelied (1921)] aided his musical career, which also led to teaching (since 1922 Professor of Theory and Analysis at the New Vienna Conservatory, numerous private students in composition). In 1930 Kanitz founded the Vienna Women's Chorus, with which he brought new choral music to the public in Vienna, Paris, Brno and Budapest. The chorus remained in existence until Kanitz's emigration to the United States in 1938. There he embarked on an extended teaching career, first at Winthrop College in Rock Hill and 1941-1944 as Head of the Music Department of Erskine College (both South Carolina) and also appeared as conductor of various women's choruses and student orchestras.
In 1945 Kanitz was called to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he taught composition and counterpoint until his retirement in 1959 (guest professor there 1960/1961). From 1961-1964 he taught at Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California; then he devoted himself exclusively to private teaching and composition, activities which were severely restricted in 1967 by diminishing vision. Kanitz died in Palo Alto, CA in 1978.
His compositions include: -Chamber operas (Room No. 12, Royal Auction, Perpetual)
-Orchestral works (Gay Ouverture, Motion Picture, Concerto Grosso for wind instruments, strings and piano; Concert Piece for trumpet and orchestra or piano, Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1955); Visions At Twilight for flute, piano and strings (1962); Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1962); Sinfonia Seria (first symphony, 1963), Second Symphony (1965); Sinfonia Concertante (third symphony) for violin, cello and orchestra (1967); Sinfonietta da Camera (1972))
-Chamber music (works for solo instruments, 4 duos, 3 trios, 2 string quartets, 3 quintets and one sextet)
-Works for voice (Das Hohelied (Christian Morgenstern), oratorio for four solos, mixed chorus and orchestra (1920; 1921); Music of Our Time, chamber cantata for baritone, women's chorus and chamber orchestra (1932); Evening Festival for Radio for soprano solo, two guitars, two pianos and orchestra (1934); Ballet Music for women's chorus and orchestra (1936); Gotthelf Schlicht, cantata for solos, mixed chorus and orchestra (1937); choral works and songs with piano accompaniment).
He also published A Counterpoint Manual: Fundamental Techniques of Polyphonic Music Writing (Boston, 1948).
The critic Rudolf Klein wrote: "Color, complex tonality which expands to the extreme when the occasion arises, and freedom from systems are the most outstanding characteristics of Kanitz' later works. In keeping with European tradition, melody, harmony and texture unite to produce a personal synthesis, whereby the romantic richness and impressionistic influences of his teacher Schreker had been overcome at an early time. The music of Kanitz likes quietude, discretion, often also the agile; it may be formally counted among that stylistic direction which stemmed from the symphonic thought of Viennese tradition and was carried on in the twentieth century by Arnold Schoenberg. In this respect Kanitz' orchestral works are of particular importance. His works have been performed internationally by leading orchestras and conductors, such as Josef Krips (2 world premieres), Zubin Mehta, Eleazar de Carvalho, Herman Abendroth, Clemens Kraus, Richard Hagen, Carl Schuricht, Franz Schreker, Eugene Ormandy, and many others."