Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
"Longing for a rich, wild wonderful sound"
On the death of the composer Hans Werner Henze
With the death of Hans Werner Henze we have lost one of the most important and influential composers of our time. Over the course of a long artistic career, his musical vision has proved limitless: over 40 stage works, 10 symphonies, concertos, chamber works, oratorios, song cycles, and a Requiem created out of nine Sacred Concertos. What is unique about his work is the union of timeless beauty with contemporary commitment. He chose to settle in the classical landscape of the Albani hills outside Rome and it was here that he found his own harmonious balance of art and life – throwing himself into his many practical projects, entertaining generously with his companion Fausto Moroni for five decades, then retreating into his study and his scores.
Was Henze primarily an operatic composer? Or was he, as often described, rather the last great symphonist? Throughout his long career, Hans Werner Henze devoted himself to composing operas as well as to exploring the many instrumental genres. This versatility fertilised and enriched all his work, enabling him fully to realize his personal aesthetic. "Many things wander from the concert hall to the stage and vice versa." he once mused. His unique collaboration with the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (Der Prinz von Homburg 1958-59 and Der junge Lord 1964) in addition to the musical dramas Elegy for Young Lovers (1959-61) and The Bassarids (1964-65) are milestones in his compositional output.
His experiences as a child in Fascist Germany and as a prisoner of war left their mark on Henze, and his political engagement in the events of 1968 and the Cuban revolution, made him determined to reflect the political ferment of these times in a new musical language. The spectacular disruption of the premiere of his oratorio Das Floß der Medusa (1968) in Hamburg was one of the great musical scandals of its time. His political convictions found ultimate musical expression on stage in We come to the River (1974-76), in which he collaborated with the writer Edward Bond. With Sinfonia N. 9 (1995-97), a choral symphony in seven movements based on Anna Seghers' novel "The Seventh Cross", Henze created a memorial to protest against Fascism and war.
It was Arnold Schönberg who said "It would seem that the ninth is the limit." Henze commented that he wrote his tenth "In order to overturn this romantic superstition." The youthful tone is underscored by darkly founded harmonies, creating an oppressive atmosphere, heightened by vibrant tonal opulence and brooding worldly-wisdom. At the end we are left with a questioning uncertainty, an elegiac decrescendo. "Thus I complete my contribution to the symphony," wrote Henze.
His continuing love for the operatic voice and its lyrical strength was celebrated again with L’Upupa (2002), the only opera for which Henze wrote his own libretto. However, he was an indefatigable writer and thinker, revealed in his autobiographical works, Die englische Katze – ein Arbeitstagebuch and Bohemian Fifths – an Autobiography and spanning theoretical works such as Music und Politics and numerous letters. Henze continued to develop this rich union of his own words and music with Sechs Gesänge aus dem Arabischen (1997-98) and Aristaeus (1997-2003).
In 1976 Hans Werner Henze founded the Cantiere d’Arte in Montepulciano, and in 1988 the Münchener Biennale, remaining artistic director of both until 1994. Here, as well as in the Deutschlandsberg Youth Music Festival in Styria, Austria, which he also founded, Henze passed on his immense experience to young composers, teachers, musicians and amateurs. "For composing is a craft, and every craft thrives on experience."
With the unshakable courage of his convictions, but also with his joi de vivre, his love of beautiful things and of nature, Henze's restless spirit reveals to us a man who never lost sight of his artistic aspirations, despite many personal sufferings, and historical dangers. To him, composing was both an ethical commitment and personal expression. He had to write, with relentless self-discipline, and when times were hard it threw him the anchor he needed and saved him from his darkest moments. Hans Werner Henze once said that music "is the opposite of sin – it is redemption, the Promised Land."
We, his publishers, have had the privilege of accompanying him through this land for almost six decades. It is with deep sadness but with immense gratitude for his life that we take our leave, today, of Hans Werner Henze (1 July 1926, Gütersloh, - 27 October 2012, Dresden)
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