About this Recording
8.557344 - HENZE, H.W.: Guitar Music, Vol. 1 (Halasz) - Royal Winter Music No. 2 / 3 Tentos / Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesange
English  German 

Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926)
Guitar Music, Vol. 1

 

There can be few other living composers who have had such remarkable success with an extraordinary quantity of music in all genres. A brief glance at Henze's catalogue outlines a formidable series of symphonies, stage works (both opera and ballet), concertos and quartets, and it is on these large-scale and solidly Teutonic structures, often unconventional in formal design and personal in their approach, that his stature as one of Europe's foremost composers rests.

Born in Westphalia in 1926, Henze received his earliest musical training against the background of Nazism, becoming a reluctant recruit into the Hitler Youth movement and, in 1944, serving as a radio operator with a Panzer division. After the war he returned to his formal education, studying first with Wolfgang Fortner, and later with René Leibowitz in Darmstadt and Paris, where he encountered serial techniques. It was, however, the music of Stravinsky, Hindemith and Schoenberg that Henze turned to as models for his earliest neo-classical pieces whose innate lyricism was to mark his oeuvre across a sixty-year composing career. Both his first Violin Concerto and First Symphony of 1947 quickly established Henze as Germany's answer to the musical vacuum resulting from the aftermath of Nazism.

Unhappy with post war social attitudes and ashamed of Germany's recent past he moved to Italy in 1953; first to Ischia, then Naples, and eventually settling near Rome. From this southern move a new, sunny radiance filtered into his compositions that generated a sequence of stage works beginning in 1955 with König Hirsch (King Stag) and culminating, ten years later, with his unparalleled operatic success The Bassarids. From the late 1960s there followed a series of politically motivated works (with overtly communist sympathies), that included the ill fated Hamburg premiere of his oratorio The Raft of the Medusa, the chamber piece El Cimarrón and his opera La Cubana. As well as these large-scale 'public' works Henze found time in the 1970s for a number of more private projects, including three string quartets, and his two Shakespearean themed guitar sonatas.

This Second Sonata on Shakespearean Characters dates from 1978-79 and, like the first from three years earlier, was prompted by the distinguished guitarist Julian Bream. The three character studies from the second group complete a cycle of nine solo guitar pieces (six in the first set) that begin with a mad king and end with a mad queen. Henze makes virtuosic demands in all of these works, extending the boundaries of guitar technique in a comprehensive survey that brings to mind, on a different level, the great keyboard works by Bach or Beethoven. Indeed, when Julian Bream first approached Henze for a solo guitar work he had jokingly suggested a piece on the scale of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata.

In 'Sir Andrew Aguecheek' Henze uses a kind of additive variation form to portray the gullible and melancholy knight from Twelfth Night who was 'adored once'. A minor key march, pedestrian in character and suggestive perhaps both of a naïve energy and determined will, frames passages, ritornello-like, in which the recurring breakdown of tonality mirrors Sir Andrew's own failure in life. Appoggiaturas and sweet-sounding chords point to his gentle nature.

This gentle mood is carried over in 'Bottom's Dream', (the dream of the simple weaver from A Midsummer Night's Dream) in which the opening thirds convey his serene dream-like state. Melodic compactness and counterpoint punctuated by frequent rests and empty bars create a sense of elasticity and pleasant languor.

This mood is swept aside by the dramatic motif beginning the remarkably imaginative and searching portrait of Mad Lady Macbeth. The opening malevolent flourish conveys, in just a few notes, her ruthless power and volatile mood. In its dissonance, sudden changes of pace and weight and restless central dance episodes, Henze draws us into her unstable state of mind, bringing motivic ideas back a half step higher to depict Lady Macbeth's rising hysteria.

This Second Sonata was first performed in Brussels in 1980 by Reinbert Evers.

The three Hölderlin settings form part of what may be likened to an extended song-cycle that Henze called Kammermusik 1958, a work for tenor and guitar soloists with eight other instruments setting Friedrich Hölderlin's In lieblicher Bläue (In lovely blueness). Written following a visit to Greece (the inspiration also for Hölderlin's poem), the work was commissioned by North German Radio. Its virtuosic vocal writing, covering a range of two octaves, is largely atonal and expressionistic; its musical language recalling his brief preoccupation with serialism at Darmstadt. By deliberate contrast (Henze musically illustrates the polarity between the world of ancient Greece and the modern world), the writing for the guitar is far less complex: in the first, the accompaniment looks back across the centuries to a Dowland lute-song, the second is more contemporary and chromatic, while the third borrows from Benjamin Britten to whom the work is dedicated.

Henze's Drei Tentos, three intermezzos, like the Drei Fragmente nach Hölderlin were also originally part of Kammermusik 1958 and are short, very approachable pieces that feature in every professional guitarist's repertoire. The first piece, essentially lyrical, is characterized by a terseness of material based on a recurring four-note motif, with a high tessitura and a dynamic level that rarely rises above pianissimo. The second features driving rhythms that propel the semiquaver movement forward in the manner of Stravinsky. Lyricism returns in the third, this time with melodic contours of Neapolitan origin.

Selbst und Zwiegespräche (Monologues and Dialogues), a chamber work for viola, guitar and organ (or piano as recorded here) dates from 1984-1985, the period between his two operas The English Cat and Das verratene Meer and roughly contemporary with his Seventh Symphony. Henze constructs a dialogue between the instruments in the manner of its title. In his performance directions Henze stipulates that each of the three instrumentalists may play their part as a solo as well as in combination with one another. In this performance there are six sections: piano, viola and guitar alone, followed by two duets and a final trio. In returning to goal-orientated harmony Henze allies himself with German romanticism in this work's rhapsodic style and rich textures.

Henze uses Styrian (Austrian) peasant songs as the creative source for his Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge (New Folk Songs and Shepherds' Melodies), scoring for a folk-like combination of bassoon (shepherd's shawm), guitar and string trio. These seven movements from 1996 are derived from his musical play Oedipus der Tyrann (King Oedipus) of 1983 that was later withdrawn.

In the opening 'Pastorale' bassoon and guitar take on the rôles of the peasant musicians and play a total of five varied verses, each one concluding with a quietly echoing dialogue between the two instruments, with the string trio providing an energetic accompaniment. The Styrian folk material is suggested through rhythmic and melodic fragments.

After the brief and melancholy 'Morgenlied' there follows a more energetic 'Ballade' in which constantly changing metre (heard first in the guitar) provides a rhythmic landscape to the melodic counterpoint that unfolds as each instrument enters. There is an extended cadenza and a concluding reminiscence of the opening. The rustic 'Tanz' gives prominence to bassoon and guitar in another lively peasant dance which gives way (as does the tonality) to a 'Rezitativ', featuring just guitar and strings, now of more expressionistic character. A darker mood with dense string textures is found in 'Abendlied' where, once again, the bassoon has a prominent rôle. Henze concludes his suite with an epilogue – 'Ausklang' - where warm thirds from the strings frame a brief bassoon solo before fading to pianissimo.

David Truslove


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