About this Recording
8.557345 - HENZE, H.W.: Guitar Music, Vol. 2 (Halasz) - Royal Winter Music No. 1 / Carillon, Recitatif, Masque / Ode an eine Aolsharfe
English  German 

Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926)
Guitar Music • 2


There can be few living composers other than Hans Werner Henze who have had such remarkable success with an extraordinary quantity of music in all genres. A brief glance at his catalogue includes a formidable series of stage works (both opera and ballet), ten symphonies and numerous concertos, and it is on these large-scale structures that his stature as one of Europe’s foremost composers rests.

Born in Westphalia in 1926 Henze grew up against the background of Nazism, receiving his earliest musical training at the Brunswick State School of Music. He became a reluctant recruit into the Hitler Youth movement and in 1944 his short-lived army service as a radio operator with a Panzer division ended in capture by the British forces and incarceration as a prisoner-of-war. After his release he returned to formal education, studying first with Wolfgang Fortner, and later with René Leibowitz in Darmstadt and Paris. 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 early Violin Concerto and First Symphony of 1947 quickly established Henze as Germany’s answer to the musical vacuum resulting from the aftermath of Nazism.

Repelled by Germany’s spiritual ugliness, its postwar social attitudes to homosexuality and ashamed of his country’s recent past with its culture of denial, Henze moved to Italy in the summer of 1953, eventually settling in a new villa among olive groves in the hills near Rome. From this southern perspective a new, sunny radiance filtered into his compositions generating a sequence of stage works that began in 1955 with König Hirsch and culminating, ten years later, with his overtly pacifist opera The Bassarids. From the late 1960s there followed a series of politically motivated works that included the notorious première of his oratorio The Raft of the Medusa, the chamber piece El Cimarrón and his opera La Cubana. As well as these expansive ‘public’ works Henze found time in the 1970s for a number of chamber pieces that include three string quartets and his two Shakespearean themed guitar sonatas entitled Royal Winter Music. Not since his Drei Tentos of 1958 had he written for such a large-scale and completely independent solo guitar work.

In Royal Winter Music each of the nine movements (six in the First Sonata and three in the Second) take as their starting point a different character from one of Shakespeare’s plays. The First Sonata on Shakespearean Characters dates from 1975–76 and was prompted by the distinguished guitarist Julian Bream who some years earlier had jokingly asked for something on the scale of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. Henze says of his music, ‘The dramatis personae…enter through the sound of the guitar as if it were a curtain.’

Gloucester is based on the opening monologue of Richard III, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’, where harsh dissonance, wide intervals and rhythmic complexity make up a musical portrait of this troubled and destructive personality. A second, gentler idea suggests the ‘lascivious pleasing of a lute’, but Gloucester’s ruthless ambitions become more apparent in percussive gestures that colour this turbulent movement. In Romeo and Juliet the composer creates a sweetly sad movement in free design, its two-voice texture mirroring the lovers’ dialogue from the familiar balcony scene in Act II. Using rising intervals framing a twelve tone row Henze movingly conveys the longing of the ill-fated lovers. In a resourceful movement that is by turns reflective and urgent Henze employs rapid figuration and harp-like arpeggios that vividly illuminate the captured airy sprite Ariel and his hard won attempts for freedom. We encounter Hamlet’s Ophelia during her madness and at the point of her drowning. Henze commented that he was thinking of the Millais painting of Ophelia walking into the river and singing to herself. Accompanying arpeggios (suggestive of lapping water) underpin fragmentary and halting references from his opera We come to the River. By way of contrast Touchstone, Audrey and William (As you like it) form a brief comic and now more tonal movement. Touchstone the clown appears with witty staccato phrases, gentle Audrey is marked by soft triplet rhythms and the music of the solidly reliable William is supported by fifths. The rivalry between Touchstone and William (who both love Audrey) is conveyed in the assertive rhythms of the final passage. If this movement can be likened to a scherzo and trio then Oberon completes this six-movement sonata as a rondo. Marked to be played majestically, Oberon’s dream-like state concludes this comprehensive survey of guitar techniques in a mood of rapt peacefulness.

Carillon, Récitatif, Masque is scored for mandolin, guitar and harp and dates from 1974. The extended first part exploits each of the three plucked instruments in a wide range of bell timbres, and within these delicate sonorities Henze encloses a central guitar solo between two unambiguously tonal outer sections. A song-like Récitatif with a harp cadenza is followed by a Masque in which all three instruments have an equal share of the musical discussion. The three pieces received their première in London in February 1977.

Drei Märchenbilder (Three Fairy Tale Pictures) for solo guitar all derive from his children’s opera Pollicino written in 1980. Henze based this work on the tale of Tom Thumb and dedicated it to the children of Montepulciano, a small town in Tuscany where he had founded a music festival four years earlier. This ‘social’ opera explores troubled relationships between parents and children, the injustices of childhood and its poverty and hunger. Poverty has driven Pollicino, the little hero, and his six brothers far from home and they are forced to seek refuge in the house of the man-eater Orco. All ends happily and the three movements derived from the opera, Pastorale, Arietta and Notturno, display Henze’s ability to create music that is expressive and direct in its infinite lyricism.

An eine Äolsharfe (To an Aeolian Harp) is in all but name a concerto for guitar and fifteen solo instruments. Completed in 1986 and given its première that August by the American guitarist David Tanenbaum, its inspiration is taken once again from literature—the German Romantic poet Eduard Mörike (1804–1875). Like Royal Winter Music Henze uses texts as a means to an end, restructuring the essence of a poem into an equivalent musical form. Thus four of Mörike’s poems are refashioned into a purely instrumental cycle of four meditations. Henze observed that ‘The poems were originally set to music as if they were Lieder texts, and then in a process of gradual sublimation changed into instrumental music.’ He also wished to find a ‘rapt tone’ something which he achieves in his sombre instrumentation whose dark colouring includes alto and bass flutes, viola d’amore and viola da gamba and vibraphone.

In the first movement, which shares its title with the entire work, one can almost imagine music emanating from the evening breeze as it blows through the strings of an Aeolian harp—associated here with the guitar. Henze responds to a poetic text that confronts themes of transience and loss with chromatic yet transparent music and shimmering textures to create a mood of brooding melancholy and sweet reminiscence. In the second movement (Question and Answer) woodwind and percussion add their own disturbing commentaries on the trials and tribulations of love. To Philomena, a Bagatelle, provides rising thirds and dense textures to contribute to its sense of irrepressible longing. The final movement, To Hermann, is based on the ‘Dionysus’ tone row from The Bassarids where, in an emotionally charged tonal drama, Henze demonstrates his exceptional gifts as an orchestrator and writer for the guitar.

David Truslove

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