HANS WERNER HENZE (1926 - 2012)
Hans Werner Henze was among the most prolific and successful of contemporary German composers. His systematic study of music only began after the war, with Wolfgang Fortner, and later with visits to Darmstadt and absorption of serial technique, to be used with great originality in a musical language that was also influenced by Stravinsky. In 1953 he moved to Italy, and gradually developed his leaning towards the political New Left, reflected in some of his music and choices of texts and themes. His festival activities at Montepulciano and his involvement with the Munich Biennale, among other things, enabled him to exercise a strong influence on the course and promotion of contemporary music. In Italy he had eventually settled in a villa near Rome, where he lived with his partner Fausto Moroni, who helped him recover from a serious illness but died himself in 2007, to be remembered in Henze’s Elogium Musicum, a work for chorus and orchestra.
Henze’s immensely successful operas range from the 1951 Kafka radio opera, with its Trakl settings, Der Landarzt (The Country Doctor) to König Hirsch (King Stag), the Kleist Prinz von Homburg, Elegy for Young Lovers, with a libretto by WH Auden and Chester Kallmann, Der junge Lord (The Young Lord), based on a tale by Wilhelm Hauff, The Bassarids, with Auden and Kallmann, based on Euripides, and We Come to the River and The English Cat, with texts by Edward Bond. Der verratene Meer (Treacherous Oceans), based on Yukio Mishima’s Gogo no eiko, translated as The Sailor who fell out of Grace with the Sea, had its première in 1990, to be followed by Venus and Adonis, a fifteenth opera L’Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (The Hoopoe and The Triumph of Filial Love), an Arabian fairy-tale, and, in 2007, Phaedra, a reworking of the tragedy of Phaedra and her stepson Hippolytus. Henze also provided music for a series of ballets and incidental music for the cinema and the theatre. His work continued with the opera Gisela! or the Strange and Memorable Ways of Happiness, staged in 2010, after the first performance earlier in the same year of Immolazione (Sacrifice), based on Franz Werfel’s long poem Das Opfer.
An exceptionally wide range of orchestral music includes ten symphonies, with a seventh drawing on Hölderlin and an eighth on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Henze has written concertos for piano, for violin and, for Gary Karr, a double bass concerto, as well as a double concerto for oboe and harp for Heinz and Ursula Holliger.
Chamber & Instrumental Music
In addition to his string quartets Henze has written music for a variety of ensembles, including sonatas for violin, for viola and for flute and piano. Music for solo instruments includes the useful Lucy Escott Variations for harpsichord, works for various solo instruments, for violin, double bass, cello, marimba and trumpet, as well as a set of pieces for solo guitar, These last include his two Royal Winter Music, with movements based on characters from Shakespeare.
Vocal & Choral Music
Vocal and choral music by Henze is equally varied and remarkable, with Novae de infinito laudes (New Praises of the Infinite) with a text from Giordano Bruno, the Virgilian Muses of Sicily and the controversial Das Floss der ‘Medusa’ (The Raft of the Medusa), as well as the revolutionary El Cimarrón (The Fugitive).