Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Memoriam: HWH: 1926-2012

In Memoriam: Hans Werner Henze, 1.VII.1926-27.X.2012

We just learned yesterday that one of our favorite composers - and one of the most vital, original and prolific composers of the last 60 years - Hans Werner Henze, died October 27 at age 86.

I met Maestro Henze at the US premiere by the New York Phil of his anti-fascist 9th Symphony, based on Anna Seghers searing novel, The Seventh Cross. He signed my study score of his 5th Symphony (written for Bernstein and the NYPO in the early '60's). We talked briefly about the importance of music like his - music that is full of humanity and consciousness; art that performs, enacts or enables the act of memory.

Excellent obituaries can be found online at the Guardian, Musical America and the NY Times. YouTube has an extensive Hans Werner Henze playlist, featuring excerpts from some of his 2-dozen operas, 10 symphonies, dozen ballets, and many of his hundreds of other vocal, chamber, choral and orchestral works. He was a visionary, an iconoclast and an eccentric, and his music reflects his character. He is at once a late romantic, an expressionist and impressionist, a member of the avant-garde and one of its scourges. Like his beloved Whitman, Henze contains multitudes. Below are some quotes from a book of his essays, followed by poetic tributes I penned in his honor.

The charm and the fascination of the theatre lies precisely in the multitude of possibilities with which it can reflect life in ever new shapes and forms.

Fundamental human and existential problems give rise to music.

I have on occasion said that music drama interest me because for me music is a language that people have not yet mastered, and about which they do not yet know enough. Today [1975] there is a terrible danger, as people are bombarded with music everywhere they go, that this situation will harden into a kind of paralysis of the ear and the organs of sound perception. So instead of the human psyche and intellect being developed to understand music as a language – as a part of the sign-system of our civilization – there is a total idiotization, an impoverishment of the possibilities of perceiving the true meaning of musical signs. A major part of my efforts is concerned with communicating the language of music as such, and as a language that comes from the history of our civilization, that has an origin, a present and a past, and will have a future for which we, the composers, are responsible.

Forms in art are in fact also forms of behavior as between people – modes of communication… Art is living and essential only where it is involved with people’s needs and problems.

(from Hans Werner Henze, Music and Politics, Collected Writings, 1953-1981, Faber)


I. You must be laughing with Selim and Suleika in the Spirit world,
As your disciples, devotees and lovers left behind mourn
Your passing and celebrate your prodigal gifts to music, art
And humanity. Thank you, Hans for singing such rich and strange
Songs across the tempestuous decades after the War. Your
Voice may echo only faintly in hardened quarters; it quavers
In between the heartstrings in the enchanted forest you
Composed to life, and it sings an ecstatic descant above the
Ravaged world over which you ranged, explored and excavated.

I owe you a large portion of my conscience, a hearty store of
Imagination and an ever-renewing source of inspiration from
Your polyphonic symphonies, your visionary operas, your sui generis
Concertos and evergreen ballets, the beautiful palette of your tone poems;
Songs, chorales and chamber works of floral intimacy and fluorescent
Luminosity. Your voice is missed already, but it will resound as long as
The bards hymn, the dancers fly and the singers soar ethereal…

II. With whom shall we commune in the dreamworld today, Hans?
Sebastian or Percy? Lady M or Jean G? Where is Rudi? Natasha?
The Cimarrón and the Pigs who should have drowned with the Medusa?
(Mustn’t hold the bitterness in the mouth; it sours the wine…)
Where are Peter and Ben? Chester and Wystan, Willie, Ingeborg, Christopher?
I haven’t heard your love letter to Fausto and I miss the Greyhounds almost as much
As you do. Persephone, Antigone, Orpheus! Selim, Suleika, Rimbaud and Walt!
Pentheus & Dionysus, Apollo & Hyacinth, Phaedra, Daphne, Manon!
The Prince and King Stag, the Young Lovers and the Hoopoe! The English Cat,
Undine and Fonteyn! Have they cut down the 7th Cross and censored your
Requiem? Fear not, we will dance like the Maenads and Dithyramb a storm for those
Whispers of the Heavenly Death. The West Wind will carry the intoxicating scent of
The Miracle of the Rose and only the fascists will be thrown in the Labyrinth.
We give Thanks you were not burned at the stake like Bruno for your
Praise to the Infinities. The Sicilian Muses and Neapolitan Songs and the ethereal
Cantata of the Ultimate Fable – Your beautiful eccentric life’s work, é vero?
We’re joining Aristaeus for the Barcarola with the Ferryman, singing
Nocturnes and Arias with abandon, Being Beauteous, Behind the Wire, like
Swann in Love with Tristan. Ciao, Caro. Bis bald.

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