Hans Werner Henze

He studied at a music school in Brunswick and, after war service, with Fortner at the Institute for Church Music in Heidelberg (1946-8). At first he composed in a Stravinskian neo-classical style (First Symphony, 1947), but lessons with Leibowitz in 1947-8 encouraged his adoption of 12-note serialism. Unlike such contemporaries as Stockhausen, however, he held his music open to a wide range of materials. Occasionally he made his obeisance to Darmstadt (Second Quartet, 1952), but his large, varied output of this period also shows the continuing importance to him of neo-classicism, Schoenbergian or Bergian expressionism and jazz. Nor was he dismissive of old forms or, in particular, the theatre: he conducted the Wiesbaden ballet (1950-53) and composed ballets (Jack Pudding, 1951; Labyrinth, 1951) and operas (Boulevard Solitude, 1952).

In 1953 he moved to Italy, where his music became more expansive, sensuous and lyrical and he concentrated on a sequence of operas (Koenig Hirsch, 1956; Elegy for Young Lovers, 1961) and cantatas (Kammermusik, 1958; Cantata della fiaba estrema, 1963). The climax to this period came with a rich and elaborate but also dynamic treatment of The Bacchae in the opera The Bassarids (1966), followed by a period of self-searching; that was externalized in the Second Piano Concerto (1967) and eventually gave rise to an outspoken commitment to revolutionary socialism. Henze visited Cuba (1969-70), where he conducted the first performance of his Sixth Symphony, incorporating the tunes of revolutionary songs. He also developed a bold, poster style in music-theatre works (El Cimarron, 1970), leading to his dramatization of class conflict in the opera We Come to the River (1976).

But he was also continuing his exploration of an expressionist orchestral sumptuousness in such works as Heliogabalus imperator (1972) and Tristan (1974), and an enjoyment in reinterpreting old musical models (Aria de la folia espanola for chamber orchestra, 1977). Later works, including the opera The English Cat (1983) and the Seventh Symphony (1984), continue his highly personal synthesis of past and present, lyricism and rigour.

Henze died on october 27 2012 of a heart attack.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1947 Symphony No 1 3.50 stars 2 LP
Symphonies Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Hans Werner Henze
1948 Symphony No 2 3.50 stars 2 LP
Symphonies Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Hans Werner Henze
1949 Symphony No 3 3.50 stars 2 LP
Symphonies Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Hans Werner Henze
1952 Boulevard Solitude 4.50 stars DVD
Symphonies Comments:
A modern version of Manon Lescaut


Scene One:
The waiting room of a busy train station in a large French city. The student Armand des Grieux meets a young woman by the name of Manon Lescaut, who is being brought to boarding school in Lausana by her brother. Armand instantly falls in love with Manon, and the two run off to Paris together.

Scene Two:
An attic in Paris. The two live together happily, although in poverty, in an attic room. Armand has been cut off by his father on account of his dissolute lifestyle, and is forced to ask his friend Francis for money. However, Manon''s brother reappears during Armand's absence and convinces her to visit an admirer of hers, the wealthy older man Lilaque Sr.

Scene Three:
An elegant room in Lilaque''s house. Manon becomes Lilaque Sr.'s mistress, but remains in love with Armand. Her brother appears and begs her for money. When she refuses him saying that she has none, he breaks into Lilaque Sr.'s safe. However Lilaque discovers them and evicts Manon.

Scene Four:
The library of the university. Sometime later, Armand, Francis, and some other students are studying the work of the roman poet Catullus. Armand is still in love with Manon but this love is fading. Francis tells Armand about Manon's robbing Lilaque and her expulsion from his house, but Armand doesn't believe it. Francis leaves angrily and Manon enters. Manon and Armand read a poem that revives their love.

Scene 5:
In a bar. Manon and Armand are together again. Armand is addicted to drugs in order to try to forget the past. Lescaut (Manon's brother) brings him cocaine in a bar and asks for Manon, who he wishes to procure for Lilaque Jr. When Manon arrives Armand gets angry with Lescaut and Lalique Jr. Manon tries to calm him and then leaves with the two men. Armand receives the message that Manon wishes to see him the next day, when Lilaque leaves. Armand is left confused.

Scene 6:
The apartment of Lilaque Jr. Armand and Manon are together in Lilaque Jr.'s bedroom. Manon is satisfied with the new situation of being under the protection of Lilaque Jr. but Armand is nostalgic for the past in which he still lives. Lescaut appears and warns Armand that he should leave before the servants find him. Armand cuts a picture out of its frame in order to sell it, but is discovered by a servant who reports the incident to Lilaque Sr. who calls the police. Lescaut fights with Lilaque Sr. until Manon shoots the old man with a revolver that had been pressed into her hand by her brother. As Lescaut and Armand flee, Manon is arrested.

Scene 7:
The exterior of a prison. Armand arrives hoping to see his former lover before she is imprisoned. The scene ends with musical numbers from the life of the couple.

Some English press reactions

I have one reservation:
The action takes place in a French city, but the set looks uncanny like a 1960s provincial German town.

Solist, Choir and Orchestra Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona cond. Zoltan Pesko
Stage director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff

1953 Ode to the Westwind 4.0 stars CD
Symphonies Comments:
5 Parts

Gustav Rivinius - Cello
Saarbruecken Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Stanislav Skrowaczewski

1955 Symphony No 4 3.50 stars 2 LP
Symphonies Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Hans Werner Henze
1956 Fuenf Neapolitische Lieder 4.0 stars CD
Symphonies Comments:
Roland hermann - Barytone
Saarbruecken Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Cristobal Halffter
1958 Drei Dithyramben 4.0 stars CD
Symphonies Comments:
Saarbruecken Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Guenter Wich
1958 Ondine 4.0 stars DVD

The score is constructed with the certainty of technical accomplishment one would expect from a composer schooled in traditional German musical craft, shot through with a lyricism that emanates from his experience of Italian life and Mediterranean colour. The orchestration is vivid. In places, themes may sometimes not be easy to follow at first, but there is such a wealth of colour and variety in the music that greater familiarity with the score is amply rewarded. Henze remained an eclectic composer; there are various influences at work here, including the neo-classicism he absorbed early in his career as well as later experience. Henze assembles his musical ideas into an integrated whole that provides us with a rarity, a 20th century full-length ballet score that has the depth of a masterwork.

At the slow opening of the score there is immediately a romantic sense of mystery, but the music then launches into a quicker tempo, brass fanfares propelling the music along with a rhythmically incisive motif. Lyrical writing for strings (marked andante) follows in a very approachable idiom, using a straightforward lilting rhythm; the comparative simplicity of this section is in marked contrast to the next, a vivace in which ideas are thrown around with one section of the orchestra set off against another, but all with an underlying consistent rhythmic drive. Contrast is also vital to the next movement; at one instant there is the most luxuriant string texture, soon followed by a solo clarinet, which is then joined by a sparse accompaniment. High strings, harp (for the watery effect) and occasional percussion provide another contrasting orchestral sound, before the composer again re-assembles his palette of orchestral colours, using solo instruments in small groups, or alone, or high violins in long notes soaring above moving fragments of ideas below. These contrasts of texture, tempo, rhythmic idiom, and orchestral colour occur within the first few numbers, and such contrasts continue throughout the work. Sometimes the quicker movements exhibit a very consistent rhythmic pattern, whereas at other times (such as the Finale of Act 1) the rhythms are more uneven, with sudden accents darting about in Stravinskian fashion, the music being punctuated here and there by astringent wind chords.

Act 2 begins by establishing once again an air of mystery with high violins and wind chords together with short fragments that are almost a brief reminder of the idiom of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring; a more fluid unison string theme then emerges. After changes of tempo within the first number of this act, the second movement seems to pick up influences from other musical styles; with the tempo moving on, there is a hint of the rhythmic impulse and swooning that Ravel sometimes used. The next movement features solid writing for a chorus of brass instruments, after which high violins are heard over a very low accompaniment, the sort of thing Prokofiev might have done, though the effect is very different. After more writing for the individual voices of the orchestra, a pas de trois follows; above a gently undulating accompaniment lyrical melody lines are heard, with the oboe able to penetrate the whole texture in expressive fashion. The variation that follows starts busily in the violins; anyone at all accustomed to the traditions of 19th century ballet music will immediately recognize its provenance. After more bold brass interventions, with prominent timpani and incisive pizzicato chords in the strings, the music adopts a more advanced idiom, with patterns of notes that are harder to follow: the effect is to prepare the way for the tension in the music that follows for the finale of the act. There is an urgency to this music as brief ideas are tossed around within the orchestra.

The opening of Act 3 starts with a striking unison theme in the strings, soon interrupted by strident brass; the string theme gathers intensity as this opening movement (marked recitative) progresses. An altogether sweeter sound in the strings is heard in the ensuing adagio, with a solo violin soon heard floating above the rest of the orchestral texture. The sweeping sound of violins together is heard in the next number, marked con eleganza; here it is easy to discover traditional sequences in the music as sections of the melody are repeated at different pitches. Brass fanfares are to the fore as they help introduce the pas de seize; after the entrée the adagio that follows imaginatively contrasts horns with high woodwind; the harp, employed sparingly, also adding to the overall effect. The pas de seize moves through various tempi and orchestral textures; quiet lyrical moments may suddenly be interrupted by incisive brass and timpani. The variation just before the coda is consistently brisk in its rhythmic impulse. The coda starts slowly and quietly, but vigorous brass writing soon introduces a faster tempo before the whole section finishes Largo solenne. A new section (marked Scene) connects the pas de seize to the final divertissement, beginning with a vigorous and brilliant entrée. A pas de six in the same tempo includes virtuoso writing for the piano as the music hurtles along; the piano is also strongly featured as the tempo relaxes a little (but not much!) for the ensuing pas de trois, though the orchestra once again gets the bit between its teeth for a second pas de trois (the pianist having more virtuoso work with rippling cascades of notes) before Stravinskian rhythms emerge for piano and orchestra at the beginning of the pas de dix-huit. Henze continues to run the whole gamut of orchestral texture during the variations that follow: high violins en masse, sprightly wind writing, brass chords punctuating the highly charged rhythmic style, and a continuation of bravura piano writing all contribute to great effect. The momentum is maintained during the opening of the pas de six that follows; the orchestra then introduces a valse for a general dance (pas de ensemble) that could almost belong to one of Ravel's more advanced scores. A pas de action then begins to prepare us for the finale.

After the frenetic movement of much that has gone before, sparse textures with solo instrumental sounds floating above quiet accompanimental figures create a different sound world; the tempi are slower, and strings gently introduce the Dance of Sorrow, which then gains in intensity with a richer string texture. During the next variation, oboe, harp, and pitched percussion provide another watery timbre before the ballet moves to the final pas de deux, replete with rich sustained writing for the violins, and on to the ending of the ballet. The final movement again uses a many-coloured orchestral sound, starting with gently pulsing chords that have a sweet but melancholy dissonance; Palemon, having received Ondine's fatal kiss, is taken back to the sea by his love, his dead body to be held by her in an eternal embrace.

Choreography bu Frederick Ashton

Principle dancers Margot Fonteyn and Michel Somes

Royal Ballet, London.

1962 Symphony No 5 4.00 stars 2 LP
Symphonies Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Hans Werner Henze
1969-1970 Cimarron 3.50 stars LP
Leo Brouwer - Guitar
1979 Barcarola 4.00 stars 2 CD
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra cond. Simon Rattle
1983 Three Auden Songs 4.00 stars 2 CD
Ian Bostridge - Tenor
Julius Drake - Piano
1983-1984 Symphony No 7 4.00 stars 2 CD
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra cond. Simon Rattle
1995-1997 Symphony No 9 4.00 stars 2 CD
Rundfunkckor Berlin
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Ingo Metzmacher