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Hans Werner Henze: Hans Werner Henze (b. Gutersloh, 1 July 1926).
Hans Werner Henze was born in Westphalia, in 1926. His father was a schoolteacher in that town. He himself went to school in Bielefeld and later in Brunswick, where he attended the State Music School. But his musical education was severely interrupted by the war. In 1944 he was conscripted, and taken prisoner by the British Army. Resuming his studies after the war, he worked with Fortner in Heidelberg and then, most significantly, with the dodecaphonic pedagogue, Rene Leibowitz, in Paris. Hans Werner Henze's earliest works, dating from immediately after the war, and including the Symphony No. 1 and the Chamber Concerto, are neoclassical in style, indebted to Stravinsky and Hindemith, as well as to Fortner and his German contemporary Boris Blacher. But he soon began to write serial music, at first using the method in a fairly orthodox manner, later diluting it with allusions to other, less rigorous techniques and styles. After his first opera, Das Wunder-theater (1949), this 'freeing off' process was quite rapid. Thus Boulevard Solitude (1952) is a highly eclectic 'number' opera, while Konig Hirsch (1956 but later revised as Il re cervo) veers towards an Italianate lyricism, though still within a textural language derived from serialism. In 1952 Hans Werner Henze had emigrated from Germany to Italy (living successively in Ischia, Naples and Rome), partly, he claimed, out of distaste for the materialism of post-war Germany. Most of his music of the late 1950s and early 1960s is impregnated by a certain lyric sensuality which is normally if perhaps naively attributed to this change of scene. It includes four more operas (Der Prinz von Homburg, Elegy for Young Lovers, Derjunge Lord and The Bassarids), the fourth and fifth symphonies and many smaller chamber and vocal works in which the blend of classical structure and romantic melody is particularly striking.
After The Bassarids, first produced at the Salzburg Festival in 1966, Hans Werner Henze underwent a second major change of direction. Again he claims to have been disgusted by the materialism within the stratum of society to which his music mainly appealed (that is, the rich bourgeoisie). He became a Marxist and wrote music exclusively committed to that ideology. Furthermore, most of these works have adopted avant-garde techniques which would previously have been thought quite alien to Hans Werner Henze's nature. A preoccupation with Cuba and its social problems has thrown off a massive sixth symphony, a symphonic poem, Heliogabalus Imperator, and a dazzling, if musically slender, song-cycle, El Cimarron, based on the adventures of a runaway Cuban slave. Other major works of this period are The Raft of the Medusa, a cantata derived from Gericault's painting, which caused a political riot at its (attempted) first performance in Hamburg in December 1968, concertos for violin and viola (both of a highly unconventional, even, in the case of the viola concerto, anarchic, design), a further 'song-cycle', Voices, and a music-theatre work, The Tedious Journey to Natasha Ungeheuer's.
The politicisation of Hans Werner Henze's recent works was in a way so unexpected that it is easy to exaggerate its musical significance. Musically, he seemed to awaken from a dream. It is hardly surprising therefore that his work should again have become as eclectic as it was in the early 1950s. But while the social message of these works is sometimes naive, their content and execution are not less brilliant than before. In The Raft of the Medusa we still feel the rich imagination and instinctive theatrical sense of the earlier Hans Werner Henze, strengthened perhaps by a more outgoing humanity. The Sixth Symphony shows him as gifted as ever at extended musical thought. Voices is as devastating a synthesis of received idioms as Boulevard Solitude. There remains, no doubt, some lack of fusion, due in part to the anomalous position of the progressive socialist artist. But Hans Werner Henze, still in early middle age, is of living composers probably the best-equipped to solve such problems.
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