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Henze, Hans Werner (1926-2012)  

German composer and conductor Hans Werner Henze was remarkable for his ability to employ a wide range of styles, from those of the avant-garde to opulent neo-Romanticism, especially in his many stage and concert works.

His operas include the lush König Hirsch (1955); Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and The Bassarids (1965-1966), both to libretti by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman; the anti-bourgeois comedies Der junge Lord (1964) and The English Cat (1980-1982); a political allegory for multiple stages and orchestras, We Come to the River (1976); and Das verratene Meer (1990), based on a dark tale by Yukio Mishima.

Henze held strong Marxist convictions, as shown in explicitly political works such as the vituperative Versuch über Schweine (1968), the dramatic cantata Das Floß der Medusa (1968), the Cuban slave's story El Cimarrón (1970), the bizarre "show for 17" Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer (1971), the "anthology" cantata Voices (1973), and the ballet Orpheus (1978). Most of these works juxtapose downtrodden proletariats and rich oppressors.

Other important works include eight symphonies (1947-1993), five string quartets (1947-1976), the remarkable Second Piano Concerto (1967), and numerous concerti, keyboard works, and chamber works.

Henze was born on July 1, 1926, in the small town of Gütersloh in Westphalia. He studied music in nearby Brunswick, against his parents' wishes, and composed from the age of twelve without formal training; as a teenager he was interested in the modernist music banned by the Nazis.

In 1944 Henze was drafted into the German army. He served in Poland before being transferred to a propaganda film unit. In 1946 he returned to his musical education, studying in Heidelberg with Wolfgang Fortner and writing his first acknowledged compositions.

That year, Fortner brought Henze to the first of the summer music courses in new music in Darmstadt, where the young composer was presented as a star pupil. Over the next fifteen years, as Darmstadt became a center of the avant-garde, Henze's reputation devolved to that of neo-Romantic reactionary.

This ambiguous political and aesthetic position--regarded as avant-garde by the bourgeoisie, but as an Establishment tool or "limousine liberal" by the avant-garde--haunted Henze's career. It contributed, along with his increasing distaste for Germany, to his decision to establish residence in Italy in 1953.

Henze's career survived detachment from the world of the avant-garde because his theatrical abilities allowed him to become one of the few modernists able to survive as an opera composer.

Despite maintaining a residence in Italy, Henze served as professor of music in Salzburg from 1962 to 1967 and Cologne from 1980 to 1991. In 1990, he became the first composer in residence for the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1988 he founded the Munich Biennale. The Biennale commissioned many new stage works by young composers.

Henze was open about being gay for most of his life, as seen in his honest, non-sensational autobiography, Bohemian Fifths (1999). Despite his strong leftist convictions, he evidently does not associate sexuality with politics, although much of his work outlines conflicts between sensuality and repression.

Images of and allusions to homosexuality appear in Heliogabalus Imperator (1972) and Le Miracle de la Rose for clarinet and ensemble (1981), the former a symphonic poem suggesting Roman decadence, the latter an instrumental work that refers to Genet's novel.

Henze died on October 27, 2012 in Dresden, where he was expected to attend the premier of a ballet based on one of his scores.

In his New York Times obituary for Henze, Paul Giffiths described as "the crowning work" of his late period, "Elogium Musicum" for choir and orchestra (2008), which he wrote in memory of Fausto Moroni, his companion of four decades, who died in 2007.

Paul Attinello


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Hans Werner Henze in 1960.
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literature >> Auden, W. H.

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Griffiths, Paul. "Hans Werner Henze, Composer, Dies at 86." New York Times (October 28, 2012):

Henze, Hans Werner. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

_____. Music and Politics: Collected Writings 1953-81. London: Faber & Faber, 1982.


    Citation Information
    Author: Attinello, Paul  
    Entry Title: Henze, Hans Werner  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 12, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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