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In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/29/12
Last updated on: 10/29/12
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Hans Werner Henze in 1960.

Prolific composer Hans Werner 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. Henze's works include operas and songs as well as chamber and symphonic compositions. His work is often explicitly political. Openly gay for most of his life, Henze also freely incorporated allusions to homosexuality in his work.

Born in Westphalia on July 1, 1926, Henze came of age during the Nazi period. As a teenager, he became interested in the modernist music banned by the Nazis. In 1944, he was drafted into the German army and served in Poland. His revulsion against Nazism is apparent in his music.

As Paul Griffiths observes in the New York Times, Henze "sought a new music that would carry with it the emotion, the opulence and the lyricism of the Romantic era. . . . Separating himself from the avant-garde, he devoted himself to genres many of his colleagues regarded as outmoded: opera, song, the symphony."

Among his explicitly political works are 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).

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.

He is also well known for his collaborations with W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, who provided the libretti for Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and The Bassarids (1966).

Heinze's 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.

Despite maintaining a residence in Italy, he 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 has commissioned many new stage works by young composers.

Henze was forthright about his homosexuality in his honest, non-sensational autobiography, Bohemian Fifths (1999).

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.

Giffiths describes as "the crowning work" 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.

In the video clip below, director Fiona Shaw discusses the English National Opera's 2010 production of Elegy for Young Lovers.

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