Hans Werner Henze, after Stockhausen possibly the most important German composer of the late 20th century, died on Saturday at the age of 86. His death was announced first by his publisher, Schott, and the obituaries soon followed. Here is a selection.
For some, Henze changed musical skins too often to have a convincing and recognisable musical personality. Others felt that in an age when stereotypes were all too common in the arts, his prodigality of invention, willingness to take risks, and loyalty to an ideal of beauty that could be discerned at the heart of each of his works, were qualities for which to be thankful. In his duality he personified the enigma of post-Hitler Germany and of the music of the 20th century in its latter half.
In an interview given near the end of his life, Henze said he had always been obsessed by the desire to “make modern man as familiar as possible with music as a wonderful means of expression.”
Henze’s life revolved around creative people, those who sang or played an instrument. For him, humans were fundamentally musical beings: if a person is encouraged, he said, he or she will sing and play music for an entire life, alone and with other people. And, because he found this musical life better, Henze never lost sight of the musical community.
a leading composer of the late 20th century whose prolific and wide-ranging work included a wealth of operas and 10 symphonies
The connecting thread between this vast array of works in so many disparate genres was politics, a commitment to which never left him, although varying in degree over time. Henze adhered throughout his life to leftwing ideologies, a reaction to his youth in Nazi Germany, which left an indelible mark on his creative psyche. He was not afraid of courting controversy, even as recently as last month: “So long as there are people living in Israel who endured the Nazi concentration camps, Wagner should not be performed there. I see no pressing reason to play Hitler’s favourite music.”
No composer of the modern age was more haunted by the past than Hans Werner Henze, who has died in the eastern German city of Dresden, at the age of 86. Henze spent most of his life grappling with Germany’s musical tradition on one hand and trying to exorcise its Nazi past on the other. And yet, of all the leading lights of the postwar era, none contributed as much to the future as Henze did – by encouraging young talent and leaving a performable oeuvre.
Man pfiff ihn früher aus. Man brüllte ihn nieder. Hans Werner Henze war aber auch der einzige, der unerschrocken sich immer wieder dem traditionellen Publikum stellte, die Opernhäuser, die Pierre Boulez, einer seiner schärfsten Gegner, in die Luft sprengen wollte, von innen heraus mit seinen Werken eroberte.