Hans Werner Henze: the obituaries

Hans Werner Henze

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.

Daily Telegraph

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.

Deutsche Welle

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.

Los Angeles Times

a leading composer of the late 20th century whose prolific and wide-ranging work included a wealth of operas and 10 symphonies

Guy Rickards, Guardian

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.”

Andrew Clark, Financial Times

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.

Die Welt (German)

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.


Best concerts of 2009

2009 was a really strong year for new live music, I felt, and that’s despite effectively taking 2 or 3 months off in the middle while I was moving house. (During which time I missed all of Spitalfields, all of the Proms, two-thirds of Music We’d Like to Hear and probably more besides.)

Here, in date order, are my top five:

Ian Pace, King’s College, 4 February

B.A. Zimmermann: Capriccio: Improvisation über Volksliederthemen; Konfiguration: Acht Stücke für Klavier; Boulez: Sonata no.3 (Trope, Constellation–Miroir); Henze: Variationen; Otte: Tropismen I; Stockhausen: Klavierstück X

Easily the most thoughtfully-programmed concert of the year. Pace’s selections were designed to emphasise continuities between the pre- and postwar German avant gardes, connections that are (perhaps too conveniently) obscured in the conventional narration of postwar European music. On the purely aesthetic level, Zimmermann’s Konfiguration was the discovery of the evening. What I said then.

Richard Haynes, Shunt, 13 and 14 April

David Young: Breath Control; Richard Barrett: Interference; Chris Dench: The Sadness of Detail; David Lang: Press Release

A complete original. Some of the best playing I’ve seen all year (although I admit I saw Richard quite a lot in ’09 …) and a richly conceived, multi-layered show that challenged but ultimately won over a non-new music crowd. Points too for finding a way to bridge the gap between European post-serial and American post-minimal traditions. What I said then.

Polish Radio Choir Kraków, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, et al, cond. Krzysztof Penderecki, Canterbury Cathedral, 2 May

Penderecki: St Luke Passion

Closure: my first chance to see St Luke live, at the end of a conference on Polish music at which I probably presented my last piece of work on the piece for some time. It is a hugely flawed work, and one that I had lost patience with some long time ago (PhD research will always kill the love), but this performance was much, much better than I had hoped for, and momentarily convinced me that this really is one of the great works of the late 20th century.

ELISION, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 20 November

Richard Barrett: Opening of the Mouth

Another moment of closure (ha ha). Every year there seems to be a piece that occupies my thoughts more than any other; this was never more true than with Opening, which tickled my brain more or less constantly between March and November. The chance to hear it live was another very special opportunity, and ELISION didn’t disappoint. The acoustics of Bates Mill may have messed with the ensemble balance a bit, but this was, nevertheless, the year’s stand-out concert for me.

Geneviève Foccroulle, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 20 November

Anthony Braxton: Compositions no.1, 10 and 32

This was one of the most remarkable piano recitals I’ve ever been to. I only knew a little Braxton beforehand, and most of that read not listened-to. No.10 wasn’t that interesting: sounded like a run-of-the-mill graphic score to me, but No.32 was unforgettable: 30 minutes of relentless fortissimo clusters that overrode any conventioanl idea of sense in favour of an undeniable, and utterly original, expressive force. On its own this was more than enough, but the careful, jazz-inspired unpicking of serial plinky-plonk cliché in No.1 – that nevertheless remained as absolutely serious in its purpose as any Structure or Klavierstücke – was a revelatory exposition of the power of non-thematic, atomised, parametrical musical thought. Stunning.

Update (5 Jan 2010): No.10 from this concert was broadcast on Saturday on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now programme, and is available to listen again through iPlayer for the next four days (until 10th Jan).

But this only tells part of the story: see my next post for those that bubbled under.

German avant garde: Colloquium and recital

One for your diaries:

Colloquia: Stockhausen and Music in West-Germany

04 Feb 2009, 16:45-18:00, St Davids Room, King’s Building, Strand Campus

Event series: Institute for Advanced Musical Studies Colloquia
School / area: Humanities
Department: Music
Location: Strand Campus
Location map: Strand: detail
Speaker: Mr Ian Pace
Speaker institution: Dartington College of Arts

“Karlheinz Stockhausen and Music in West-Germany during the Period of Collective Amnesia: Paradigms for Understanding the 1950s German Avant-garde”
The colloquium will be followed by buffet dinner and at 19.30 a recital by Ian Pace with works by Zimmermann, Boulez, Henze, König, Otte and Stockhausen.

Admission and refreshments free. All welcome.