Classic Cat

Biography of

Hans Werner Henze

1 jul 1926 (Gütersloh) -
Buy sheetmusic from Henze at SheetMusicPlus
Hans Werner Henze in 1960

Hans Werner Henze (born 1 July 1926, Gütersloh, Westphalia) is a German composer of prodigious output best known for "his consistent cultivation of music for the theatre throughout his life".[1] His music is extremely varied in style, having been influenced by serialism, atonality, Stravinsky, Italian music, Arabic music and jazz, as well as traditional schools of German composition.

Henze is also known for his political convictions. He left Germany for Italy in 1953 because of a perceived intolerance towards his leftist politics and homosexuality. He lives in the village of Marino in the central Italian region of Lazio, and still travels extensively, in particular to Britain and Germany, as part of his work. An avowed Marxist and member of the Communist Party of Italy, Henze has produced compositions honoring Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. The librettist of his requiem for Che Guevara, titled Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of Medusa), was among several people arrested at the 1968 Hamburg premiere in the riot that followed the placing of a red flag on the stage. Henze spent a year teaching in Cuba, though he later became disillusioned with Castro.

Henze continues to compose today in his mid-eighties.[2]


Life and works

Early years

Henze was born in Gütersloh, Westphalia, the oldest of six children of a teacher, and showed early interest in art and music. This, along with his political standpoint, led to conflict with his conservative father. Henze's father, Franz, had served in the First World War, and had been injured at Verdun. He worked as a teacher in a school at Bielefeld, formed on progressive lines, however it was closed in 1935 by government order, its progressive style being out of step with official views. Franz Henze then moved to Dünne, a small village near Bünde where he became a victim of Nazi propaganda. Books by Jewish and Christian authors were replaced in the Henze household by literature reflecting Nazi views; the whole family was expected to fall into line with Franz's new thinking. The older boys, including Hans, were enrolled in the Hitler Youth.

Although the Henze household was filled with talk of current affairs, Hans was also able to hear broadcasts of classical music (especially Mozart) and eventually his father realized that his son had a vocation as a musician. Henze began studies at the state music school of Braunschweig in 1942, where he studied piano, percussion, and theory. In 1943, Franz Henze re-joined the army; he was sent to the Eastern front, never to return. Henze had to break off his studies after being called up to the army in 1944, in the latter stages of the Second World War. He was trained as a radio officer. He was soon captured by the British and was held in a prisoner-of-war camp for the remainder of the war. In 1945, he became an accompanist in the Bielefeld City Theatre, and was able to continue his studies under Wolfgang Fortner in Heidelberg in 1946.

Henze had some successful performances at Darmstadt, including an immediate success in 1946 with a neo-baroque work for piano, flute and strings, that brought him to the attention of Schott's, the music publishers. He also took part in the famous Darmstadt New Music Summer School, a key vehicle for the propagation of avant-garde techniques. At the 1947 summer school, Henze turned his thoughts more thoroughly to serial technique, and it seemed for a while as if he might become a leader of young German composers in this idiom.[vague]

In his early years he worked with twelve-tone technique, for example in his First Symphony and Violin Concerto of 1947. Sadler's Wells Ballet visited Hamburg in 1948, which inspired Henze to write a choreographic poem, Ballett-Variationen, which was completed in 1949. The first ballet he watched was Ashton's Scènes de Ballet. He wrote a letter of appreciation to Ashton, introducing himself as a 22-year-old composer. The next time he wrote to Ashton he enclosed the score of his Ballett-Variationen, which he hoped Ashton might find of interest. His Ballett-Variationen was first performed in Düsseldorf in September 1949, and staged first in Wuppertal in 1958. In 1948 he became musical assistant at the Deutscher Theater in Konstanz, where his first opera Das Wundertheater (after Cervantes) was created.

In 1950, he became ballet conductor at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden in Wiesbaden, where he composed two operas for radio, his First Piano Concerto as well as his first stage work of real note, the jazz-influenced opera Boulevard Solitude, a modern recasting of the traditional Manon Lescaut story.

Move to Italy

In 1953 he left Germany in disappointment, reacting against homophobia and the country's general political climate, and moved to Italy, where he has remained for most of the rest of his life. Henze settled on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples. Also resident on the island were the composer William Walton and his Argentine wife Susana, who took a great interest in the young German composer. In 1955, his Quattro poemi for orchestra made clear that Henze had moved far from the principles of the Darmstadt avant-garde. In January 1956, Henze left Ischia and moved to the mainland to live in Naples. Initially he suffered further disappointment, with disputed premieres of the opera König Hirsch, based on a text by Carlo Gozzi, and the ballet Maratona di danza, with a libretto by Luchino Visconti. However, he then began long-lasting and fruitful co-operation with the poet Ingeborg Bachmann. Working with her as librettist, he composed the operas Der Prinz von Homburg (1958) based on a text by Heinrich von Kleist and Der junge Lord (1964) after Wilhelm Hauff as well as Serenades and Arias (1957) and his Choral Fantasy (1964).

His Five Neapolitan Songs for the eminent baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau were written soon after his arrival in Naples. A later sojourn in Greece provided the opportunity to complete a work intended for another leading singer of the day: Kammermusik (1958), dedicated to Benjamin Britten, included settings of Hölderlin written for the tenor Peter Pears, the guitarist Julian Bream and eight instrumentalists.[3][not in citation given]

In 1961, Henze moved to a secluded villa, La Leprara, on the hills of Marino, overlooking the Tiber south of Rome. This time also signalled a strong leaning towards music involving the voice.

From 1962 until 1967, Henze taught masterclasses in composition at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and in 1967 became a visiting Professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. One of his greatest successes was the première of the opera Die Bassariden at the Salzburg Festival.

In the following period, he greatly strengthened his political involvement which also influenced his musical work. For example, the première of his oratorio Das Floß der Medusa in Hamburg failed when his West Berlin collaborators refused to perform under a portrait of Che Guevara and a revolutionary flag had been placed upon the stage.[4] His politics also greatly influenced his Sixth Symphony (1969), Second Violin Concerto (1971), Voices (1973) and his piece for spoken word and chamber orchestra, El Cimarrón, based on a book by Cuban author Miguel Barnet about escaped black slaves during Cuba's colonial period.

An established composer

His political critique reached its high point in 1976 with the premiere of his opera We Come to the River.

In 1976, Henze founded the Cantiere Internazionale d´Arte in Montepulciano for the promotion of new music, where his children's opera Pollicino premiered in 1980. From 1980 until 1991 he led a class in composition in the Cologne Music School. In 1981 he founded the Mürztal Workshops in the Austrian region of Styria, the same region where he set up the Deutschlandsberg Youth Music Festival in 1984. Finally, in 1988, he founded the Munich Biennale, an "international festival for new music theatre", of which he was the artistic director.

His own operas became more conventional once more, for example The English Cat (1983), and Das verratene Meer (1990), based on Yukio Mishima's novel Gogo no Eiko (best known in English as The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea).

His later works, while arguably less controversial, continued his political and social engagement. His Requiem (1990–93) comprised nine sacred concertos for piano, trumpet and chamber orchestra, and was written in memory of the musician Michael Vyner who died young. The choral Ninth Symphony (1997), – "dedicated to the heroes and martyrs of German anti-fascism" – to a libretto by Hans-Ulrich Treichel based on motifs from the novel The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers is a defiant rejection of Nazi barbarism, with which Henze himself lived as a child and teenager. His most recent success was the 2003 premiere of the opera L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (English: The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love) at the Salzburg Festival, text by Henze himself, based on a Syrian fairy tale. Other recent compositions include Sebastian im Traum (2004) for large orchestra and the opera Phaedra (2007).

Henze lived with his partner Fausto Moroni from the early sixties and Moroni planned and planted the celebrated hillside garden around La Leprara. Moroni cared for the composer when he suffered a spectacular emotional collapse during which he barely spoke and had to be encouraged to eat, living as though in a coma. Shortly after Henze's sudden recovery in 2007 Moroni died after a lengthy battle with cancer. Elogium Musicum (2008) for large orchestra and chorus singing a text in Latin of Henze's own is an obituary to his partner of more than 40 years.

In 1995 Henze received the Westphalian Music Prize, which has carried his name since 2001. Invited by Walter Fink, he was the tenth composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2000, but absent due to illness. The music included his Requiem. On November 7, 2004 Henze received an honorary doctorate for Musicology from the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München (University for Music and Performing Arts, Munich). In 1975 Hans Werner Henze became Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, London.[5] In 1990 he received the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.


Henze's music has incorporated neo-classicism, jazz, the twelve-tone technique, serialism, and some rock or popular music. He was taught by the German composer Wolfgang Fortner, and his 1947 Violin Concerto shows that he could write excellently in the 12-tone style. Later however, he reacted against atonalism and his opera Boulevard Solitude includes elements of jazz and Parisian popular music. After his move to Italy in 1953, his music became considerably more Neapolitan in style, with lush, rich textures in the opera König Hirsch, and even more so in the opulent ballet music that he wrote for English choreographer Frederick Ashton's Ondine, completed in 1957. However, his Maratona di danza required the incorporation of jazz elements complete with an on-stage band, which was very different from the romantic Undine. Henze received much of the impetus for his ballet music from his earlier job as ballet adviser at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden. Ondine is classical in appearance, but contains some jazz and, although Mendelssohn and Weber were important influences for this composition, plenty of it is redolent of Stravinsky, not only Stravinsky as a neo-classical composer, but also as the composer of The Rite of Spring. The textures for the cantata Kammermusik (1958, rev. 1963) are far harsher, however, and later Henze returned to atonalism in Antifone, and later again other styles mentioned above became important in his music. Political considerations have often played a part in shaping Henze's style at different times in his career.


  1. ^ Rickards, Guy (1995). Hindemith, Hartmann and Henze. Phaidon Press. p. 198. ISBN 0 7148 3174 3. 
  2. ^ Hans Werner Henze: A matter of life and death (interview on
  3. ^ Kammermusik 1958
  4. ^ Ernst Schnabel, "Zum Untergang einer Uraufführung" and "Postscriptum nach dreiunddreissig Tagen", in Hans Werner Henze and Ernst Schnabel, Das Floss der Medusa: Text zum Oratorium, 47–61 & 65–79 (Munich: Piper-Verlag, 1969);
    Andrew Porter, "Henze: The Raft of the Frigate 'Medusa'—Oratorio" [record review of DGG 139428-9], Gramophone 47, no. 563 (April 1970): 1625;
    Anon. "Affären/Henze: Sie bleibt", Der Spiegel 22, no. 51 (16 December 1968): 152. (German)
  5. ^ "Honorary Members of the Royal Academy of Music". Royal Academy of Music. 14 October 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  • Bokina, John. 1997. Opera and Politics: From Monteverdi to Henze. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300069359.
  • Henze, Hans Werner. 1984. Musik und Politik. Schriften und Gespräche [Music and Politics: Collected Writings] Ed. by Jens Brockmeier. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, ISBN 3-423-10305-1 (1st Edition 1976, ISBN 3-423-01162-9). English translation of 1st German edition by Peter Labanyi: UK 1982 (Faber & Faber, ISBN 0-8014-1545-4) and US 1982 (Cornell University Press, ISBN 0571117198).
  • Henze, Hans Werner. 1998. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. Translated by Stewart Spencer. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-17815-4 [Translation of Reiselieder mit böhmischen Quinten: Autobiographische Mitteilungen 1926–1995. Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1996. ISBN 3-10-032605-9].
  • Kennedy, Michael. 2006. The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, revised. Associate editor, Joyce Bourne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861459-4.
  • Palmer-Füchsel, Virginia. 2001. "Henze, Hans Werner". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hans Werner Henze. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
Buy sheetmusic from Henze at SheetMusicPlus

Our dream: to make the world's treasury of classical music accessible for everyone. See the about page on how we see the future.
Help us with donations or by making music available!

Contact     Privacy policy    Looking for classical mp3 downloads? We index the free-to-download classical mp3s on the internet.
©2021 Classic Cat - the classical music directory
Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale
Visitor's Favorites

Beethoven, L. van
Piano Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight"

Sandro Bisotti

Beethoven, L. van
Für Elise

Mauro Bertoli

Mozart, W.A.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik (serenade no. 13)

McDonald-Bianculli Duo

Lauridsen, M.
O Magnum Mysterium

Berne Union Bands

Rachmaninov, S.
10 Preludes

Alexander Djordjevic

Pachelbel, J.
Canon in D

Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society