Hans Werner Henze

German Composer (1926, Gütersloh – 2012, Dresden)

Hans Werner Henze was one of the major German post-war composers. His musical identity never stopped evolving, reflecting his political feeling.

Hans Werner Henze began to study piano and percussion at a very early age. During the Second World War he was mobilised as part of the German Army and imprisoned by the English. After the war, on returning to civilian life, he experienced financial difficulties. He studied composition with Wolfgang Fortner and René Leibowitz. Part of the Darmstadt School, he adopted atonalism then serialism. He was made Director of the Ballet in Constance in 1949 and then of the Wiesbadenen Opera the next year. He finally experienced success with his jazz influenced opera, Boulevard Solitude, in 1952. In 1953 Henze moved to Italy; he was quickly inspired by the Italian vocal style and increasingly adopted serialism. Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono left the room during a 1957 performance of his Nachtstüke und Arien; Henze became seen as the traitor of modern music. He increasingly devoted himself to composing operas, first writing Antifone and then the Prince of Hambourg. He left behind almost 20 operatic works. His opera The Bassarids was an enormous success in 1966, and brought him fame. 

From 1967 Henze became increasingly political. He aligned himself with the German far left and was concerned by Vietnam. In 1968 performance of his piece The Raft of the Medusa in memory of Che Guevarra, provoked the intervention of the police. In 1969 he went to Havana to teach and conduct research. This retreat did not affect his notoriety or the growing success of his works. He dedicated himself to teaching and social action for the disadvantaged, notably at the Montepulciano Festival. In 1976 Henze joined the Italian Communist Party. In the 1980s he took over from Stockhausen as composition teacher in Cologne, he was made Artistic Director of the Bucharest Philharmonic, founded and directed the Munich Biennale and became Composer in Residence at Tanglewood then with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2003 he was featured at Radio France’s Festival Présences. In 2010 Henze worked on the cultural project “Ruhr 2010” developing “Project Henze: New Music for a New Metropolis”. 

Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Hans Werner Henze 

1946 – Studied Composition in Darmstadt

1953 – Moved to Italy

1967 – Became engaged with Left-wing Politics

1991 – Chosen as Composer in Residence at the Berlin Philharmonic

2003 – Was featured in the Radio France Festival 

2010 – Worked on “Project Henze” as part of “Ruhr 2010” 

Six Key Works by Hans Werner Henze 

1947 – Concerto no. 1 for Violin 

1952 – Boulevard Solitude, Opera 

1958 – Ondine, Ballet 

1961 – Antifone, Opera 

1970 – El Cimarron, Rectial for 4 musicians 

2007 – Phaedra, Opera