Farewell to Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) November 04 2012

Hans Werner Henze, one of continental Europe’s most influential 20th centuryHans Werner Henze autograph music quote composers, left us in 2012. Hans Henze’s expansive oeuvre of politically charged operas, ballets, and other classical works lives on.

Musical Influence

Henze’s body of work is known for its breadth of musical influences. Throughout his long, storied life, he absorbed different musical techniques and styles from the places he lived in and the people he worked with, creating an ever-evolving body of work.

Hans Werner Henze’s early compositions were influenced by 12-tone serialism, which uses a repeated element of several notes to create a unified melody. He was influenced by his teachers and colleagues at the Darmstadt New Music Summer School, the center of the German avant-garde classical music scene. Henze later distanced himself from his earlier works, calling them simplistic.

Later in his career, Henze distanced himself from the German avant-garde school and introduced more eclectic, free-wheeling influences. This change in style was influenced in part by his move to Italy in 1953. Henze began incorporating traditional Italian and Arabic music, romanticism, and even jazz into his music. The move to Italy also brought him into contact with some of his most fruitful creative partnerships, such as the poet Ingeborg Bachmann.


Henze is perhaps most famous for his work on operas. Throughout his life, he composed about 40 operas and dramatic works alone. His most famous works include König Hirsch, The Raft of the Medusa, and We Come to the River.

Hans Henze also composed 10 symphonies, numerous ballets, as well as concertos, choral arrangements, and more. His influence extended beyond composition. He founded an annual musical summer school in Montepulciano called the “Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte.” He also won the Westphalian Music Prize.

Political Beliefs

Hans Werner Henze was an avowed leftist for all of his life. His political beliefs often influenced his musical works. For example, he composed the oratorio The Raft of the Medusa as a tribute to the recently deceased Che Guevara. When it premiered in Hamburg, it caused a riot. He wrote many works dealing with Germany’s frustrating conservative politics and included texts by Ho Chi Minh in some of his compositions.

Henze did not confine his political expression to his music. He paid several visits to Castro’s Cuba and campaigned for Willy Brandt. In later years, he became involved with anti-Vietnam war protests and the student movement back in Germany, even protecting Rudi Dutschke from an attempt on his life.

Personal Life

Henze’s committed leftism was inspired in part by his childhood as the son of a proud Nazi. Henze was forced into the Hitler Youth and later the German army during World War II but was always disgusted by his compatriots and their vile political beliefs.

His frustration with Germany’s inability to reckon with its fascist legacy after the war, as well as the stifling conservative attitude that threatened him due to his homosexuality, led him to move to Italy in 1953. He lived there with his partner, Fausto Moroni, for most of his life.


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