When a composer is cancelled

When a composer is cancelled

Album Of The Week

norman lebrecht

December 04, 2021

From the new Lebrecht Album of the Week:

There is an unwritten law in music that composers are left unperformed for ten years after they die. The muting is certainly true of Hans Werner Henze, who died in 2012 and has hardly been heard since. A Vienna Opera staging of his 1990 opera, based on Yukio Mishima’s powerful novel, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, was intended to break the silence last year, only to be disrupted by COVID-19 closure. …


Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.

In Czech here.

In The Critic here.


  • Ofri says:

    They performed it this autumn. It was great!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here it is:

    1st part

    2nd part

    It is a remarkable work which invites for serious commentary.

    It is a form of very effective, postschoenbergian expressionism, and dark and masochistic as hell. In spite of some beautiful moments, like the prelude to the 2nd act, it is a typical example of postwar, apocalyptic monstruosity, and much of its time.

    I think this aesthetic has been completely exhausted by Schoenberg and Berg (Erwartung, Glückliche Hand, Wozzeck, Lulu), you cannot go on with an extreme point, it then becomes average, normal, and looses its expression and becomes grey, a very dark and empty grey. In the end, audiences just leave the building with the feeling that it was JUST AWFUL.

    Now, serious opera is not mere entertainment and nice singing, it has to say something about the human condition. But is the human condition completely black? Always? An aesthetic that is merely wallowing in awfulness, is indulgent, much more so and more despiccable than the occasional wallowing in nice, silly vocals as entertaining, because there is a moral motivation behind it – ‘this is awful but it’s good for you, do swallow the Truth of Life’.

    It seems to be an excellent punishment for woke fanatics though, so that they experience their own truth. They should be forced to listen to and watch this nightmare, strapped on their seats.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      The YouTube links given in your comment are to a live performance of „Gogo no Eiko“ – the Japanese-language version which Henze created for Salzburg 2006, also given at Spoletto 2010 (and I doubt if it was performed anywhere else).

      To the best of my knowledge the opera was again reworked and reset in its original German as „Das verratene Meer“ for a new edition which was premiered by Wiener Staatsoper in December 2020.

      NL’s English review of the new Capriccio recording (from the Wiener Staatsoper production) neglects to give the German title anywhere (and mistranslates it one time); it may be a bit difficult for any potential customer if they don’t know the name of what they are looking for!

      The first link (to myscena.org) and second link (to ludwig-van.com) offer only the English translation of the title as „The See Betrayed“; the remaining three links – allegedly to a French source, a Czech source, and to The Critic – all lead to the Czech website operaplus.cz where the German title is finally given in the heading.

      Here’s something – the YouTube link embedded in operaplus.cz is the complete Staatsoper recording in 28 (!) individual clips, which automatically move to the next at the end of each clip (audio only). I suspect they correspond to the track breaks on the CD.

  • Jim C says:

    Henze has a lot of currently unpopular things going against him. He’s white, he’s German, he’s unapologetically mid-century modernist, he’s complicated musically, and he was (for quite a time) Marxist.

    All real turn-offs for most people now. He’s the exact opposite of what is considered to be good and worthy.

    • Jack says:

      I kind of think most people either don’t know those things about HWH or don’t care. I’m in the latter category.

      What makes him not on my hit parade is that I just don’t understand his musical language and have not taken the time to get to know it. If anything, it’s my loss, but I hope to get back and rehear some of his work.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It is wholeheartedly recommended to wait until a grave depression lands on one’s soul, so that one feels confirmed in one’s condition and draws some consolation from the listening experience that one is not alone.

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    „Das verratene Meer“ („The Sea BETRAYED“ – not „BEYOND“ as you rename it in the second paragraph of your review) was first performed by Wiener Staatsoper in December 2020 in an empty auditorium but was streamed online (live and at various times during one lockdown or another) and broadcast on Ö1. It formally entered the repertoire with three performances in September.

    I saw it on 27.IX.21 and found it to be one of the best things put on by the company in decades – that rare combination of a brilliant score played by a brilliant orchestra under superb direction (Simone Young), an unforgettable cast, and an intelligent, spellbinding production.

    As for your wish to „see the whole show“, it is my understanding that it will be released on DVD.

    (This was actually my second production of the work, having attended the American premiere in San Francisco in 1991.)

    In recent years I have also seen magnificent new productions of Henze’s „Boulevard Solitude“ (Graz), „Der Prinz von Homburg“ (Theater an der Wien), „Der junge Lord“ (Klagenfurt), and the children’s opera „Pollicino“ at Staatsoper.

    And I wish there were more!

  • MacroV says:

    Well, he wasn’t cancelled then, was he? Just going through the standard 10-year post-death neglect. I thought for a moment you were referring to Stockhausen, who did suffer some actual cancellation after some ill-advised comments about the 9/11 attacks (as a visual spectacle, if memory serves).

    I’ve always liked the ballet score “Undine,” and confess that I’m more familiar with Henze’s name than his music.

  • Ruby Yacht says:

    His music is awfully hard to listen to. It’s remarkable how many performances such composers can get even during their lifetime. Meanwhile, conservative, mainstream composers who write for eternity are never heard.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The reasons that modernist works are performed, much more often than more tonal / traditional new music, are most of the time ideological: they are supposed to reflect modernity and progress, and how it sounds is less relevant. It stems from the idea that music has to reflect the concerns of the times, of the Zeitgeist. The devil sits in the words: ‘has to’.

      In former periods, all art automatically reflected the Zeitgeist, not because artists wanted it thus, but simply because they were of their time. Modernism as an ideology and an aesthetic is flawed to the core.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    ” A song from the Beatles is much shorter and much more intelligent than an Opera from Hans Werner Henze” Pierre Boulez.

  • John says:

    I’ve certainly tried to like his music but it does nothing for me.