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Hans Werner Henze Heard at Manhattan School

In March, 1986, the Manhattan School of Music presented a festival devoted to Hans Werner Henze whose 60th birthday is being observed this year. The event's cornerstone was the New York premiere of Henze's two-act opera The English Cat which had received its first American performance at the Santa Fe Opera the previous summer. In addition to the three performances of the opera, there was a concert of Henze's music for guitar and an informal talk by the composer, illustrated by the guitarist David Tanenbaum. It seemed to us that much of what Henze said was so insightful and at the same time revealing that we asked the Manhattan School of Music for permission to quote some particularly pertinent excerpts for the delectation of a wider public than could attend his Monday afternoon lecture.

Franz Werner Henze

About the guitar:
I like this instrument because it is something you can take with you in the woods, in the open. You don't have to go in the concert hall for it. You can be everywhere. It has something to do with leisure. And with very simple and at the same time intimate feelings. The lovelier the music is, the better it sounds on the guitar. The guitar has a psychology of its own: it accepts certain things and rejects others.

About the final movement of Royal Winter Music I ("Oberon")
(a Henze composition for guitar solo):
It is about the last scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream when the world comes to peace, Oberon is forgiven and forgives, and harmony has been restored to the world. The music is a lot about dreams, about memories of a world that has never existed but that would be very nice indeed.

About his music:
One of my most difficult missions, something always on my mind, is to write music in which one hears all the notes all the time. If there's something that's not quite audible, or not played as if the player knows the meaning of what he's playing, then it doesn't quite work. In my music one must always hear where the parts are going. ...It's something I'm realizing more and more now that I've been in the business for so many years. I was conducting the first performance in London a little while ago of Elegy for Young Lovers — an old piece that had its American premiere in this building in the early sixties, conducted by the composer — and I was wondering how to make the musical audiences of now hear a piece which was written 25 years ago, how to read these older scores of mine. It suddenly occurred to me that, instead of doing what I had always done — gloss over the contradictions and the non-harmonies, hide all the pessimism and dissonant atrocity — I should bring it out more clearly. Like in a certain type of painting where you can really see the lines going against each other, troubling each other and making problems. There you can really follow very clearly what happens to these lines. And in music, too, there are times when an entire set, say in the strings, may be very tonal and a group of winds may play against it-not in an aleatoric fashion but in opposition, almost Bachian counterpoint, line by line. But when you hear it only as a color and not as a process, you don't quite get it. That's the biggest problem with my music. I'm discovering it more and more. You must play it as unabashedly as possible. Just make sure one hears everything. And that the players understand as much as possible of what is going on.

About teaching composition:
I try to help young composers to find their own vocabulary. I don't agree with the often expressed theory that one can't teach the art of composing. Some people haven't got much talent for it, but the art of composing is very teachable. I'm trying to teach myself and at the same time my young colleagues-commonly referred to as kids — to try to imagine the whole work, even an entire opera, before it is written down. First one must have a concetto, a concept of the whole piece that one can describe with words or even designs before trying to notate the music. In that way one learns to use one's musical ideas as necessary building blocks. Scores should be objects of use, to be played, to be sung, to be danced to. The technical problems of how to achieve the final concept will fall into place.

About music:
Music is not abstract at all. If I write a theatrical piece, I must decide on which side I stand politically and morally so that my music can make a statement. Music is a very eloquent means of expression, once you know how to go about it and don't have to worry about grammar, but can deal with the question of language. Composers must use their craft to make certain cultural points through music. But it's not music that I am about; it's people that I am about, and the use of music for these people. I think about our possibilities of getting music, our music, out of the kind of ghetto that it finds itself in, even in an advanced city like New York. Music is not available to everybody. The majority of the people we live with are fed with the most vulgar and mind-killing musical literature from morning to night and from evening to dawn. We must teach them. We must give them the tools to invent something, to be artistic, to reject this permanent "idiotization" which the mass media foist upon defenseless crowds, especially the young. There's an enormous amount of work to be done there, especially for young music educators and composers. Nobody should say that he hasn't got the time for that. Everyone, especially composers, should dedicate a lot of their time to that task. To learn to make yourself useful, to use your music and your knowledge of music, to give it to others, not keep it for yourself as a monopolistic property. It belongs to everyone. One of the few ways it is possible to lessen the disaster upon us is to do as much as we can — every individual artist — to spread ideas about beauty and creativity and music among the people who most need and deserve it.

About the artist in society:
A creative artist can only develop his possibilities properly if he has the feeling that his work is used by others. He deals in hope, clarity, altruism, love, social progress, sensibilization, and all things of beauty. Even if he cannot achieve as much as he would like, even if it is very hard — I can tell you this from my own rather limited experience — believe me, it is wonderful to work with children and amateurs. It is the most rewarding thing for a creative artist. Give whatever you have in energy and sympathy and love. People will expect you to do just that.

The works of Hans Werner Henze are published by B. Schott's Soehne, Mainz, and distributed in America by European-American Music.

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