Hans Werner Henze: Total Immersion @ London’s Barbican

“Every year, 200 litres of olive oil are pressed from Henze’s ancient grove.”

Go to London to hear some Henze this weekend. Or pull out your own fingernails, it will be less painful.

Hans Werner Henze likes to play the victim. His supposed “ostracism by the post war avant-garde” needs to be read in the context of the fact that his work was played in 1950s Germany more often than that of any of his more avant-garde contemporaries, and he was on very chummy terms with all the individuals (save perhaps Herbert Eimert in Cologne) who ran the institutions which have subsequently come to be popularly associated with such a music (on the basis of a highly partial reading of their programming).

But even if he had the world’s most elaborate persecution complex, that would not gainsay his status as composer of some of the most lyrical, stimulating music of the last half century.

I have some time for his earlier music, but find much of the later work saccharine, kitschy, Hollywood-like, drawing in large measure upon too-transparent expressive clichés; or when not like this, rather academic in a Hindemith-like manner. In terms of the former, I feel his continual evocation of the supposedly hard time he had at the hands of the avant-garde is part and parcel of a strategy to legitimise further his own approach.

Henze’s music is simply dull.

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