Hans Werner Henze, German Composer, Dies At 86

Hans Werner Henze, a leading composer of the late 20th century, died on Saturday in Dresden, Germany. He was 86.

The German composer’s enviable body of work included operas, stage works, symphonies, concertos, ballets, chamber works and a requiem, and his compositions effortlessly spanned different musical genres.

Hans Werner Henze was born on July 1, 1926, into a Germany where the Nazi Party was gaining prominence and power. Forced to join the German army in the Second World War (during which he was briefly held as a prisoner of war), Henze’s music often reflected his political consciousness, providing an outlet for his hatred of fascism.

Hans Werner Henze began composing at age 12, and his first full work, the 1946 baroque-style Kammerkonzert, led to him accepting him a publishing contract. 1947 saw Henze compose his first symphony, a neoclassical piece with a viola solo.

He wrote until late in his life, and composed his final work, the opera Gisela! oder: Die merk- und denkwürdigen Wege des Glücks (translation: Gisela! or: The Strange and Memorable Ways of Happiness) in 2010, aged 84.

Henze is particularly well-known in Germany, and the Semperoper opera house in Dresden paid tribute to him earlier this year by performing his antiwar drama, We Come to the River, in collaboration with writer Edward Bond.

His most famous work includes the symphony Sinfonia No. 9. Based on Anna Seghers’ novel The Seventh Cross, this 1997 piece reflected Henze’s anti-fascist beliefs more than most of his other compositions. Hans Werner Henze’s final symphony, Sinfonia No. 10 (embedded below), was completed in 2000, and was premiered by director Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

During his life, Hans Werner Henze taught in the US, Austria and Germany. He had been composer-in-residence at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts.