Thursday, July 26, 2007


There are some things that just seem to pass you by, and Hans Werner Henze has been one of them. I've long been aware of his existence, of course, and his position as one of the few significant composers to emerge from Germany since the war, as well as one not afraid to confront his homeland's past, but somehow his actual music has failed sink into my consciousness. So coming across a score of his Seventh Symphony while engaged in cataloguing the oversized score shelves in the library where I work* seemed to be a sign that I should have a listen, and I now wish I'd paid attention earlier. It's something of a shock to come across something so recent (he wrote it in 1983-4) that engages so directly and seriously, and without any ironic distancing, with the European symphonic tradition that stems from Haydn and Beethoven. All the more remarkable coming from a German composer, who must I suppose feel the weight of such a history even more than most of the rest of us. It's an immediately engaging piece, that's nevertheless clearly a weighty, meaty beast. If you like the sort of eclectic, not-quite-tonal style of such composers as Tippett (whose politics also find an echo in Henze), this is well worth a listen, and I shall certainly be hunting down more of his music.

One thing though: the CD cover is a truly horrible design. I know the sort of person most likely to buy a Henze CD probably isn't going to be put off or attracted by the cover, but really, couldn't they have made the effort?

* A startling number of these scores seem to come from the same two or three publishers, and be composed by people born within a few years of each other. A monument to a certain era in 20th century music...

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