The Kennedy Center

Hans Werner Henze


Born in Germany in 1926, the life and music of Hans Werner Henze was greatly influenced by world politics.  His early musical influence came from Nazi-controlled sources, although he grew to hate fascism, the regime, and the war. Serving near the end of the war, Henze had a brief internment in a British camp where he improved his English and learned about cultural life outside the Third Reich.

Following the war he supported his family as a transport worker, but fortune led him to Heidelberg where he became a composition student, gaining a solid foundation through the teachings of Wolfgang Fortner. With his first successful operas, Henze left Germany in 1953 for a more relaxed Italy, where he has remained, although teaching in the United States and Cuba as well as other commitments have meant much world travel.

During the 1960s he expressed a commitment to socialism in works, essays, and interviews. At this time his concertos pitted instruments against chorus and orchestra, arising from his awareness of the conflict between individuals and society. This period culminated in his opera We Come to the River in 1976.

As a composer he was comprehensive, writing concertos, oratories, and chamber music, although the centerpieces were ten symphonies, including Sinfonia N.9 with verses examining Germany's National Socialist past. He also composed well-known operas, Der Prinz von Homburg, Elegy for Young Lovers, and Der Junge Lord.

"Music is a means of communication and understanding," he said, "a means of reconciliation." Henze has been the recipient of many international awards and prizes, and his 80th birthday in 2006 led to numerous concert series dedicated to him. He has been described as "an impassioned humanist, the most important operatic and symphonic voice of his generation."
Hans Henze