The German composer Hans Werner Henze, born in 1926, died yesterday, on the 27th October of 2012. He was an important progressive artist in the field of music in the second half of the 20th century.
Gay, he left soon West Germany to live in Italy, in couple for more than 40 years. He understood that music has to be a production, and he had a culture across serialism, atonality, jazz, Stravinsky, Italian music, Arabic music, rock, pop music... Which means that he was between bourgeois “avant-garde” and music as production.
This is very significant when we know that he worked with the Austrian “avant-gardist” poet and progressive Ingeborg Bachmann for the operas Der Prinz von Homburg (1958) based on a text by Heinrich von Kleist, Der junge Lord (1964) after Wilhelm Hauff, Serenades and Arias (1957), Choral Fantasy (1964).
In the same institutionalized rebellion, Henze's oratorio Das Floß der Medusa was to be produced in Hamburg, but the chor refused to perform under a red flag and a portrait of Che Guevara, whereas Henze refused to conduct if there were policemen in the hall, as they came in because of the agitation made.
Friend of the leader of the student movement in West Germany Rudi Dutschke, Henze helped him for the organisation of the Congress for Vietnam in 1968. He even went one year in “revolutionary” Cuba, in 1969-1970, where he wrote El Cimarrón - Autobiographie des geflohenen Sklaven Esteban Montejo(The Runaway Slave - The autobiography of the runaway slave Esteban Montejo).
Because of the reactionary climate in West-Germany – and so also as an “artistic” emigration, but without joining the GDR or a revolutionary organisation – he went to Italy where he joined the revisionist “Communist” Party.
This critique from within the system, from inside the bourgeoisie, permitted him to be an established composer, with a number amazingly high of production. He wrote hundred of musical works – more than 130, with 20 operas - symphonies, operas, music-theatre, ballets, choral...
And Henze always went in the direction of engagement. We Come to the River, with 111 roles covered by over 50 singers in 11 scenes, is an opera against war; Henze made also the music of the movie based on the progressive book The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, which denounces the reactionary repression against progressives at the time of the beginning of the urban guerilla in West Germany.
But of course, linked to revisionism, he sold out after the fall of the eastern block, accepting in 1991 the cross of merit from the German President Richard von Weizsäcker and in 2000 the Japanese price called Praemium imperiale given by the imperial family.
Henze's works are typically difficult to approach, as they are mainly based on the experimental bourgeois approach and serialism. In this sense, Henze extends Hanns Eisler's perspective, but not in a dialectical materialistic sense.
His music turns too much in chaos, in spontaneity, in strange sounds, with this inapprehensible atmosphere which is typical for bourgeois operas.
This shows us how bourgeois ideology can not only buy artists in integrating in the system, particularly in the field of music as the artists need their works to be played, but also influence though culture, ideologies, social circles.
As we know, no revolution can avoid the question of culture; the Russian Revolution had Eisenstein as a great filmmaker and it is well known that the Indian revolution of the 1970's, if it would have happened, would have had Satyajit Ray.
In France, Jean-Luc Godard was much too arty, experimental, literary, to have a real mass line, and in fact we can see the same problem with Hans Werner Henze. It is easy to see here the confusion between avant-garde and elitism.
And, unfortunately, the problem is now bigger than ever, as the bourgeois education system is in total decadence and does not permit access to a general culture, even if massively bourgeois influenced. This shows in a terrible manner the duties of the new socialist state that has to come. And stresses the question of cultural revolution.