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Bohemian Fifths Hardcover – February 1, 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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It comes as no surprise that Hans Werner Henze's autobiography, like his music, is alternately elegant, dense, and humorous, with a clear love of history and classical beauty. Henze covers both his life and work through 1995; readers may find themselves looking back to Artur Rubinstein's My Young Years to find a musician who has written an autobiography with as much style. Of special interest is Henze's first detailed public comment on the events surrounding the notorious canceled premiere of Das Floss der Medusa. There is also a long sequence of diary entries from his second visit to Cuba. The diary format effectively conveys his initial excitement in the country, which clearly sets off his later disillusionment with Castro. Anecdotes about almost all of Henze's music abound, but the most interesting comments are about music in general--why he hates cello sonatas, why he likes to write for the guitar, why electronic music is unsuitable for ballet. Henze writes beautifully about Mozart ("the link between artistry and simplicity"), Mahler, William Walton, and the Naples debut of Maria Callas. There is a straightforward description of how he composes and a section describing the philosophy behind his festival at Montepulciano.

Stewart Spencer's translation is everywhere elegant. In Wiesbaden, we read, one finds "only old ladies with equally ancient hats and poodles." Readers who have come to Henze's music via the Grammy-nominated new recording of the ballet Undine will find helpful information on that work, both about the premiere production and a major revival in 1998. --William R. Braun


"Henze's passionate reminiscences offer facet after bright facet of the kaleidoscope of modern culture. . . . He is eclectic, iconoclastic, never a slave to musical fashion and anything but boring. . . . Henze's writing is masterly, drenched in the same canny sense of drama that has marked his music. . . It is rare--very rare--to find a great composer who can write beautifully about his own music. Hans Werner Henze is such a composer and his Bohemian Fifths is a sweeping, moving portrait of the man, his art and his time."--Octavio Roca, San Francisco Chronicle

"Rich, informative and engaging. . . . [Henze] is an excellent memoirist and his book is full of vivid sketches of places and people. . . . Mr. Henze makes a convincing case for himself as a bad boy, self-destructive in love, anticonventional in his creative beliefs and belonging at heart in that demimonde of what he elsewhere describes as the Sodom and Gomorrah of war-wrecked Berlin. But as a composer, in public, he puts on his three-piece suit."--Paul Griffiths, Critic's Notebook, The New York Times

"What is compelling about this autobiography is its kaleidoscopic range, which includes both people and places. Henze's . . . memoirs have a candid flavor that makes them enormously readable."--Opera News

"Composers who can write about their work are rare enough. Fewer still can write enthrallingly. Hans Werner Henze can do both."--Badische Zeitung

"A universal cultural history in miniature, dazzlingly told, ruthlessly candid about himself and his works, with a constant undertow of irony and entertainingly informative in its detailed observations."--Nürnberger Nachrichten

"The descriptions are inspired and filled with genius."--Südkurier


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Legacy Library
  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691006830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691006833
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,328,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Hans Werner Henze has led a rich,full musical life. He had good vital instincts from the start,opting to foster high level contacts within the musical institutions in Europe East and West. The West has served him well first with early operatic productions,a succession of unbroken commissions and latter recordings by premiere ensembles. He turned away from his own post-war generations quest for a new musical language along the lines of serialized materials and post-Webern gesturing. Instead he found his own voice in a lyrical eclecticism that continually searches for differing dramatic situations, as in painters Gericault's "The Raft of Medusa". This autobiography reveals an active life of schedules,concerts, rehearsals,assisting in teams for the productions of his works, discussions and conducting. Along the way Henze stops to chat with friends for inspiration and support and news,he even pays respects when necessary at the funerals of Auden or composer Luigi Nono. We also find Henze in Cuba with revolutionaries And in East Germany with his friend Paul Dessau. Leftism for Henze is odd, a man who sacrificed nothing was still tauted by the primary venues of the West. But we learn of Henze's continual quest for compositional materials and how politics enters this formula no matter what ideology he happens to share.Also how each work inhabits its own life. His politics does extend to going out on a limb for comrades, as when composer Isang Yun was abducted by the Korean government from Germany to return to prison and torture. Henze assembled a forum for his release in Europe. He also made an arrangement of a song by Theodorakis also a victim of imprisonment. For the musician this autobiography makes fascinating reading on Henze's views, how his music is performed, who is the most sensitive conductor, what composer he admires, how he organizes festivals and venues.I must say I never warmed to his music.
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"From the outset my music has sought truth in perfection. It strives to recapture the unattainable ideals of beauty that existed in classical Greece." (65)

"My music draws what strength is has from its inherent contradictions. It is like a thorny thicket full of barbs and other unpleasant things... People may feel repelled by its often garish colours and the infernal din that it seems constrained to produce... My music has an emotional dimension that is unfashionable, an emotional untimeliness." (56)

Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) is one of my favorite late 20th century composers, and I consider him to be one of the finest of our time. He is certainly one of the leading German composers since the war. Henze's music incorporates major elements from both sides of the Stravinsky/Schoenberg divide, combined into a distinctive synthesis. Henze, however, disliked Schoenberg's messianic streak, finding Stravinsky's light and ironic neoclassicism much more appealing. But Henze very much sees his music in the classical tradition, often describing it as a combination of "North German polyphony and the arioso South." It has taken me awhile to reach my current level of appreciation of his music, partly because the central form he has worked in is opera. I am not a huge opera fan, and what is more, not all of his many operas are available on disc (see below). Henze's ten symphonies are some of the best in the postwar period, and I have also heard his string quartets and violin concertos. More recently I have heard enough of his vocal music, including extracts from operas, to feel as though I have something approximating an appreciation for his composition overall, and so I was quite happy to realize that he wrote this autobiography, first published in 1998.
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