Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hans Werner Henze

When a youngster and prone to specious arguments, I battled my mother on whether R.F.Delderfield (her favourite writer) or D.H.Lawrence offered the best model of a writer's life. I believed, I think erroneously (he died of cancer aged 60), that Delderfield had retired gently to the Devon coast. Lawrence raged into his early death from TB (surely, my distorted romantic self knew, to be my own cause of death. If it took Lawrence and Keats, why should I be spared?). The raging toward death, the 'not going gently' displayed by Lawrence, was for me a mark of the true artist.
I had to work hard to shed  the D.H.Lawrence model from my life and writing. I still hold on to that sense of that artistic flame burning ever more brightly though (unlike Kazuo Ishiguro who seems convinced of the waning powers age brings to writers).
Last night saw a concert given over to the music of Hans Werner Henze at London's Barbican. I first came to know Henze's work in 1975, when I had left home to work in West Berlin. Henze was the buzz name on the contemporary music scene. I'm still awaiting the moment when Henze's music truly opens to me. Its lyricism is praised byt I find something too compacted about the work, the moments that are designed as musical epiphanies have something of an angry, declarative shout to them - perhaps a shout of someone still there, existing and triumphing against the odds.
Henze sat nearby last night, a frail and dapper figure, neat bowtie and such elegant black shoes. It was very moving to see him at last. When he was nearing 80 nd in very poor health, it was his partner of almost fifty years, Fausto Moronu, who died. Instead of wilting, Henze's response was Elogium musicum, a four movement piece for vast chorus and orchestra. It's a blazing response of a frail octogenarian to being ripped apart from the man he loved.
The auditorium rose to give the man a standing ovation. It was moving to stand there too, look direct into this dark and steady eyes for some moments, and appreciate the bravery and magnificence of such creative resistance to the horrors of the world.
So I can work harder too, work my way into those moments of last night's programme that did rouse and astonish me, unpeel his work to find what it reveals. Henze became a revolutionary socialist, abandoned by most of his friends as a result in the kate 1960s. Political principle has been one clear strand in his life, but so, clearly, has love, and honouring the breadth of the creative force which drives him. He's in a frail body now, but was a luminous presence, and a fine model for a life still blazing towards its end.

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