Record of the day: Hans Werner Henze, "Symphony No. 9"

Record of the day: Hans Werner Henze, “Symphony No. 9”

Hans Werner Henze
Symphony N° 9 (CD EMI 72435 5651327)

Celebrated master of contemporary music, Hans Werner Henze has always been a controversial figure due to his rejection of any compositional dogma, whether it came from the Darmstadt avant-garde or from the numerous stylistic trends that followed it. For over fifty years Henze has been pursuing his own path which has often caused controversy but which today appears to have solid coherence; a world where references to Stravinsky and the twelve-tone system, to the Opera and to the great symphonic tradition of the nineteenth century are welded into a highly personal language, saturated with theatrical gestures, which re-elaborates the tradition without ever detaching itself from it.

Henze's immense production embraces every musical genre; the Symphonies are among the most important works of this artist. Completed in 1997, the Ninth Symphony for mixed choir and orchestra, with verses by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, paints a dark landscape, defined by Henze himself as an “apotheosis of terror and sadness”. The model of Beethoven's Ninth, full of hope for humanity, gives way to a fresco in which every glimmer of hope seems to drown in the darkness of an ocean of cruelty, selfishness and oppression of man against man.

Henze's extraordinary writing ability manages to move immense choral and orchestral masses with masterly effectiveness, designing in seven panels a true Requiem for humanity, to which Treichel's text provides violent, apocalyptic images. All of Henze's previous symphonic experiences are condensed into this gigantic compositional cathedral, which always manages to interest and move the listener even in the moments of greatest sonic darkness, to which Henze often alternates intense melodic passages from the strings that recall Alban Berg.

This is not an easy job, but a couple of concentrated listens will convince you of the beauty of this work which, despite numerous images of death (with particular reference to the victims of Nazi-fascism), nevertheless celebrates life itself and the capacity of human soul to transcend horror.
Ingo Metzmacher's interpretation at the head of the Berliner Philarmoniker (recorded live on the occasion of the first performance in Berlin) is impeccable.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.