Hans Werner Henze shares the fascination of Italy with some of Germany’s leading artists such as Goethe and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. A few years after his installation in this country in 1953, he expressed his dual cultural belonging through this 1958 Kammermusik, written after Hölderlin’s hymn In lieblicher Bläue (In a graceful blueness).
Without denying the part of Germanic culture that is dear to him and even vital – in Hölderlin we should add Trakl – Henze moves it towards the rays of the sun to which the poet was thinking when he imagined Greece or Italy. These cultural crossovers -“…I think of Hölderlin when I am in Italy just as Hölderlin thought of Italy when he was in Württemberg” – also correspond, as we know, to a moment of musical rupture for the German composer, under the spell of a certain Italian lyricism since the opera The King-Cerf (1952-1955) in particular. With Hölderlin dreaming of the Mediterranean, Henze fully embraces this musical eclecticism and ambivalent relationship to the traditions that make up its personality.
The composer’s vocal cycles often have a singular instrumental envelope; like Apollo and Hyazinthus (after Trakl) or Being Beauteous (after Rimbaud), Kammermusik 1958 has a limited formation with an unusual and interesting set of wind instruments: clarinet, horn, bassoon. The use of the guitar in the foreground – as a direct protagonist of the voice – also gives a specific colour and a kind of formal perspective to the timbres: the overall articulation of this cycle of thirteen pieces (twelve at the world premiere, the thirteenth – an adagio – having been added in 1963) is based on the following combinations: voice and guitar, voice and tutti, solo guitar, tutti without voice or guitar. From these four sound possibilities and the fragmentation of Hölderlin’s prose into six successive parts by the composer derives the almost symmetrical arrangement of the great form around the central Sonata (No. 7), described by Henze as “an instrumental axis” that “unites and gathers everything, takes up what has been and prepares what will come”.
Different relationships are created between poetry and music through the alternation of vocal and instrumental pieces (of various genres such as the Tiento for solo guitar, for example, which refers to the origins of Spanish instrumental music) and the attribution of titles – borrowed from certain passages in the poetry itself – to these three purely instrumental Tientos. However, the unity of the work is no less real, based on a certain formal rigour, but also on a broad thematic conception, as Henze pointed out: “Musical signs are transformed as they follow the poet’s words. ». Many links, more or less tenuous, cement for the listener the parts between them, just as frequent returns of elements already heard (kinds of repetitions) place him within each piece. In terms of auditory familiarity, the general language of the work is not the most exotic with its sustained vocal lyricism, its frequent consonances… Looking for a harmonious sound from the mid-1950s, Henze still believes that music “must be elegant and transparent”!
– Tiento I, Du, schönes Bächlein (You, beautiful brooklet)
– Tiento II, Es findet das Aug’oft
– Tiento III, Sohn Laios (Son of Laios)