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Hans Werner Henze (1926–2021): San Biagio 9 Agosto Ore 1207 (1977) – Two Performances

Hans Werner Henze (1926–2012) was a prolific composer of ten symphonies and numerous ballets and operas. Born in Gütersloh (Westfalen province) in 1926, he attended the Institute of Church Music in Heidelberg between 1946 and 1948. He is more famous as a faculty member on the Darmstadt summer course, one of the influential “avant-garde” musical institutes in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1950, a complicated professional relationship as well as a desperate love affair with opera conductor Heinz Tietjen (1881–1967), led Henze to make up his mind to live outside Germany.[1] In 1951 Henze worked in the Parisian electro-acustic music studio of Pierre Schaeffer, and since 1953 has made his home in Italy.

San Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207, Ricordo per un Contrabasso Solo (San Biagio August 9th 1207 o’clock, recollection for double bass solo) is dedicated to Dieter Lange, Instructor of double bass at the Music Academy of Luzern, and an orchestra member at the Opera House in Zurich, Switzerland.

In 1976, Henze founded a music festival that became a tradition. Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte takes place during July and August in the small town (14,000 inhabitants) of Montepulciano, in Siena area, Italy. Other than concerts, the festival features theater productions and exhibitions of figurative art, as Henze describes his vision:

“In the case of Montepulciano, I imagined something like people’s academy for the arts, which I reckoned also included handicrafts and the performing arts. This little mountain fastness with its marvellously taciturn and minatory architecture, this dull and God-forsaken place at the back of beyond, where the snow piles high in winter and from which the young people of the town are all desperately keen to escape, since there is not even a cinema to entertain them—I now wanted to turn it into an exciting workshop that no one would want to flee any longer and which the world would find so attractive that Montepulciano would become an internationally recognized centre for applied teaching, a model for modern, democratic training and practice in the arts, a school of practical theory.”[2]

Henze was the artistic director of Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte festival between 1976 and 1980.[3] One of the reasons for his resignation was lack of financial resources:

“Time and again the cultural life of Montepulciano has been beset by crisis after crisis—and always for the same stupid reason, namely, the perpetual lack of resources and the resultant need for the festival organizers to have to go a-begging, year in, year out, and to grovel before ministers.”[4]

San Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207 bears the date 1977, which leads to the assumption that Henze composed it in the course of one of the first two festivals. However, from Henze’s biography appears that the piece was written later, in the course of the fourth Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte festival, 1979.[5]

The location of composing also explains why the title as well as all of the tempo indications are written in Italian rather than German[6].

During the course of the mid 1970s, Henze was experimenting writing for solo instruments as well as composing several string quartets.

The town of Montepulciano features numerous Gothic and Renaissance architectural monuments; tempio de San Biagio (the temple of San Biagio) is one of the most famous. Started by Antonio da Sangallo the elder between 1518 and 1545, the church features two bell towers and a terrace. The overall shape of San Biagio is of a Greek cross[7].

It is in temple S. Biagio that the opening night of the first Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte festival, on 1 August 1976, took place.[8]

One could imagine the hot temperature in that location in mid-day (12:07 pm) August, as Henze describes his first 1975 visit impressions to the town:

“We made a detour to visit a small mountain town in southern Tuscany by the name of Montepulciano… It was around midday when we arrived. The sun was beating down implacably on a large and treeless piazza, dust was swirling everywhere and the wind was playing absent-mindedly with a handful of unpaid bills, as an old peasant woman, dressed only in black, scurried away round the corner: high noon in Montepulciano. We clambered out of the car, dragged ourselves up the steep alleyways, often threatening to lose our foothold, and gazed in awe at the astonishing architecture of the town’s Renaissance palazzi, which stood there as though uninhabited.”[9]

There is no distinguished form to Henze’s composition San Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207; The opening A section is the only one to repeat in total (AA). An initial motive is played several times by the bass: ascending C- D- F#- G#, actually notes nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 of a whole tone scale. One may argue that the repetition of the A part and the motive 1245 represent a symmetry (the two towers of San Biagio?). However, as the piece progresses beyond the A part and the initial motive, it is quite clear that the symmetry was partial, and the listener stays with shadowy projections of the piece, perhaps in the same manner of the dropping shadows from San Biagio in mid-August day.

Other pieces by Henze for the bass are the solo Serenade (1981), arranged by Lucas Drew from Henze’s 1949 cello version, and Concerto for bass and orchestra (1966), written for Gary Karr.

Ron Merhavi

[1] Peter Petersen. “Henze, Hans Werner”, in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Second Edition. ed. Ludwig Finscher (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2002); Hans Werner Henze, Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography, translated by Stewart Spencer (London, Faber and Faber, 1998), p. 82. I am grateful to Dr. Nadine Hubbs for bringing the latter source to my attention. [2]Bohemian Fifths, p. 351. [3] “Henze, Hans Werner”, in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. [4]Bohemian Fifths, p. 363. [5]Ibid, p. 381. [6] Using Italian is deliberate, as the piece was published by Schott in Mainz, Germany. [7] Where each of the four arms are at the same exact length. [8] Julian Bream played a guitar recital in, in the presence of Sir William and Lady Walton. Bohemian Fifths, pp. 343, 356. [9]Ibid, pp. 337- 338. Again, I would like to thank Dr. Nadine Hubbs for revealing this significant primary source to me.

Hans Werner Henze (1926–2021): San Biagio 9 Agosto Ore 1207 (1977)

Ron Merhavi – Double Bass

MasterClass at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance 10.5.2005

Hans Werner Henze (1926–2021): San Biagio 9 Agosto Ore 1207 (1977)

Ron Merhavi – Double Bass

Ron Merhavi's Second Dissertation Recital; McIntosh Theater, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 17.3.2004


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