Henze, L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe
Carter, Complete Piano Music
Carter, Complete String Quartets
Carter, What Next?
Music of Elliott Carter, Vol. 8 (16 Compositions, 2002-2009)
Carter, Cello Concerto
Two giants of modern composition died this week: Hans Werner Henze on October 27, at 86; and Elliott Carter on November 5, at 103. For all of their importance to connoisseurs, neither of these composers has much traction even among fans of classical music. Henze's music gets played very little on this side of the Atlantic: although we have admired the gorgeous orchestration of his operas, we have written relatively few reviews of performances of his music, most of them from Germany. The last piece by Henze played by the National Symphony Orchestra, for example, was not one of his compositions but his rather wonderful orchestration of Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder. The neglect on this side of the Atlantic is puzzling, because although Henze's music is recognizably modern -- meaning that many tradition-minded listeners will bristle -- it has a Romantic opulence, especially in the evocative orchestration, that has much to offer an audience.
Allan Kozinn, in a fine obituary of Elliott Carter in the New York Times, quotes the American composer thus: “As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public, [but] I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself.” Audiences seem to have perceived that thumbing of the nose in their direction, and Carter's music is generally a very hard sell to audiences other than those who listen to new music ensembles. Even so, we have written much more about Carter's music because it is played more often here than Henze's, although the majority of our reviews have been of recordings or little pieces inserted into programs of other music. The monuments of Carter's extensive oeuvre -- he was composing almost into his final days on this earth -- are the string quartet cycle (for the second half of the 20th century what Bartók's six quartets were for the first half), his existentialist black comedy of an opera (What Next?), the small body of piano music (recorded by Ursula Oppens), and the major concertos. The style of Carter's music contains multitudes, from his early, more neoclassical works, through merciless complexity, and ending in Haydnesque, even whimsical miniatures. The links on either side of this article will take you to a few favorite examples of the music of both Carter and Henze. Feel free to add some of your own choices in the comments section.
We are reaching many milestones in modernism as the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring approaches. As more of the heroes of confrontational composition join the great Darmstädter Ferienkurse in the sky, perhaps it will be time for composers at least to ponder the idea of not intentionally alienating their listeners.