Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography

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Princeton University Press, 1999 - Biography & Autobiography - 512 pages
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Hans Werner Henze is one of the world's leading composers. His autobiography is frank, impassioned, and alive with memorable images and characters and graphic accounts of the creative process and performances of his music.


Henze's unhappy childhood during the onset of Fascism found release in music, which, in spite of the disruption of the war, became the center of his life. He studied composition but began to make a career as a ballet conductor, until his creativity found expression in music that, by the early 1950s, had begun to distance itself from the fashionable but dogmatic rules of serialism in favor of his own individualistic conception of beauty. In both the political and sexual spheres, Hans Werner Henze is an outsider whose utopian dreams of a humane communism have always had to contend with reality. In musical and cultural matters, however, he is one of the best-connected and most influential figures of the postwar era and his autobiography brims with personal stories and observations of such luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Ingeborg Bachmann, Luchino Visconti, and Hans Magnus Enzensberg. A true cosmopolitan, he is happiest living in Italy, where his innate lyricism has found a natural home.


"Bohemian fifths" are intervals that were played by Bohemian horn players, and which, according to Baroque and Classical rules, were proscribed. Henze's writing protests the lack of freedom that such a prohibition implies, both in music and in life.

Originally published in 1999.

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About the author (1999)

Hans Werner Henze was born on July 1, 1926, in Gütersloh, Germany. Since the 1970s, he has lived in Marino, near Rome. His creative output covers all musical genres, including operas (Boulevard Solitude, König Hirsch, Der Prinz von Homburg, Elegy for Young Lovers, Der junge Lord, We Come to the River, The English Cat, Das verratne Meer, Venus und Adonis), ballets (Ondine, Orpheus, Le disperazioni del Signor Pulcinella, Labyrinth, Le fils de l'air), oratorios such as Das Floss der Medusa, nine symphonies, the instrumental Requiem, and many concertos. Stewart Spencer is the editor, with Barry Millington, of Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, Wagner in Performance, and Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung: A Companion. He has also translated books on Wagner and Liszt.

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