Corriere della Sera was invited into Hans Werner Henze's gorgeous villa in Marino's Colli Albani, just miles outside of Rome, where the 84-year-old composer has found himself at home since the mid-1950s.
Born in the North Rhine/Westphalia town of Gütersloh, Henze fled to Italy for many reasons, politically (his father embraced Nazism) and socially. He said to Corriere, "In Westfalia, where I was born, the light is that of a silent melancholy [...] everyone wore grey raincoats had umbrellas ready to battle the rain, and walked around with severe expressions like they were going to a tax auditor."
Henze arrived in Italy in 1953 and never left. He was first seduced by the dazzling sunlight and Rome's many ancient castles, and found great music in the purity of the light. Henze ran in social circles with the great Luchino Visconti ("he was surrounded by people full of splendor and arrogance...it really wasn't my thing"), became good friends of Elsa Morante (she inspired him immensely, but they fought a lot) and Stravinsky ("He was a sweet man and he spoke with a Russian pulse"). In 1954, Stravinksy was at Henze's Opera di Roma boisterous Boulevard Solitude premiere and showed-up for the big event without putting on proper tuxedo, smelling of mothballs so badly that the ushers first wouldn't let him.
After three years in Rome Henze found peace in one of Rome's suburbs, Marino, where he's since lived in a 17th century roman castle affectionately called "la leprara" (the rabbit hole -- named after the thousands of rabbits that came to live and breed). Henze composes every day, surrounded by the delicious air of his garden -- 83 olive trees and assorted fruit trees-- and his sweet dogs. Despite his ailing health, he still drinks mid-morning Martinis (extra dry), his fetish for all things British even extending to 007.
Five years ago Henze fell into a coma and was looked after by his partner of 45 years, Fausto Moroni. Henze was so close to death that Moroni had arranged everything for the funeral: the coffin, the roses, and Henze's burial suit & shoes. But Henze awoke from the coma in his own house (he has an aversion to hospitals) and went on to finish his opera Phaedra. Two years after, in April 2007, Moroni died at 63-years-old and Henze dedicated his Elogium musicum to Moroni "a un amico carissimo ma ora lontano" (to a dear friend who's now far away). In his grand study are noteably two Steinways. The other presence is of large photos of Moroni, his best friend a glance away.
Today Henze enjoys the success of his music, which shows solid influences of his German symphonic roots, although his style is neither traditional or progressive, and he can't imagine a penning composition that doesn't embrace a theatrical sensibility. Massimo Mila describes his music as that which possesses a desperate need to communicate, but it wasn't always embraced by his colleagues. In the mid 1950s when he was studying and composing, he was derided by the Darmstadt school that was prevalent at the time (championed by Luigi Nono, it was Serialism by the likes of Boulez, Maderna and Stockhausen) for his music being too beautiful and too ordered without enough chaos. We can see why Henze, surrounded at La leprara by his sweet chirping birds, lovely flowers, and warm sunlight might have had a problem stripping his composition of beauty. We're just glad he didn't listen to the haters.