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Memoirs of an Outsider - Hans Werner Henze film

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Rosalind Porter Rosalind Porter | 13:29 UK Time, Saturday, 16 January 2010

metronome.jpgWhat an evocative way to start off this Henze Total Immersion weekend here at the Barbican Centre in London!  I believe that 'Memoirs of an Outsider' produced by the ever reliable Barrie Gavin, is one of the best composer documentaries that I have seen for quite a while, and it certainly - in my view - managed to capture the essence of the complex and fascinating character of Hans Werner Henze. 

Perhaps the best aspect of the film was how seamlessly it combined narrative on Henze's life;  Henze in his own words; notable interpreters of his music such as Sir Simon Rattle, Oliver Knussen and Marcus Stenz along with copious and imaginatively chosen excerpts from his works.  It really provided an intense insight into the man, his compositions and their interpretations.

There was one particularly telling comment which Henze made during the film; he stressed how he had always felt a 'Sehnsucht nach Musik' - 'a longing for Music' and how important music was to his whole existence.  He comes over as someone who is totally passionate and committed to his art and also perhaps to living life as a whole, the film focussed a great deal on the peaceful rural retreat of his Italian house and garden, but did not shy away from dealing with his political and philosophical views - the Nazi regime, his departure from Germany to Italy, his joining of the Italian Communist Party, his views of the social unrest in the late 60s... yet I appreciated the way in which this was always tied up with apt choice of music, reinforcing the strength of his personal opinions. 

We gained a tantalising glimpse of Henze composing, a metronome beating by his side in an extremely peaceful looking study.   He gave a few cryptic comments during discussions with Oliver Knussen relating to the process of composing - how he always looks forward, how the music is all in the brain, how the music only comes from within itself. 

Unfortunately time waits for no man (or violinist!) and I have to find my way to the main hall to catch some of Britain's most talented music students in action in their contribution to this Henze Total Immersion Day.  But I want to return with more thoughts on this excellent film a bit later, it has made a huge impact on me and will undoubtedly be colouring my views of the music still to be performed today.


  • Comment number 1.

    "I believe that 'Memoirs of an Outsider' produced by the ever reliable Barrie Gavin, is one of the best composer documentaries that I have seen for quite a while ... "

    Which begs the question, Ros, which composer documentaries do you really rate?

    Alas, we cannot join you at the Barbican this evening, but do let us know how you get on.



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