Aug 24, 2005 9:47 pm
A friend of mine is going to Amsterdam and I realized that Henze’s The Bassarids will be playing at that time. It is quite possibly his best opera. Henze himself even thought it was: “Now it seems to me to be my most important theatrical work… certainly the questions which it raises are interesting and modern and relevant to us and also to the years around 1968: What is freedom, what is lack of freedom? What is repression, what is revolt, what is revolution? The multiplicity and richness of associations and tangibly sensual relationships between these ideas from antiquity and ourselves are relevant to our own times…”
The libretto is by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman who also wrote Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Britten’s Paul Bunyan and Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers. Henze is probably the greatest living German composer. He is influenced by Wagner but with his own unique and original voice. He makes use of all the techniques of musical modernism with twelve-tone rows juxtaposed with quotations from Bach, Wagner and Mahler—yet still remains a very lyrical composer. Most of his works have an overt political message and many of them were written for the theater.
The Bassarids is interesting because it is structured like Symphony, with four movements: an opening Sonata with contrasting themes (the Apollonian Pentheus theme and the Dionysian theme); a dance-like Scherzo; an Adagio; and a final Passacaglia movement.