Germany’s two senior composers have not exchanged a civil word in 30 years. Hans Werner Henze and Helmut Lachenmann are natural antipodes. Henze is expressive, extravert, gay, socialist and rich. Lachenmann is ascetic, precise, married to a Japanese pianist, and a professor at Harvard.
They have been sworn enemies since Henze, in some published musings, attacked Lachenmann for writing musica negativa. The pair then had a ding-dong on Stuttgart Radio in which the less flamboyant composer felt he was given insufficient chance to counter the accusation. Since then, they have co-existed in uneasy silence, broken by the occasional barbed letter to a music magazine.
So there was a certain anxiety when, this week, the Royal College of Music called in its patron, Prince Charles, to present Henze with an honorary doctorate in a ceremony attended by Lachenmann.
Whether it was something in the air, as Cameron and Clegg were forming Britain’s first coalition government since the war, or whether the two old gents were simply looking for someone else who spoke German, to everyone’s astonishment Lachenmann marched up to embrace Henze and the pair chatted away happily into the night – a reunion captured by photographer Chris Christodoulou (pictures here and here).
Now before you all go ooh, ahh and why should I care?, this is a very big deal indeed in the annals of German music. It’s rather like Bach and Handel bumping into one another at the eye doctors and declaring eternal brotherhood, or Wagner inviting Brahms to Bayreuth and greeting him with a great big kiss. With tongues.
It’s a breakthrough moment, a dawning of sweetness and light, a time for happily ever after, a lesson to us all. So who’s next? A hug from Barenboim to Thielemann? Boulez sending an 80th birthday card to Stephen Sondheim? All the Wagner family having lunch together? Any London orchestra saying nice things about another? Let’s not get carried away…