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Another civil partnership

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…

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Comments

  1. “Wagner inviting Brahms to Bayreuth and greeting him with a great big kiss…with tongues.”
    Yikes! Before we know it scholars will be delving into the sexual proclivities of these two geniuses looking for signs of “gayness.”

  2. Bach and Handel were enemies?
    First I’ve heard of it. My understanding was that Bach admired Handel (at least vaguely) from a distance and Handel may or may not have known who Bach was.
    Wagner and Brahms, mind you, that makes lots of sense.
    Hey, this could be a fun little game: making up analogues to Henze and Lachenmann kissing and making up …
    Copland and Babbitt?
    Tavener and Birtwistle?
    Tony Blair and Gordon Brown??
    NL replies: Bach and Handel never met. Handel liked Telemann, which is as good as saying he didn’t rate Bach. But I agree, Matthew, let’s see more classical kiss and makeups.
    Reich and Glass?
    Muti and Abbado?
    Peter Gelb and the rest of the human race?
    More submissions warmly welcomed.

  3. RichardB says:

    Let’s be brutally honest. It’s not like Brahms and Wagner. It’s definitely not like Handel and Bach. It’s like Wuorinen and Babbitt. Or Stanford and Parry.
    NL: Or Scheidt and Schütz?

  4. Let’s be emphatic and completely truthful. It’s not like Brahms and Wagner. It’s definitely not like Handel and Bach. It’s like Wuorinen and Babbitt. Or Stanford and Parry.
    NL: Or Scheidt and Schütz?

  5. Bill Mival, broker of this unlikely peace, tells me Helmut was keen, and Henze eventually effusive….and there I was thinking they’d need to get stuck in that building’s sorry lift together.

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