PASSINGS: Hans Werner Henze

Hans Werner Henze, 86, a leading composer of the late 20th century whose prolific and wide-ranging work included a wealth of operas and 10 symphonies, died Saturday in Dresden, Germany, his publisher said. A cause of death was not given.

The native German's compositions straddled musical genres and included stage works, symphonies, concertos, ballets, chamber works and a requiem.


He was born July 1, 1926, and grew up as the Nazis tightened their grip on the country. During World War II, Henze was forced to join the German army and was briefly held prisoner of war. His compositions often reflected his political consciousness, especially a hatred of fascism born of early experiences.

Henze had been composing since age 12, and after the war studied at an institute in Heidelberg, Germany. His first work, the 1946 baroque-style Kammerkonzert, earned him a publishing contract. The next year, he wrote his first symphony, a neoclassical piece with a viola solo.

In 1953, he moved to an Italian island and completed a cello concerto based on Shelley's series of sonnets. He based the opera "Ein Landarzt" (A Country Doctor) on a story by Franz Kafka and wrote his own libretto for 2002's "L'Upupa." Other works included the successful musical drama "Elegy for Young Lovers" and the oratorio "The Raft of the Medusa," dedicated to Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

The Semperoper opera house in Dresden recently paid tribute to Henze by performing his antiwar drama "We Come to the River," produced in collaboration with writer Edward Bond and first performed in London in 1976.

His symphonies include "Sinfonia No. 9," finished in 1997 — a choral work that reflected his anti-fascist convictions and was based on Anna Seghers' novel "The Seventh Cross." Henze finished his final symphony, "Sinfonia No. 10," in 2000, and it was premiered by director Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Henze taught in the United States, Austria and Germany and had been composer in residence at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Mass.

—Times staff and wire reports