Interview with Marco Minà for #neuguitars #blog (December 2022)
Q: I would never have thought that the history of Royal Winter Music was so complex and articulated. Reading your long article, what emerges is almost the script of an artistic “mystery”, a story that until now had remained in the shadows and which seems, at the same time , perfect for synthesizing the spirit of the twentieth century: two great personalities, incredible music, a composer and an interpreter of the highest level, a completely different society from the current one, other economic issues. Would it be possible today to create such a narrative for a new piece for classical guitar?
A: Anything is always possible. First of all, let’s say that today it is perhaps not so simple to have such a structured and complex relationship between performer and composer as the one between Henze and Bream, who shared very significant friendships and shared musical and cultural environments. Then times have changed a lot, relationships and interpersonal behaviors are profoundly different. Finally, the miracle of a great performer asking a great composer for a great piece is not easily reproduced.
Q: Your detailed work on Royal Winter Music reminds me of a sentence by Umberto Eco about Luigi Pareyon, who said how “each of us is born with a single idea in his head and throughout his life he does nothing but revolve around it”. At first sight this would seem a reactionary idea, as if there were no development or change in deepening a single idea, while instead, over time, this is not the case. Your work, so detailed and passionate, seems to go in a precise direction, revealing not only new possibilities, but also a new world behind this music… and to think that it all started with a degree thesis, then extending over time …
A: In reality it is not infrequent to cultivate a “magnificent obsession” in one’s life, whether it is a musical life or another type of existence. In fact, I come from a background in which this study approach was somewhat the dominant feature but you are right, this work on Henze starts from afar, from an intuition. Already at the time of graduating from the University “La Sapienza” my hypothesis on Royal Winter Music was all there. I had had the opportunity to study and play Henze’s music and to have several of his scores for or with guitar in my hands and the two Royal Winter Music sonatas left me perplexed at times. There were actually several things that didn’t add up to me both from an analytical-formal and harmonic point of view. Henze’s writing in this sense is very clear and leaves no way out. It took some time but in the end it was possible to clarify. Finally, let’s say that, all in all, I did what many interpreters do, namely to enter into the merits of a score by going in depth. An operation that we ethically owe to the composer, of whatever era, then in turn leaving to those who will come after us those “new possibilities” of interpretation you speak of and the fruit of our work.
Q: What was it like dating Henze? In his book “A life on the road”, Bream himself defined him as “Above all, Hans is immensely professional, and knows precisely what he’s doing and what the world is doing in relationship to him. He certainly has his finger on the pulse.” His ability to create a creative space between Darmstadt doctrine and conservative neoclassicism, defining a third way for contemporary music already seems in itself an interesting factor of investigation, for his music and his personality.
A: Knowing and attending Henze was undoubtedly a great fortune and a great privilege. Bream is absolutely right. Henze was an extremely kind person, curious and interested in others. Not self-congratulatory, very self-deprecating, he had a real interest in people, their lives, their context. He was very fond of conviviality, jokes, games, even with words. He thinks that he had a curiosity for languages which led him not only to know different ones perfectly, but even to play with them. His generosity and attention to others was also expressed by relating people and creating interesting professional situations, especially for young people. As also stated in the documentary “H. W. Henze at Villa La Leprara” which I made together with Michael Kerstan (who has been close to Henze since the 80s and is currently director of the Henze Foundation) which will soon be released on DVD together with the CD with Royal Winter Music, is precisely the his “humanity” that transpires from his works, a humanity that originates in his character and in his interest for others as I said and for the fate of the world. In this sense, Henze’s political approach should also be underlined in the context of the composer’s life, a very clear characteristic of his character and of his entire existence. In his brilliant musical career then, with an almost endless catalog of works, he went through many phases both positive and negative and his choices, not least also the musical ones and those linked to the autonomy of his language, but also political as we said, have been a source of bitterness and inner strife. Overall, however, in my opinion, Henze has been able to navigate the dimension of his time with great balance and wisdom.
Q: In your article you write “From the guitarist Julian Bream’s point of view such a significant intervention could have been more understandable: a musician at the peak of his career, a point of reference for the most important composers of those years, son of an era which, in somehow, it allowed and legitimized even radical interventions on the musical text of which we have proof in the revisions both of Bream and of other important guitarists of the last century, in line with this historical approach.” Bream’s attitude is therefore not surprising. Do you think it is possible that, through other detailed searches like yours, other versions and revisions of other famous guitar scores could emerge?
A: In general, thinking of the various musical repertoires, we certainly cannot exclude it. On the other hand, over the centuries new scores have always emerged here and there, different versions of the same piece or copies that do not fully conform to the original, and fortunately much more. As far as the guitar repertoire is concerned, it is very probable. The history of Royal Winter Music is a prime example in my opinion. In the drawers of many musicians I believe and hope there are works yet to be discovered or which hide small or big secrets and treasures. Also in my drawer there are extremely interesting new works ready to be released and performed, in this case not hidden but just waiting, so I guess this is the case for many other musicians. This is a great fortune and resource, provided that the drawers open in favor of all the musicians. Undoubtedly it is a very stimulating idea to investigate our repertoire better, in many respects it would be necessary and it would also have the effect of animating the musical debate in the sector.
Q: In the end, could we think that the disagreement and rupture of relations between Henze and Bream could be due to a different way of contextualizing one’s role? With Bream anchored in a “Segovia”-like representation of his role as interpreter, while Henze saw himself in an already more modern and cosmopolitan context? To a different vision of the role of the interpreter?
A: In fact, Henze positioned himself in another musical context, certainly broader and more articulated, there is no doubt. However, broadly speaking, I think your hypotheses are plausible. Then, as always, things are even more complex and sometimes inscrutable than we imagine. The partnership between these two artists was certainly very intense. Henze, who had a true and deep love for the guitar, saw Bream as the ideal interpreter, capable of combining instrumental, musical and cultural skills in a way similar to his own. Bream for his part, from what emerges from his story and his biography, had an infallible entrepreneurial instinct and a great ability to translate it into concrete facts, therefore right knowledge and adequate professional connections. As you said before, this story also has the traits of the “mystery” literary genre, and in fact during this long study work I occasionally had the opportunity to collect memories and testimonies, linked to people who had known and frequented the two in those years artists or who had professionally followed the relationship between Henze and Bream in the period of the composition of the Royal Winter Music. From these memories transpires in particular a trait of Bream’s personality (also present between the lines of his biography) solitary, sometimes shy, careful to protect himself and his business, considered in some cases a mysterious man. Of course we are talking about completely personal considerations that have nothing to do with the documentary study work, but denote an interesting aspect of Bream’s character, certainly in contrast with his more widespread public image, important however to better understand what I was saying at the beginning about the inscrutability of events, people and interpersonal relationships.
Q: Your revision of the first sonata and the recording of the CD with both sonatas seems to have given a new form to Royal Winter Music, an almost “open work” form, in which the interpreter can now move within the possibilities offered by the different revisions available. The interpreter now seems to have new paths and a wider field of action.
A :Henze greatly appreciated the performers who through his music, but not only, tried to say something new and stimulating. Therefore, the possibility of opening new paths, I believe, fully reflects Henze’s vision and, on the other hand, as we said before, his own musical and artistic career and his personal history seem to reject any orthodoxy, especially if imposed by the external. In my revision I actually did nothing but pour Henze’s original thought taken from the manuscript, it’s all there, ready to be understood and performed. My intervention as a reviewer is limited to very few points where it was necessary, but they are very few. In other points it was a question of finding the most suitable instrumental solutions together with careful fingering which was as useful as possible. In my opinion, the essential thing is that the musician has all the necessary material in front of him to allow him to form his own autonomous and personal interpretation. If a new edition of a passage can have a function of this type and at the same time be anti-dogmatic, in my opinion it is welcome.
Q: Your decision to respect Henze’s wish to perform theRitornello seven times, from the beginning of the piece and then between each single movement, creates new dynamics and a sense of suspension within the first sonata, adding an almost theatrical tension, which Henze could not have underestimated, what could be the reasons that pushed Bream to take him off instead?
A: We can make assumptions in this sense and imagine that Bream did not consider the Chorus interesting as a piece, or that he did not understand or share its dramaturgical aspect. From what has emerged from the documents, the English guitarist actually had a very subjective approach to this work. Whatever it was, you’re right, the Correntello creates completely new and theatrical internal dynamics, precisely in the sense that Henze himself meant. In fact, in my recording I wanted to carry on this same function of theRitornello also in the second sonata since, as we know, the project of the two sonatas was unitary. In fact, both the theatrical and musical dramaturgical aspects of this work have been the starting point for my interpretation since the very first performances. I then had the good fortune to play the Royal Winter Music several times in the presence of Henze himself and to discuss with him on several occasions the various interpretative aspects that were closest to my heart (on these occasions, however, I tried to gain something more even on the history which we can talk about today). I immediately understood with him that I had to work on the “dialogical” aspect of this work and avoid any purely instrumental or virtuosic temptation for its own sake, putting these characters “on stage” instead. I tried to pour all of this into this Royal Winter Music recording which I’m quite happy with even if I already realize when performing it in concert that other interpretative evolutions, always in the same groove but different, are following one another. But rightly so.
Q: What do you think the reactions to this new publication might be?
A: I believe they can be positive, in fact I am convinced as I was saying, that in the field of musical repertoires (and even more in the guitar one), the novelties, the new discoveries, new editions, consequently open up new perspectives and possibilities. In a moment like this then, where we have lived and are living a very problematic historical passage which inevitably has a negative impact on the arts and culture (we have seen it with the recent pandemic and then with the Russo-Ukraine war) every element of the debate , reflection and comparison is welcome. This revision work was then really taken care of in every detail, so I think it will be an excellent study tool both for young performers, who perhaps are approaching this repertoire for the first time, and for those who have already performed the Royal Winter Music and that they will have an extra comparison tool. Finally, Henze is an author at the center of many academic and musicological studies, therefore the new edition represents a fundamental tool on this level as well.
Q: We have witnessed the end of a friendship and an artistic partnership, a break that both have decided to keep hidden by choosing an elegant detachment, what a feeling you have
left this story?
A: To tell the truth, as I entered into the merits of the question through the documents that gradually became available, everything seemed very appropriate to the characters involved and the cultural context to which they belonged. Even some small reticence here and there in Bream’s memoirs, for example, seemed all in all understandable and functional in relation to maintaining fair play between them. This choice seemed to me adequate also in respect of the important mutual friendships whose position should not be exposed and compromised by a possible disagreement between the two artists. Benjamin Britten dies in December 1976, Peter Pears in 1986 and William Walton in 1983, just to name a few of these mutual friendships, imagine what unpleasant consequences the opening of such a question could have had. Both took the best possible steps to contain the problem, perhaps primarily Henze who, from the documentary reconstruction, it can be deduced also had to contain the Schott publishing house which was pressing hard for the publication of the first sonata. Then of course, in an era like ours, made up of exposure and ostentation in every field of society, from the individual and private citizen to the politician in charge or the artist of the moment, this whole story takes on a flavor of other times.