Letter from H. W. Henze to W. H. Auden/C. Kallman, July 7, 1960


Show markers in text

Absolute Chronology



Direct Context




Naples, 7th July, 1960 Dear W y stan and dear Chester,

It is a long time I have not heard from you
which may be my own fault as I have been travelling
and working.
My "Prinz" was a big success in Spoleto,
too,* but this is all forgotten as I am living in the
world of "Elegy" now. Only some important experiences
seem to be left from the Prinz, some of which will be
helpful for writing out music for "Elegy" . During the
last two months I have always been reading the lib r etto*
over and over again and from that derives a long list
of more wishes which I now would like to put before you
with humility hoping for understanding and grace.*

1) The first thing is a wish from Rennert , that for
his Glyndebourne production, and I think it is a good
idea for the whole work: Could we change the place
of action from the inn "Der Schwarze Adler" into the
poet’s private house in the mountains?
This, says Rennert, would have many scenic advantages
and would give more possibilities for both designer and
producer. Hulda could be, instead of a frequent guest
of "Der Schwarze Adler", just a guest of the poet’s[sic] * who
is annually invited there for her prophetic activity.*

2) You have not replied yet about the names* but I trust
that as soon as possible I will have the names already
discussed with Chester in Hamburg. I need them badly

3) Something very important now: More and more the
"Edelweiss" appears to me as a little too bitty and
unhappy a choice and I think this comes from what all
Germans and Austrians have; we have grown up with tasteless
songs and stories about this plant and it means something
rather obvious and too much used in musical comedies and
silly folky songs and stories.* As a matter of fact, from
this plant no music comes to my mind. I think everything
would be easier and better if you could think of a mysterious
and very rare Alpine plant, flower or root which one could
find in a book of biological sciences – this would give more
magic and mystery to the whole subject. I have not got
such a book with me, otherwise I would have found out for
myself and given you some proposals.*


4) I have already written the 2nd scene of Act I (The order
of the day) but while I wrote it I discovered that this
scene, as an exposition of the whole play, does not contain
enough information about the poet. When you say in your
'genesis' that at the end the audience must be convinced
that the poem he has been writing is a very good one other-
wise the whole dramatic and moral point of the opera would
be lost, and that our poet is a great man,* we should give
much more information about his importance and quality in
this second scene.
I would suggest that Carolina would tell Dr.Reichmann a bit
more about important reviews, that in this dialogue perhaps
should be mentioned important contemporaries of the poet.
One could allude to the Nobel Prize* and so on and so on.
In short, we must get the information here that the poet
is of great importance to his time.*

5) At the end of this scene we come to Carolina’s hiding
of the gold coins in the flower pot.*Actually I stopped
composing here because something in me revolts against this
situation, especially when later, after his row with
Carolina, the poet comes back to pick [up] these coins.
I would love you to cut both these scenes,* but it would
be important perhaps to get some more information about
Carolina having helped the poet financially when he was
young and of her attempt to remain important to him by
trying to continue to deposit money in the bank for him
or things like that.*

6) Now to (III) (Scheduled arrival). Could you cut down
to 1/2 the dialogue between "Lina, when Toni comes" and
"will never stop here" * and would you terribly mind to leave
out the thing of Elizabeth’s reading Hofmannsthal: I feel
that reading an author who is not a friend of ones[sic] favourite
man would not be a disloyalty.[sic] yet.*

7) Something about (V) (Wordly business). The poet’s tirade
against his contemporary colleagues which, as you remember,
I never particularly liked, I find suddenly much too much
under his own niveau. Couldn’t he,please, be a little more
serious and professional about it, and couldn’t he instead
of this cheap sort of sarcasm express what one usually feels
when one talks about colleagues: a bit of hatred which is
mixed with jealousy and fear? I think that would be more
dignified. "Let these birds"....etc. I can simply not compose.*


8) The scene (VI) ("Help") just leave out, as already
mentioned, and make a bridge into (VII), where I wonder
if the Doctor’s lullaby to Carolina could not be left
out too as it only stops the action.*

9) Now to the Second Act. Page 2). Could we please
reduce to its half the dialogue between "Doctor, quickly
come at once" and "you come with me", preferably even
less than half.*

10) The Terzetto on pages 3) and 4) still seems terribly
long to me and I cannot invent so much music and you would
be most helpful if you would reduce this text to its half.*

11) Elizabeth’s last words of (IV) ("The master’s time")
"There must be plenty of nice well-bred girls" and the
next following four lines I would wish they were less straight
forward. I cannot see how Elizabeth suddenly uses
such language.*

12) Same scene (double duet). Carolina should, after
the poet’s question: "Where is our ex-prophetess" g i ve
as an answer some more information about Hulda’s new
situation. If we imagine that since the truth of her
husband has been revealed to her we shall not see her
again until she comes onto the stage tight[sic] , I think
we should at this point hear something more about how
she is behaving now. (For instance, let Carolina tell
that she is happy now and coming back to normality or
something like that)[sic] * But at the same time, the dialogue
between the poet and Carolina should be much shorter,
please, perhaps 1/2. Especially as I have another wish
here: After the poet’s "These muffins are too good to
waste" finish, when Carolina goes out to the terrace, I
think he should have a very short monologue of half fury,
half anxiety to be left alone or to be betrayed. Something
very short (2 lines may do) to make it clear that everything
which follows when he talks to Elizabeth is false.*

13) The big duet "Personal Questions" still looks
dazzlingly long to me and I wished you could shorten it for
me, maybe 35%.


14) Now something very, very grave.
Last week I have been in Glyndebourne where I had some
important entretiens with Rennert. We have discussed
again the matter of how to give three Acts in their
theatre. I saw with my own eyes that there is an
interval of 75 minutes which cuts the whole entertainment
into two parts. It is very important for the success
of the work that before people go out for the long
interval, there should already have been a great deal
of exciting theatre and music given to them. Now, if
we send the audience out after Act I, it is not yet very
much what they have seen[sic]
, and after the interval they
will be confronted by the long (you must help me to not
it too long) 2nd Act, another short interval and
the entire 3rd Act. Rennert had an idea to make a two
minute interval after Act I and treat the first half of
Act II as Act I, part 2, and finish this at page 11)
with Elizabeth’s "My own, my own, the little planet flies"
which would be a very tender and musical end for which
I would ask you to give me four more lines of the same
beauty. Now Act II would begin with "Did you tell me"
(I could quite well imagine some time, for instance, a
dinner, before Toni had time to talk to Elizabeth again.
In other words, the interval seems not illogical here.)
But even more, Mr. Rennert thinks that before Toni and
Elizabeth meet again at this point there would be a very
good occasion to introduce a little divertimento.
He sees something like a silent scene of Hulda lying in
a rocking chair, having a drink and moodily listening
to a gramophone record which might play something from
Tristan, for instance. I love this idea and I would
be very glad if you could agree and would let us have
it here.*

15) The next dialogue (Again (VII)[)] "What must be told"
seems much too long for my poor musical capacities and
I think it would be marvellous if I were allowed to
compo s e only half of it. The same thing goes for ( IIX[sic] )
("The wrong time")
The dialogue from "You may, Toni"
down to Carolina’s "madness" at the end of page 13) could
do with less than half the text, please.

16) I cannot imagine Hulda arriving singing the Lohengrin Wedding March.
I hope you don’t mind if I invent something
of my own.* After that, everything is all right as to
these big ensembles numbers[sic] I will have to write.


My next hesitation takes place on page 19), after the
singing about the poem. As a matter of fact (XI) ("The Flower")
I would love you to shorten for me until Elizabeth’s saying
"Gerold I am shamed".

17) Now something very important occurs to me here. Thinking
about the poet’s personality I think it is wicked and terrible
enough of him if he, in Act III, does not tell Mauer about
the young lovers being on the mountain, but it is sort of
admitably[sic] from the audience’s point of view to think, and from
my own viewpoint, to think that he sort of has this fatal
moment of forgetfulness,[sic]
which could be interpreted as such
or as an intentionel[sic] evilness, while I convince myself more
and more that his sending the young lovers up to the mountain
to pick the magical flower for him would just be one thing
too much: I wonder if you could agree to changing the text
slightly at this point and let Toni and Elizabeth tell him
of their voluntary intention, perhaps out of gratitude, to
go up to the Hammerhorn for him, or something similar – anything
to avoid that the poet himself sends them up there to perish.
I guess this can be easily done just by altering a bit of
the text there. *

18) In the same sense I think we could omit, at the end of
(XII) Mauer’s telling about the bad weather which is to come
and avoid Mauer’s incapacity of bringing more Edelweiss to
him and all that. I hope you can agree.*

19) Some points now on Act III. A Question: Why does
Carolina say to the doctor: "Here are the keys" just in the
beginning of Act III. I don’t quite understand what she
givesthe[sic] doctor the keys for, and also I wonder if it would
be possible to cut from this phrase down to Hulda’s saying:
"Gräfin…." just to not lose too much speed with all these
extended good-bye scenes.*

20) Another cut I would be for, from the warning whisle[sic] noise
and the doctor’s "It’s time" down to the Quartetto "The young
in pairs"
that would make a wonderful bridge.*

21) Another wish. If you could help me by cutting to half
the dialouge[sic] poet–Caroline from "while that leaves 2[sic] tö[sic] go"
until Mauer’s entrance and in any case omit the poet’s "A year?
I don’t imagine so and then where will she go?" *

22) After Mauer has left, the dialogue "Lina, you look dreadful" *
up to Carolina’s "and overnight all will be changed" change
into a short dialogue for the sake of 20) "Ill build a fire
and tend it" which I would leave to have enlarged to one
more 7-liner and put more madness and intensity into it, perhaps
some of the things she is to sing in the long "A day has gone"


As a matter of fact, this last tirade, from "A day has
gone" down to "to change scene" I would like to have
changed into just a mute scene of winding up the clock
with a bit of music and no singing. This change I really
do need because of a determined musical idea I have for
this scene and its form would be unrealisable if we would
stick to the above mentioned "A day has gone" tirade.*

23) Act III, scene 2, section 1 . Toni’s "Come, here is
a little shelf of rock under which to shelter against the
storm" I would beg you to let me leave out and to
just making it look like this:
Elizabeth : "I can’t go on"
Toni : "We’ll stop here"

2 4 ) Act III,section 2. I would wish to be 1/2 as long as
it is now.

25) Now to the Epilogue (Sc. 3)* I do not understand nor
like particularly the poet’s monologue "1 2 3 4
whom do we adore" and I don’t know how to compose that.*
It would be very sweet of you to give me something else

26) The poet’s request for no applause to his speech
to the audience.– For various reasons, which are of which
the most important is my superstition, fed by bad
experiences, one should not ask for trouble so openly at
the end of a play, and I beg you to change the text slightly

My dear boys, this is a long list of requests and
wishes which I put to you with the slight preoccupation
that you m i ght be annoyed with me. I hope you won’t
and I think you are such good friends and librettists
and craftsmen that you will quite understand the reasons
for my requests, which are, with a few exceptions, all
musical reasons. You would make my life much easier
if you would be so kind to send me a quick reply, maybe
by telegram,* letting me know if you generally think you
can help me and provide me with the changes as soon as
possible. This goes especially for Act I which is the
main subject of my present work now. Time goes by very
quickly and I am getting slightly nervous now and would
love to have things got right as quickly as possible.
Please, don’t let me down. At the end of the month
I am going up to Salzburg * – do you think I could come to
see you for a couple of days, about July 30th? Please
reply quickly.*


From now on I have to concentrate 100% on this work
which, as Chester said in his telegram to Hamburg,*
should be a success even bigger than the "Prinz von
. I am not able to extend a musical form
for a very long time, everything is very concentrated
and put into short terms – that is why I need everything
more condensed and concentrated. Please help me.

Love and best wishes.

Translation by



Elena Minetti
Elena Minetti


  • Text Source: Basel (Schweiz), Paul Sacher Stiftung (CH-Bps), Sammlung Hans Werner Henze, Abteilung: Korrespondenz
    Shelf mark: Auden, Wystan Hugh

    Physical Description

    • Document type: Letter
    • Material

    • Durchschlagpapier
    • Extent

    • 7 folios
    • 7 written pages
    • Dimensions: 251x205 [mm] (HxW)
    • Condition

    • Gelocht. Oben links haben alle Blätter Spuren einer Büroklammer, die sie zusammenhält.
    • Layout

    • Rand links: 3cm
    • Zeilenabstand: 1zeilig
    • Absätze nicht eingerückt.
    • Leerzeile nach jedem Absatz.

Writing styles

Text Constitution

  • "y""i" replaced with "y"
  • "r""t" replaced with "r"
  • "a guest of the poet’s"sic
  • "ones"sic
  • "."sic
  • "less"added above, handwritten, ball pen (blue), Henze, Hans Werner
  • "i""o" replaced with "i"
  • "tight"sic
  • "that)"sic
  • "it is not yet very much what they have seen"sic
  • "to not make"sic
  • "s""l" replaced with "s"
  • "ensembles numbers"sic
  • "from my own viewpoint, to think that he sort of has this fatal moment of forgetfulness,"sic
  • "2"sic
  • "tö"sic
  • "4""3" replaced with "4"
  • "which are"crossed out
  • "i""y" replaced with "i"


  • "… success in Spoleto , too,"Henze refers to the first Italian performance of his opera Der Prinz von Homburg with a libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann, based on a play by Heinrich von Kleist, which Henze himself conducted at the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto on 24 June 1960.
  • "… reading the lib r etto"The version of the libretto to which Henze refers in this letter has yet to be located. For this reason, sometimes it is not possible to ascertain whether Henze’s requests were accepted by the librettists or not. However, it cannot be ruled out that this version is also kept among the materials relating to Elegy for Young Lovers at the Paul Sacher Foundation.
  • "… hoping for understanding and grace."As early as a week later, on 14 July 1960, Auden sent Henze a telegram saying that it had been impossible to reach him on the phone. Auden would have liked to discuss the items Henze mentioned in this letter over the phone, however, the two librettists had to send the composer a letter on 15 July 1960.
  • "… a guest of the poet's"Henze meant: the poet’s guest.
  • "… there for her prophetic activity."The librettists did not accept this. See also Kallman’s letter on 15 July 1960.
  • "… replied yet about the names"A letter dated 8 April 1960 from Kallman to Henze suggests that the two would probably have met in Hamburg in April 1960 or that Kallman would have telegraphed Henze the names of the characters of their opera Elegy for Young Lovers. In any case, no document in which Henze proposed names for the characters has been preserved, since this is the first letter Henze wrote to the librettists Auden and Kallman.
  • "… silly folky songs and stories."Here, Henze is thinking of famous German folk songs that mention the alpine flower, such as Das schönste Blümlein auf der Welt or Es war ein Edelweiss.
  • "… and given you some proposals."The librettists did not accept the proposal to replace the Edelweiss. See also Kallman’s response on this topic in his letter dated 10 October 1960.
  • "… poet is a great man,"Here, Henze is referring to some phrases from the Genesis of a Libretto seemingly already drafted by Auden and Kallman in July 1960 and then published in the Libretto of Elegy for Young Lovers in 1961, pp. 61–64. Henze refers, in particular, to this sentence, p. 63: "Our hero, Gregor Mittenhofer, is a great poet. Throughout the opera he has been working on a poem; in order to complete it successfully, he (morally) murders two people and breaks the spirit of a third. Unless, at the end, the audience are convinced that the poem is a very good one, the whole dramatic and moral point of the opera is lost."
  • "… allude to the Nobel Prize"There is no allusion to the Nobel Prize in the final libretto.
  • "… great importance to his time."In subsequent letters preserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation, there are no references or responses to Henze’s reflection.
  • "… coins in the flower pot."This comes in Act I, Scene II (The Order of the Day). Like a child’s game, Carolina lets the Poet find gold coins that she hides here and there. She sings: "At first I always chose / A place that He was bound to find: behind his bedroom clock. / But presently I realized that what / he most enjoys / Is playing hide-and-seek. So now I change it every day. / Great poets are like children ".
  • "… to cut both these scenes,"The librettists only cut the lines Henze quotes here, describing the poet finding the coins.
  • "… him or things like that."The librettists do not comment on Henze’s reflection in subsequent letters preserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation, but – probably in light of this suggestion – the librettists then added the text (at the end of Act I, Scene II) for the duet between Carolina and the Doctor, in which they both praise their work for the Poet, who without the two of them would be lost. Carolina also alludes to the young Poet’s need for financial support: "When young, the Poet cannot earn his bread / And someone has to give it him instead: / Then, when he triumphs, someone in his name / Must bear the burden of his world-wide fame."
  • "… and will never stop here"The verse Henze quotes "will never stop here" is not in the final libretto, perhaps because the librettists actually shortened this part.
  • "… be a disloyalty . yet."As in previous cases, unfortunately, no written reflections of the librettists regarding this observation by Henze have been available, but in an exchange of lines between Carolina and the Doctor (Act I, Scene III), she warns that the Doctor should not trust Elizabeth because she reads Hofmannsthal: "I shouldn’t trust Elizabeth too far if I were you. […] The other day / I caught her reading Hofmannsthal." The three authors of Elegy for Young Lovers dedicated the opera to Hofmannsthal: "To the memory of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Austrian, European and Master Librettist, this work is gratefully dedicated by its three makers."
  • "… I can simply not compose."The quoted verse "Let these birds" is not present in the final libretto. See the queer sensitive perspective about these lines in Federica Marsico, Il poeta e la sua elegia del desiderio inappagato .
  • "… it only stops the action."Act I, Scene VI was not deleted, but is very short. The "Help" in the title of the scene refers to the help the doctor gives Carolina, who has fainted from the flu and from a lack of rest, as well as the poet calling upon Titania to help him find the money Carolina had hidden. He eventually finds it under the flowerpot. The Doctor’s lullaby is effectively deleted and only an opening line remains in Act I, Scene VII, in which Carolina says: "And the grave, lovely ..."
  • "… preferably even less than half."Here, Henze refers to the end of Act II, Scene I in which Carolina sees Elizabeth and Toni embracing. She suddenly calls the Doctor, Toni’s father: "Doctor! Quickly! Come! Look there!". Carolina sings the line "You come with me" to Elizabeth, with whom she will speak in private. This section is very short and it is therefore conceivable that the librettists shortened it, as Henze requested.
  • "… this text to its half."Since the version of the libretto to which Henze refers has yet to be located, at present it is impossible to determine whether or not the two librettists reduced the text by half.
  • "… Elizabeth suddenly uses such language."Henze is referring to the following verses, which the librettists did not change, despite Henze’s request: "Let our Gräfin find / Someone more suitable, / Respectable, dutiful: / There must be plenty / Of nice wellbred girls under twenty / Who would jump at her offer / Of board and bed with Herr Mittenhofer."
  • "… normality or something like that)"This does not appear to be included in the final version of the libretto.
  • "… talks to Elizabeth is false."After the quoted verse he continues to eat, picks up the crumbs and throws them in his mouth and just says: "She will ... she won’t ... she will ... she...won’t...". This verse probably constitutes the monologue required here.
  • "… let us have it here."The two librettists expressed their opposition to the idea of including a "divertimento", as an interlude in the middle of the opera, in their letter of 15 July 1960. The divertimento Rennert proposed was not included in the opera. As Henze reports in his Autobiography, p. 171, during the Glyndbourne premiere there was only one interval, after the Act II. The audience thus sat through a full 120 minutes before they were able to take the seventy-minute break.
  • "IIX"recte "VIII".
  • "… invent something of my own."In the opera there is no musical quotation from the "Wedding March" from Wagner’s Lohengrin, Act II, Scene 4.
  • "admitably"recte "admittedly".
  • "intentionel"recte "intentional".
  • "… bit of the text there."As terrible as it was, the librettists maintained their crude version in which precisely the poet requests the two lovers to go up the mountain to pick him the edelweiss flower.
  • "… I hope you can agree."Mauer’s brief communication to the poet at the end of Scene XII (The vision of to-morrow) remains as follows: "Herr Mittenhofer, I’ve had no time this month / To find you some Hammerhorn Edelweiss, but I forecast To-morrow’s weather as warm enough ... / To-morrow’s weather as warm enough..."
  • "givesthe"recte "gives the".
  • "… all these extended good-bye scenes."The keys are those of an apartment in the city. The section was probably not shortened, since it contains the farewell verses quoted by Henze.
  • "whisle"recte "whistle".
  • "… would make a wonderful bridge."The quoted lines remain in the final libretto.
  • "dialouge"recte "dialogue".
  • "… then where will she go?"The quoted line remains in the final libretto.
  • "… Lina , you look dreadful"At the beginning of Act III, Scene V (Mad happenings).
  • "… A day has gone tirade."Henze composed Carolina’s aria not as a "mute scene", but with an alternation of declamato and coloratura and a very delicate instrumental accompaniment, and followed by an instrumental-only section leading to the scene change.
  • "… to the Epilogue (Sc. 3)"In the final libretto this scene is number IX entitled Elegy for Young Lovers.
  • "… know how to compose that."The text quoted by Henze remained in the final libretto (these are the verses by Mittenhofer "(looking at himself in the mirror)" from the final libretto: "One. Two. Three. Four. / Whom do we adore? / Gregor! Gregor! Gregor! / Five. Six. Seven. Eight. / Whom do we appreciate? / Gregor! Gregor! Gregor! / Happy Birthday, dear Gregor!"), so it seems the two librettists did not heed Henze’s request.
  • "… change the text slightly there."The two librettists accepted this request.
  • "… quick reply, maybe by telegram,"As early as a week later, on 14 July, Auden sent Henze a telegram saying that it had been impossible to telephone him. The two librettists wrote in response to this a letter on 15 July 1960.
  • "… am going up to Salzburg"When Henze went to Salzburg is currently unknown.
  • "… 30th ? Please reply quickly."Henze actually visited Auden and Kallman in Kirchstetten from 4 to 6 August 1960, as traceable from Auden and Kallman’s guest book in which Henze wrote "with love and gratitude and pride to have such a beautiful libretto!", see "W. H. Auden (Biography)" in: Auden Musulin Papers , entry to 4-6 August 1960.
  • "… his telegram to Hamburg ,"This telegram has not been located to date.



        Mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Hans Werner Henze-Stiftung (Dr. Michael Kerstan).

        If you've spotted some error or inaccurateness please do not hesitate to inform us via henze-digital [@] zenmem.de.