Letter from H. W. Henze to W. H. Auden/C. Kallman, August 6, 1964


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Hans Werner Henze

Castel Gandolfo (Rom)
Via dei Laghi 18

August 6, 1964 Divinities Wystan and Chester,

After having almost finished the buffa on the
Bachmann libretto which will be premiered in Berlin
next April, and I hope you will be there,* my thoughts
are already pretty much involved with "Becky."
have been reading it again and again* and more and more
I see this will be a great opera provided that I will
have the force, vigor, and virtue necessary to reply
to the challenge you have no doubt bestowed upon me.
Like in the case of "Elegy," but with more understanding
and I hope more maturity, this libretto is a love letter
and I tremble before the amount of love you are giving
me in this text. While in "Elegy" you wanted just
sweetness, fun, and some more tragical moments, here
you really want my intestine, coglioni, il cazzo, il
culo,* e tutta l’anima intera più un senso di
I honestly do not know whether I have it in me or not
to live up to the immensity of this Menschendämmerung *.
But even if I’m dead, dumb, crazy, harlot or a monk
after having written this work, I will not care. I
shall start to write it in the beginning of September
and I’ve already made plans how to, and have collected
almost entirely the musical modi d’espressione for it.

You remember perhaps that I wrote you two years ago
when I had my first musical visions of the work and you
had not yet started to write the libretto. I said
in that letter * I wanted a text in which more
often than usual and more than in any opera written
before, the music would be allowed to carry along
the text. In other words, that a phrase of the text
would inspire the music to fly up like an eagle: what
I really meant was in practical terms, that the music
would continue to say things the text had started to
say. This sounds perhaps a bit odd now, but you will
understand what I mean when I go on now. There is an
example for what I mean: Alban Berg’s most beautiful
"Altenberg Songs." The text is nothing to write home
about, but the music makes it okay by giving all
possible profundity and background and inkling to what
the composer must have sensed when he decided to make
music out of those words.

Last summer when I received your manuscript. I
was shaken with emotion and you know the rest. Now
that I’m starting to compose the work I have to utter
some requests I beg of you humbly and with all my

adoration to understand and to consent to.

You are craftsmen enough to understand that an
opera in one act cannot be longer than ninety minutes.
Not only that people might have the wish to go out and
pee or to have an ice cream soda after a while, but
also because the attack of fury, hatred, desperation,
and scorn I want to deliver on this occasion would not
be tolerable for a longer time. Not even by the most
patient friends of my music. It also would make it
impossible to sustain the kind of tension for more than
one and a half hours and were it to last longer, I would
have to become either repetitious or less concentrated.
I would have to change the whole plan and I would have
to compose a kind of perpetual Judenquintett from Salome *
sort of thing to bring home the whole lot of text, and
the music would never have time to have her say without
the singers because I want the singers to keep quiet
here and there.

The manuscript has fifty-five typewritten pages
of which fifteen are stage directions. The remaining
forty pages include 1,620 verses. If you speak this
text, one spoken line would take three seconds. The
whole work, if spoken, would last 4,860 seconds, that
is to say eighty-one minutes. If you consider the
whole work written allegro vivace, a nd consider the
sung line one and a half times longer than it was when
spoken, the whole thing would last 120 minutes. In
the latter calculation no time for preludes, transform-
ation music, entrate and exits, and no change of speed
whatsoever is taken into consideration.

You understand that you have to cut enormously.*
I take the liberty to ask you for these cuts remembering
that you announced last year in your telegram * that the
first version of 'Rebecca *' had just been finished and
that must have implied somehow that you considered it
not an unchangeable, definite version yet. Please help
me and do cut even more than I allowed myself to sug-
gest in the text I’m sending you by the same mail.* I
indicated moments in the text where I felt that this
could have been omitted because it made things more
direct or concentrated or was not absolutely necessary
for the understanding of the happenings. Please don’t
be cross with me, but after all we are friends and it’s
much too hard to compose music for to see it cut down
later and also it would hurt the planned, symphonic
forms of the piece more than can ever happen in a
Nummernoper if you have to take things out.* Your love
for music and opera, I discover has in this case some-
times made you compose it already with the text, you
occasionally seem to have forgotten to leave space for
the music. If i[sic] would compose "Becky" as it is now and

follow exactly the images I have, the work would pro-
bably last four hours, the opera house would be floating
on pee, singers would faint, piles would grow, trombone
players die of burst blood vessels, and last but not
least, we would have a failure which would be too sad.*

Pleeeeeeeeze be good to me and return the libretto
to me with either accepting the cuts I propose and magari
adding some more, or give me another reduced version.
Please do it quickly because I want to start soon. And
Wystan, please pray for me when you go to the messa in
the morning.

Although the Salzburg bunch of lia r s and hypocrites
have told the press they accepted Becky for ’66, I
have not yet heard from them directly, and a rumor came
to my ear that they will not do it there. Also, the
grosses Festspielhaus will be occupied entirely in ‘66
because Mr. von Karajan will then evoke the spiritus
of Salzburg
by presenting "Carmen." It is all
very difficult, but I do not want to be bothered
with those impossible creatures. There are more opera
houses to perform this work in, e.c. il Salisburghesi[sic] ,
certamente dispirati[sic] dal egregio[sic] Maestro von Einem mi
vogliono rompere i coglioni. Non troveranno modo
perchè[sic] mi frego di loro.

"Elegy" in its third year now is going to reach a
number of performances almost equal to "The Rake’s
." Even in the U.S. they’re going to have it
now since Mr. Bing has not dropped dead yet and since
everybody warns me to try the City Center Opera where
it would be performed unrehearsed, I allowed the
Juilliard School of Music to do it in April 1965, telling
them to contact you both this coming winter for instructions.*
And they will also present it in Washington. Lauren
told me they were the best thing one could
get nowadays in America. There will also be a production
of it in Santa Fe, but who wants to go there. I conducted
"Energy" various times in Berlin last winter, two perform-
ances in Brussels,* and one in a place as remote as
Helsinki,* the only place I went during the last season
in which I really did not find anything to fuck. Here
we were, an almost entirely gay opera ensemble and
nothing to fuck! Mr. Dooley almost died of frustration
and so did Mrs. Driscoll,* although she pretended that
nothing was further from her ambitions than being co-
involved with "them Finns". The production assistan t ,
darling Winnie Bauenfeind, whom you must have met, told
everybody that life in Helsinki was hell and that he
longed for Berlin, but was then found out to have it
night after night with the little squealing barman
form[sic] downstairs, full of pimples. "Elegy" was a success
all the same. Entire pages in the papers were filled


with raves, but we all were, although we didn’t admit it,
of the same opinion. Evelyn Lear uttered at the morning
of our departure (she was the only lady in "Nozze di
" * who had not received applausi a scena aperta ):
"You can have those Finns. I’ll wrap them in paper and
give them all to you. You can have them."

With this highly interesting narration I say good-
bye to you for today. Please write to me quickly and
help me to make 'Becky' . . .
Abracci[sic] affetuosi[sic] ,

Translation by



Elena Minetti
Elena Minetti; Joachim Veit; Irmlind Capelle


  • 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

    • 4 folios
    • 4 written pages
    • Dimensions: 281x219 [mm] (HxW)
    • Condition

    • Gelocht. Auf der zweiten und dritten Seite befinden sich Flecken, die auf das Kohlepapier zurückzuführen sind.
    • Layout

    • Rand: 4cm
    • 1zeilig
    • Eingerückte Absätze

Writing styles

Text Constitution

  • "a""o" replaced with "a"
  • "i"sic
  • "r""a" replaced with "r"
  • "il Salisburghesi"sic
  • "dal egregio"sic
  • "perchè"sic
  • "t""d" replaced with "t"
  • "f"added above, handwritten, pencil, Henze, Hans Werner


  • "… hope you will be there,"The first performance of The Young Lord took place on 7 April 1965 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which had also commissioned the work.
  • "… pretty much involved with Becky."The three authors often abbreviate the title of the work The Bassarids as "Becky" in their correspondence.
  • "… reading it again and again"Henze had already received the libretto of The Bassarids last summer, see below.
  • coglioni, il cazzo, il culo,These last three words are swear words. e tutta l’anima intera più un senso di
    • assholes, cock, ass and the whole soul plus a sense of
  • "… coglioni, il cazzo, il culo,"These last three words are swear words.
  • "… the immensity of this Menschendämmerung"This is a neologism Henze coined using the title of Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods) and changing it to "Menschendämmerung" (The Twilight of Men). In his Autobiography, p. 206, Henze writes that Auden and Kallman posed a conditio sine qua non for Henze to begin composing The Bassarids: that is, the librettists wanted Henze to listen to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung for the first time before writing their opera.
  • modi d’espressione
    • modes of expression
  • "… I said in that letter"A letter dated 1962 in which Henze recounts his first ideas about the opera The Bassarids has yet to be located.
  • "HWH"abbreviation of "Hans Werner Henze".
  • "… of perpetual Judenquintett from Salome"The so-called Judenquintett in Richard Strauss’ opera Salome takes place in Scene IV: the religious quarrel between the five Jews, whose voices overlap in this scene of ensemble, leads to fortissimo passages, culminating before Salome’s dance.
  • entrate
    • [stage] entrances
  • "… you have to cut enormously."Concerning the cuts in the original libretto, see the chapter "Kürzungen am Originalentwurf" in: Wolfram Schottler, "Die Bassariden" von Hans Werner Henze , pp. 133-169. According to Schottler, the original 55-page libretto mentioned by Henze in this letter is lost, but a 44-page libretto and also a typewritten document entitled Anmerkungen zur Kürzung der "Bassariden", which was probably written by Henze at the same time as his letter of 6 August 1964, are kept at the Paul Sacher Foundation.
  • "… last year in your telegram"The telegram Henze is referring to has not been located.
  • "… Rebecca"On the use of 'Rebecca' as a pseudonym for The Bassarids there is an interesting anecdote in Wystan and Chester. A Personal Memoir of W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman by Thekla Clark, p. 91: "We were all slightly puzzled when Wystan received a letter from a friend in New York who was surprised to learn that they were working on a libretto based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca . Chester solved the puzzle. They were working on a libretto based on Euripides’ play The Bacchae, which Chester called Becky. By the time the phrase got to New York it had evolved into Rebecca."
  • "… by the same mail ."It is likely that Henze attached the previously mentioned 55-page manuscript of the libretto, which is lost according to Schottler, to this letter.
  • "… have to take things out." The Bassarids is indeed constructed like a classical symphony in four movements and not in operatic numbers.
  • "HWH"abbreviation of "Hans Werner Henze".
  • "… which would be too sad."The opera in its final version (without the central Intermezzo) lasts a full 2 hours and 20 minutes.
  • magari
    • maybe
  • messa
    • mass
  • [Latin] spiritus loci
    • spirit of the place
  • "e.c."abbreviation of "ex conclusio".
  • il Salisburghesi, certamente dispiratidisperatidal egregio Maestro von Einem mi vogliono rompere i coglioni. Non troveranno modo perchè mi frego di loro.
    • the Salzburgers, certainly desperate because of the egregious Master von Einem, want to break my balls. They won't find a way, because I don't care about them.
  • "dispirati"recte "disperati".
  • "… this coming winter for instructions."The US premiere of Elegy for Young Lovers took place on 29 April 1965, conducted by Henze himself at The Juilliard Opera Theatre in New York.
  • "… perform ances in Brussels ,"The dates of Henze’s performances in Berlin of Elegy for Young Lovers could not be found, however, in 1964 the Radio-Symphony-Orchestra Berlin and the Deutsche Oper Orchestra Berlin released a recording of the opera conducted by Henze. The opera was performed on 24 February 1964 at the Opéra National in Brussels. The date of the second performance has yet to be determined.
  • "… as remote as Helsinki ,"The performance in Helsinki took place on 30 April 1964.
  • "… so did Mrs. Driscoll ,"Here, Henze is referring to the tenor Driscoll as "Mrs.", in the feminine. This is often the case in Henze’s network of homosexual artists.
  • "form"recte "from".
  • "HWH"abbreviation of "Hans Werner Henze".
  • "… lady in Nozze di Figaro"The soprano Evelyn Lear had played the role of Cherubino during performances of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Salzburger Festspiele in 1963 and 1964. Information about the Helsinki performance could not be traced.
  • applausi a scena aperta
    • open scene applause
  • AbracciAbbracciaffetuosiaffettuosi,
    • affectionate hugs
  • "Abracci"recte "Abbracci".
  • "affetuosi"recte "affettuosi".



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

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