Hans Werner Henze was born in Gütersloh on August 1, 1926 and died on October 27, 2012 in Dresden. Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer was written in 1970 and 1971, written to a text by Gastón Salvatore. The first performance was at the Teatro Olimpico in Rome, May 17, 1971. The instrumentation is Pierrot ensemble with various doublings, Hammond Organ, Jazz band, a variety of percussion and tape. Duration: About an hour
The defining moment in Hans Werner Henze’s life, much like many other Germans of the generation born between the world wars, was growing up under the fascism of the Nazis. This experience, especially the prodding of his fascist father into playing the part of a Hitler Youth, forever instilled a leftist, individualist attitude within the composer as a boy, ultimately leading to his breaking away from the Darmstadt school over what he saw as fascist tendencies in the direction of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the pursuance of his own musical voice.
However, Henze did not overtly place any significant leftist message in his works until he began espousing his communist ideals in a selection of vocal works that include Das Floss der Medusa (1968), El Cimarrón (1969-70), Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer (1971) and Voices (1973). For this short span of about six to seven years, Henze was entirely dedicated to the mission of communism in his choice of topics and writers, always espousing the struggle of the lower class underneath the boots of the rich.
The writer of the text for Natascha Ungeheuer was Gastón Salvatore, a Chilean writer who was a student in Berlin during the 1968 student rebellion. Henze considered him an outstanding example of the fervor of the student left and chose to work with him
In his essay, “Art and the Revolution” (1971), Henze writes, “I am no longer personally ambitious, I no longer write music to please myself and a few friends but to help socialism… I have taken the decision that in my work I will embody all the difficulties and all the problems of contemporary bourgeois music, and that I will, however, try to transform these into something usable, into something the masses understand.”
For Henze, this means transforming the highly avant-garde musical language of the mid 20th century into something digestible by the masses. Whether he succeeded is up to the interpretation of the listener.
Agitprop in Action
Natascha Ungeheuer was written as a direct attack against what Gastón Salvatore saw as the biggest threat to the revolution. He believed that he had to show them their own hypocritical stances in a light that would disorient and shame them.
The work’s title translates to “The Tedious Way to Natascha Ungeheuer’s Flat;” however whenever the title is translated, no one ever translates “ungeheuer,” which is an important aspect of the message of the text. “Ungeheuer” as a noun translates to “monster” or “ogre” and is an important descriptor for Natascha, who is a false prophet. She is a traitor to the cause and is responsible for the downfall of young leftists.
Salvatore describes her as “the siren of a false utopia. She promises the bourgeois leftist a new kind of security which is meant to enable him to retain his ‘good’ revolutionary conscience without taking active part in the class struggle… a kind of cowardice that enables one to fancy one is identified with the ‘revolution’ and to think that the mere identification can be equated with the realization of the ‘revolution.’”
In a contemporary context, one may equate this to the trend of “slacktivism,” where a post on social media is enough to justify one’s own stance without actually taking to the streets and doing any work; it “puts the bourgeois leftist in the position of merely using the proletarian struggle as a king of moralizing balm.” Salvatore treats this as a critical weakness that Natascha Ungeheuer exploits, inviting the bourgeois leftist to her flat where he can find this peace without being confronted with betraying socialism.
Ultimately the leftist realizes this and does not walk the rest of the path to her flat. “He has not found his way to the revolution. He knows that he has to retrace his steps and start again from the beginning.”
Natascha Ungeheuer, like Hans Werner Henze’s other Communist works, follows a stylistically wide corpus of compositions such as the lush, romantic König Hirsch (1956) and Ondine (1956-7), the polystylistic Boulevard Solitude (1952), and the avant-garde symphonies. Henze’s most powerful trait that benefited his staged works was his ability to write the music according to the emotion of the text. The entirety of Natascha Ungeheuer is written to reflect the agitated tone of Salvatore’s text.
Henze himself describes it as “cold as a November day in Berlin. It has a Berlin dryness and the harshness of the Berlin slang. It tries to express itself with the lapidary precision of a Berlin taxi-driver or building worker.”
Like earlier works such as The Bassarids, Henze makes frequent use of musical quotations to build bridges with the musical past as well as a form of satire. Of the instrumentation, he separates them into groups that symbolize various aspects of German life. He uses the Jazz band as a representation of the music of the street, the modern Berlin of the early 70s, while the tape provides street noises. In contrast the Pierrot ensemble is a parody of the post-Webern musical establishment that has become a sickly shadow of the Viennese masters. Somewhere in-between floats the Hammond, which punctuates the score with musical quotations such as the triumphal march from Verdi’s Aida in the first section.
The ultimate goal of the music and the staging is the breakdown of the meaning and role of musical theatre as to point the mirror in the direction of the bourgeois German public. Here Henze sees this as the next logical step from Weill and Eisler, both musically and theatrically. As he writes, “Here too the frontiers of music have fallen, and this results in points of contact with new forms of the visual arts and theatre.”
The recording used for this entry was performed by William Pearson, Dieter Schider, Gastón Salvatore, Hans Werner Henze, Elfriede Irral, Fires Of London, Philip Jones Brass Quintet, Gunter Hampel Free Jazz Ensemble, Giuseppe Agostini, Stomu Yamash’ta on Deutsche Grammophon. Catalogue number: DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0289 479 1522 5
Henze, Hans Werner. “Art and the Revolution.” Music and Politics. Trans. Peter Labanyi. New York: Cornell University Press, 1982. 178-183.
Henze, Hans Werner. “Natascha Ungeheuer.” Music and Politics. Trans. Peter Labanyi. New York: Cornell University Press, 1982. 184-193.
Virginia Palmer-Füchsel. “Henze, Hans Werner.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/12820>.