Hans Werner Henze - El Cimarrón 
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Hans Werner Henze: "El Cimarrón" PDF Print E-mail

Soprano, Guitar, Flute, Percussion and Direction.

Hans Werner HenzeIn the nineteenth century on Cuba, “cimarrón” was a word used for an escaped slave. The “cimarrón” in Hans Werner Henze’s “Recital for four musicians,” Esteban Montejo, was born in 1860 and at the age of 104 was interviewed extensively about his life by the Cuban ethnologist and writer Miguel Barnet. In the process Barnet founded the Latin American ethnobiographical school, which evaluates reports by individuals who do not belong to the milieu of the dominant historiography in order to describe a country’s social and psychological makeup. This approach to biographical research has since become the basis of qualitative, empirical research in the modern social sciences. Barnet’s book also
provided the model for a libretto by the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Hans Werner Henze met Esteban Montejo personally in 1969, when Montejo was 108. Henze described the meeting as follows: “I had never seen a man that old. He was as tall as a tree, walked slowly and very erect; his eyes were alive; he radiated dignity; he seemed to be sure he was a historical personality” (Henze 1984, 133).

Enzensberger had arranged for the composer to be invited to Cuba, and he arrived on March 21, 1969, for a first visit, which lasted until April
16. He met Miguel Barnet, who introduced him to various Cuban artists and to the Yoruba religion. During these four weeks Henze decided to have the world premiere of his Sixth Symphony in Havana. In this piece he attempted for the first time to “incorporate both contemporary and timeless folk music into [the] structure” and to make “the step from quotation to integration” (Henze 1999, 260).

The basic rhythm of the Sixth Symphony derives from Yoruba music.
Henze’s second visit to Cuba was from November 8, 1969, to January 27,
1970. First he rehearsed the Sixth Symphony and met his Cuban colleagues Jorge Berroa, Carlos Fariñas, Leo Brouwer, and Juan Blanco; he saw Miguel Barnet frequently, who showed him the recently published German edition of his documentary novel El Cimarrón and the Spanish publication of Canción de Rachel (Rachel’s song), which would later provide the basis for the television opera La Cubana. He also taught at the conservatory in the capital and helped bring in the harvest and worked in a factory. On November 24 the new symphony was premiered, and several days later the composer attended a Yoruba initiation rite. While working on El Cimarrón he wrote his viola concerto Compases para preguntas ensimismadas (“Tempi for questions directed inward,” since renamed Music for Viola and 22 Players), and on December 10, 1969, he put sketches for the first piece of El Cimarrón to paper. In February 1970 he completed the score at his home in Marino, near Rome, and began rehearsing with the Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer, the flutist Karlheinz Zöller, the Japanese percussionist Tsutomu Yamash’ta, and the American singer William Pearson for the premiere on June 22, 1970, as part of
Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival. That was followed by a celebrated tour to festivals in Spoleto, Munich, Edinburgh, Berlin and Avignon. Enzensberger had arranged the libretto into fifteen scenes, some of which reflect subjectively on historical events, other on the personal views of the Cimarrón. Henze had produced a score that included aleatoric components as well as composed “fields” in which pitches and sounds are specified but the tempi and dynamics are determined by the musicians, as well as passages for free improvisation.
There are, however, also sections composed in the classic manner, such as the rather quiet, filigreed, and often enchantingly beautiful duets and solos, such as the guitar solo in the postlude to no. I, “The World,” or the flute solo in no. VIII, “Women”. The latter reflects on how the Cimarrón became anxious and afraid when meeting his lover, Ana, who he thought was a witch. At the beginning of no. VII, “The False Freedom,” the piccolo plays together with the vibraphone, supported by the tom-toms. The duet between the singer and guitar in no. XI, “The Rebellion,” includes one of the most beautiful unison passages in contemporary music. Among the delicately fully written out ensembles that depending on the chamber music qualities of the musicians’ performances include the toque a Babalu Ayé in no. V, “The Forest,” a reference to the Lukumi religion on Cuba, or no. VIII, “Women,” in the rhythm of a Cuban son. In no. XIII, “The Bad Victory,” another Cuban folk rhythm, a rumba, introduces the victorious frenzy that followed Cuban independence. The composer also used popular music in a parodistic manner: an habanera in no. II, “The Cimarrón,” alludes to the decadence of the colonial masters; in no. X, “The Priests,” the slightly out-of-tune chorales allude to the falseness of the clergy on Cuba, and in no. XIII, “The Bad Victory,” the harmonica tells the story of how the new members of the “master race” naively and matter-of-factly make themselves at home on the island. A variety of Caribbean and African instruments supplement the folkloristic aspects of the score, such as a Trinidad steel drum, which has its big entry in no. VII, “The False Freedom,” as well as marimbula, log drums, octobans, temple bells, congas, bongos, and other better-known instruments. Several instruments are reserved for specific dramatic effects, such as an iron chain that drops onto wood at one point (no. III, “Slavery”) and onto steel at another (no. IV, “Escape”), or the guiro that the singer in no. IX, “The Machines,” plays and thus becomes even more united with the relenting running of the modern machines in the factories. In no. IV, “Escape,” the flutist plays a Jew’s harp, enables
us to hear the stars the overseer sees when the Cimarrón hurls a rock in his face.

El Cimarrón represents a milestone in the history of Hans Werner Henze’s oeuvre. It would seem that the composer sought to break with certain essential features of his work up until that point. And that appearance is not deceiving: Henze took up certain models and signs from the vocabulary of modernism (e.g., the use of aleatoric procedures, the integration of improvised sections, free, no longer serial tonality, and the predominance of elements of Cuban folklore in the rhythm and shaping of the melodies) and transformed them into concrete, real forms. The result was a work of musical theater that had not been known or mastered previously. There is a narrative gesture that derives from Esteban Montejo’s speaking style, which was captured on tape. And there is the basso continuo, the musical foundation from which the whole thing grows and produces its new blossoms. It was derived from and developed on ancient African (Congolese-Cuban) percussion music. That is the often quite but often loud pulse of our Cimarrón. Michael Kerstan
English translation by Steven Lindberg

El Cimarrón (Sassari) - Habanera

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El Cimarrón (Sassari) - Die Sklaverei

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El Cimarrón (Sassari) - DieFrauen

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El Cimarrón (Konstanz) - Clip

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El Cimarrón (Konstanz) - Der Schlechte Sieg

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El Cimarrón (Konstanz) - Die Flucht

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...Virtuos das Zusammenspiel der Musiker, die ihre ‚Rollen’ blind verstehen und verfolgen, die den Wechsel zwischen durchkomponierten Partien und improvisatorischen Einlagen routiniert bewältigen...Hervorragende Musiker und ein Kunstwerk, das am beschaulichen Bodensee durchaus Wellen schlagen darf.

Thurgauer Zeitung