Das Floß der Medusa

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This article is about the oratorio. For the painting, see The Raft of the Medusa.

Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) is an oratorio by the German composer Hans Werner Henze. It is regarded as a seminal work in the composer's political alignment with left-wing politics.

Henze wrote it as a requiem for Che Guevara, and set it to a text by Ernst Schnabel. It tells the story of the French frigate Meduse, which ran aground off the west coast of Africa in 1816. It marks an ignominious episode in French political and maritime history, and was later immortalised in the painting of the same name by Théodore Géricault. As Henze's oratorio builds to its climax, the "dead" move from the choir of the living to that of the dead, which is full of both adults and children, creating an imbalance on the stage.[1]

Performance history[edit]

The first performance was scheduled for 9 December 1968 at the Planten un Blomen Hall in Hamburg. Just before it was due to begin, a student hung a large poster of Che Guevara on the rostrum rail, which was torn down by an official from NDR radio. Some students then hoisted the Red Flag and another Che portrait; some anarchists raised the Black Flag. At this point, although Henze and soloists had arrived onstage, the RIAS choir started chanting "Under the Red Flag we sing not" and left the stage. After some scuffles, the police arrived and began removing the students, taking Schnabel with them. Henze reappeared, stating that the police intervention had made a performance impossible, and led part of the audience in a chant of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!" before they dispersed, the premiere cancelled.[2]

However, prior to the aborted performance a recording was made, with soloists Edda Moser, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Charles Régnier, several choirs and the Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, conducted by the composer.

It was finally premiered at a concert performance in Vienna on 29 January 1971, and its first stage production was given in Nuremberg on 15 April 1972. Henze revised the work in 1990, and it has been performed on several occasions since, notably by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle in 2006.


  1. ^ CD liner notes, Das Floß der Medusa, DG CD 449871 (1996 reissue of DGG LP 139428-9).
  2. ^ Ernst Schnabel, "Zum Untergang einer Uraufführung" and "Postscriptum nach dreiunddreissig Tagen", in Hans Werner Henze and Ernst Schnabel, Das Floss der Medusa: Text zum Oratorium, 47–61 & 65–79 (Munich: Piper-Verlag, 1969);
    Andrew Porter, "Henze: The Raft of the Frigate 'Medusa' – Oratorio" [record review of DGG 139428-9], Gramophone 47, no. 563 (April 1970): 1625;
    Anon. "Affären/Henze: Sie bleibt", Der Spiegel 22, no. 51 (16 December 1968): 152. (German)

Further reading[edit]

  • Hamel, Peter Michael. 2000. "Politisches Komponieren damals und heute: Persönliche Rückblicke und Einsichten". In Kultur, Bildung, Politik: Festschrift für Hermann Rauhe zum 70. Geburtstag, edited by Wolfgang Hochstein and Hanns-Werner Heiser, 735–51. Hamburg: Bockel. ISBN 3-932696-34-4
  • Traber, Habakuk. 2000. "Musik ergreift die Fahnen: Die Skandale um Henzes Floß der Medusa und Nonos Intolleranza 1960". Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 161, no. 3 (May–June): 34–41.