One of my first printed compositions was "Apollo et Hyacintus" (1948/49), improvisations for harpsichord and eight solo instruments based on the early poem "Im Park" by Georg Trakl, the great Expressionist. At the end of the piece, an alto recites this (short) poem, which I had wanted to connect with the legendary myth of life and death of the boy Hyacinth, whose pictures were transformed through me into musical signs. Since then, I have regarded the final lines
O, Dann neige auch Du die Stirne
Vor der Ahnen verfallenem Marmor
as a motto for my creative doings in general, without referring once again directly and word-for-word to Trakl. Only now, half a century after this early work, have I returned to the art of the great Salzburger, and with a late work, busied myself with the poem "Sebastian im Traum". It deals with nocturnal images of the countryside around Salzburg, of the visions of childhood, and of the morgue, with decay, autumnal reveries, angels and shadows.
The music tried to follow the traces of the poet's words (as someone with a movie camera tries to capture the course of events or as another perhaps takes down the communication of subject matter in shorthand) and it has a deep relationship to Salzburg - predominantly referring to my protracted stay there in the summer of 2003, to the (Catholic) melancholy there, to the Salzburg temperatures and perfumes, to the rustic Baroque, to the biblical, to the wooden crucifix, to the nearness of death, to the moonlight, to Traklish evening sonatas.
In the poetry there is a slighty discernible form of reprise, which also echoes back out of the music, but apart from that, we continually hear different characters, new ones always come and go, appear, shine, and disappear. Occasionally there are touches, overlappings that have something painful about them, which go along with the general tenor of the piece, where light and dark polyphonies collide with one another in a manner that characterizes the style of the entire composition.
Hans Werner Henze
Dream of Sebastian, Salzburg Night Music on a Poem by Georg Trakl (...) is a 15-minute dama in sound and one of the most impressive Henze pieces I have ever heard. ...
In the "Dream of Sebastian" every corner of traditional symphonic sound is rediscovered and made use of, and yet the voice is distinctive, not borrowed. The language is neither tonal nor atonal but occupies its own world between the two. Like Pierre Boulez in his later years, Mr Henze's stony combativeness seems to have disolved into something close to hedonism. The orchestration glows and resonates. The unwinding musical plot holds its equilibrum. The expressive impulse reminds one of Schoenberg, but without Schoenberg's suffocating density.
Bernard Holland, New York Times, 16/09/2006
Henze's new piece definitely sounded good. It sounded so good it was a pity it was over in just over quarter of an hour. This time Henze's sensual sound world had found inspiration in the poem Sebastian im Traum by Georg Trakl, a poet with whom the composer feels a great affinity. It starts with thickly-spread bass chords, from which a contrabassoon and tuba rise up quite deliciously. But soon there was that characteristic Henze-mix of lyricism, tension and colour. Henze is able to translate flawlessly into music the many colours delineated by Trakl in his poem. He knows by now how to make an orchestra sound ... Janson's affinity with the new music was abundantly clear.
Peter van der Lint, Trouw, 27/12/2005
The post-war avant garde was suspicious of Henze's sensually stimulating aesthetic, but in the current musical climate his work flourishes. [...] Henze's sensual music appears to be a kind of materialised transience. His work is compelling as a result of the seductive skill that he practises with exceptionally-well orchestrated sounds. The first performance of Sebastian im Traum revealed itself as a sequence of brilliant gusts of wind, chameleonic in colour, fading impressions, equally fleeting and imposing. The work stops abruptly, like a life that has suddenly stopped short.
The Concertgebouw Orchestra added a great deal of perspective to the sound with rich contrabasses, lyrical flutes and piccolo and a sinister march. Muffled thuds on the bass drum seemed to come from outside the hall. Jansons managed to keep away from the kitsch that was lurking within the church bells.
Poetry by the expressionist poet Georg Trakl has already played a part in Henze's earliest work. During the evening of his life Henze seems to be tying a ribbon around his composing existence. An air of sentimentality hangs around these virtuous eruptions of sound.
Huib Ramaer, Volkskrant, 24/12/2005
Sebastian im Traum, a composition for orchestra alone, animates through instrumental writing the death-soaked atmosphere of the eponymous poem by the poet Trakl. Starting from a fateful pulse in the lowest regions the piece passes through a multitude of atmospheres and associations. This pulse, a reminder of time's remorseless passing, resurfaces continuously in new shapes; from low pumping brass to threatening strings.
Henze also gives the traditionally-minded listener enough to hold onto with tonal twists and an occasional sudden Mahleresque melody. The short oboe-burst seemed to echo the sounds of the Double Concerto for Oboe and Harp which Henze himself once conducted at the Concertgebouw.
Jochem Valkenburg, NRC Handelsblad , 23/12/2005