The Raft of the “Medusa” (Das Floß der Medusa)

Raft of the “Medusa”, The

for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus (and nine boy’s voices, soprano/alto) and orchestra (G)
(ger.) Text by Ernst Schnabel

Commissioned by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk

Year of composition 1968
Revised end
70 minutes

In memoriam Ernesto Guevara

Part I: Embarkation for disaster

Charon’s prologue
Order of the day and roll-call
Journal of the passage
An answer
Attempts to save ship and men
Ballad of betrayal
Song for new voices
Instructions for the second day

Part II: The ninth night and the morning

Report on the situation
Roll-call under the moon
The fatal reckoning
The ballad of the man on the raft
The fugue of the survivors and the prospect of rescue

World premieres

First transmission 9. december 1968

NDR Hamburg

Choir and Sinfonieorchester des NDR
Soprano Edda Moser
Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Narrator Charles Regnier

Conductor Hans Werner Henze


World premiere 29. january 1971


Choir and Sinfonieorchester des ORF
Soprano Edda Moser
Baritone William Pearson
Narrator Helmut Janatsch

Conductor Miltiades Caridis


Scenic world premiere: 15. april 1972


Städtische Bühnen

Production Wolfgang Weber
Stage design Peter Heyduck
Costume design Margret Kaulbach
Choir master Adam Rauh
Conductor Hans Gierster


The score of this oratorio dates from the years 1967 - 68 in Marino where I wrote it after years of planning and following the completion of the libretto by the poet Ernst Schnabel, to whom I owe the original idea. The piece is a sung reading of the logbook of a ship accidentally wrecked on the open sea and laden with dying people. The dying are the people of the Third World, the victims of the heartless and selfish world of the rich and powerful. Ernst Schnabel also had the dramatic idea of dividing the platform into two halves, one for the living, the other for the dead. Charon the Ferryman, a speaking part, mediates between these two worlds, which also differ from one another in their complement of instruments. Breathing (wind) instruments are assigned to the living whilst the dead, who briefly intone classical Italian from Dante’s Inferno as they enter their new realm, are accompanied solely by strings.

The outside world – that is to say a quite different reality from that of my music – influenced the work during the course of its composition. Forced, as I was, to encounter this burning subject as a composer, to depict betrayal, misery, and desperation caused by suffering and madness and to identify with the victims who speak in this piece, I felt my self growing closer to them, and the love and solidarity I felt for the persecuted, for those who suffer and fear for their lives, for the minorities who represent the majority, for the humiliated and wounded, grew with it. Schnabel and I envisaged the work as an allegory, as a description of struggle: of a struggle for clear life, out of which the spirit to fight and the determination to end an unbearable state of affairs will one day emerge.

Hans Werner Henze


La Mort soprano
Jean Charles baritono
Charon voce recitante
coro mistochorus of the living
coro mistochorus of the dead
coro di bambini


2 Flauti 1° e 2° anche Ottavini
2 Flauti 3° e 4° anche Flauti contralti
1 Oboe
1 Oboe d’amore
1 Corno inglese
1 Heckelphon
1 Clarinetto piccolo
1 Clarinetto
1 Clarinetto contralto (o corno di bassetto)
1 Clarinetto basso
1 Sassofono soprano
1 Sassofono tenore
2 Fagotti
1 Controfagotto
4 Corni
1 Tromba piccola
2 Trombe
1 Tromba bassa
1 Trombone contralto (1 Trombone tenore)
1 Trombone basso
1 Oficleide contralto(o Bombardino)
1 Oficleide basso(o Trombone con pistone di quarta)
1 Bombardone(o Tuba in fa)
1 Tuba wagneriana
1 Tuba bassa
1 Tuba contrabbassa
Percussione3 Triangoli
3 Piatti sospesi
Piatti a due
3 Gong
Campane da gregge
5 Tamtam
Tamburo basco
Tamburo militare
3 Bongos
Legno orientale
2 Tescini cinesi
Cassettina di legno
Fascia di bambù
3 Lastre di metallo
Shell chimes
Campane tubolari
[per 5]
2 Arpe
Organo elettrico
Chitarra elettrica
Chitarra bassa elettrica
12 Violini
8 Viole
6 Violoncelli
4 Contrabbassi