The German conductor and composer, Johannes (Hans) Wolfgang Zender, studied from 1956 to 1959 piano, conducting, and composition (the latter with Wolfgang Fortner) at the Hochschule für Musik Frankfurt and at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg.
From 1959 to 1963 Hans Zender was Kapellmeister of the Municipal Theatres in Freiburg im Breisgau, after which he became Principal Conductor at the Stadttheater in Bonn. In 1964-1965 he attended the Second Cologne Courses for New Music at the Rheinische Musikhochschule, under the artistic direction of Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1968 he was called to Kiel, where he was General Music Director of the Kiel Opera House until 1972. In this year he began his activity as Principal Conductor of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken. In 1984 he became Head of the Hamburg State Opera and General Music Director of the orchestra there (Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg), changing in 1987 to the position of Conductor in Chief of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra in Hilversum, where he worked until 1990.
From 1988 until 2000 Hans Zender taught composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt am Main. In 1997 he was awarded the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt. Since 1999 he has been Permanent Guest Conductor of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg.
Invited by Walter Fink, Hans Zenderr was in 2011 the 21st composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival. Music included denn wiederkommen (Hölderlin lesen III) for string quartet and speaking voice (1991) and Mnemosyne (Hölderlin lesen IV) for female voice, string quartet, and tape (2000), performed by Salome Kammer and the Athena Quartet.
Canto I-VI for various forces:
I: for choir, flute, piano, strings and percussion (1965)
II: for soprano, choir and orchestra on a text by Ezra Pound (1967)
III: for soprano, tenor, baritone, ten instruments and live-electronics on texts by Cervantes (1968)
IV: for 16 voices and 16 instruments (1969/1972)
V: for voices with optional percussion (1972/1974)
VI: for bass-baritone, a capella mixed choir, and optional tape (1988)
3 Rondels nach Mallarmé (3 Rondels after Mallarmé) for alto, flute and viola (1966); words by Stéphane Mallarmé
Modelle for variable forces (1971-1973)
Zeitströme for orchestra (1974)
Elemente, tape montage for two loudspeaker groups (1976)
Hölderlin lesen I for string quartet with sprechstimme (1979); words by Friedrich Hölderlin
Hölderlin lesen II for sprechstimme, viola, and live-electronics (1987); words by Friedrich Hölderlin
"denn wiederkommen" (Hölderlin lesen III) for string quartet and sprechstimme (1991)
Mnemosyne (Hölderlin lesen IV) for female voice, string quartet, and tape (2000)
Fünf Haiku (LO-SHU IV) for flute and strings (1982)
Dialog mit Haydn for two pianos and three orchestral groups (1982)
Stephen Climax, opera (1979–84, premièred in 1986)
Don Quijote de la Mancha, opera (1989–91, premièred in 1993; new version 1994, premièred in 1999)
Schubert's Winterreise —Eine komponierte Interpretation for tenor and small orchestra (1993)
Shir Hashirim—Lied der Lieder (Canto VIII), oratorio for soli, choir, orchestra, and live-electronics (1992/1996, complete première in 1998)
Schumann-Fantasie for large orchestra (1997)
Chief Joseph, musical theater in three acts (premièred in 2005)
Die Sinne denken. Texte zur Musik 1975-2003. Edited by Jörn Peter Hiekel (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 2004) (a nearly complete edition of Zender’s writings)
"A Road Map for Orpheus?" In Theory into Practice: Composition, Performance, and the Listening Experience. Collected writings of the Orpheus Institute 2. Edited by Peter Dejans (Leuven:Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1999)
Happy New Ears. Das Abenteuer, Musik zu hören (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1991)
Wir steigen niemals in denselben Fluß. Wie Musikhören sich wandelt. Second edition (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1998)