WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-12 > 1197204967
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] STOCHAUSEN: Karlheinz Stockhausen
Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2007 12:56:07 -0000
Last Updated: 3:02am GMT 08/12/2007
Karlheinz Stockhausen, who died today aged 79, was the leading pioneer of
electronic music and of the new uses of physical space in the performance of
music; he was regarded by many avant-garde musicians of his generation as
the most significant German composer since Richard Wagner, but his appeal to
the general public was more restricted.
Ivan Hewett: Why Stockhausen really was great
Stockhausen emulated Wagner in certain self-aggrandising personal respects.
He built up a Bayreuth-like dynasty in which his wives, mistresses and
children had important roles, became his own publisher, had a following of
sycophantic admirers and demanded the right to own every photograph taken of
him and every taped interview.
Stockhausen: he wrote a series of operas for each day of the week, and the
first sine-wave music
He published his writings on music in several volumes and outdid Wagner by
writing a series of operas to be performed on each day of the week.
A religious impulse was at the root of his music. He was a practising Roman
Catholic until the 1960s when he left the Church because "I was not able to
follow the rules".
He once explained his beliefs thus: "I was a child who lost his parents very
early and had nobody. But I had something else: whenever I didn't know where
to go, I closed my eyes and stood somewhere in the road or on the street -
or, during the war, in a field where bombs were falling - and I wouldn't
move until I heard a message. And then I did what I heard and I did not
doubt it. I have taught my six children the same."
He was undoubtedly a charismatic personality, a compelling lecturer on
musical topics and an exciting teacher. His composition courses at Darmstadt
drew pupils from all over the world.
Some of his works attained a rapt kind of beauty. In Gesang der Jnglinge
(Song of the Young Boys), the taped voice of a Cologne Cathedral chorister
singing the Benedicite is altered by echo-effects, filters and other means
and combined with electronic sounds. In Stimmung (Tuning), six singers
vocalise without words for 75 minutes, their voices taking up electronic
tones coming from concealed speakers.
In Aus dem siegen Tagen (From the Seven Days), each of the 15 sections has a
verse of text to suggest the mood the players must create. One of them is
inscribed: "Live completely alone for four days, without food in complete
silence, without much movement. After four days, late at night, without
talking beforehand, play single sounds without thinking what you are
playing. Close your eyes. Just listen."
It was this kind of thing which prompted Sir Thomas Beecham to reply to the
question whether he had heard any Stockhausen: "No, but I think I've trodden
Karlheinz Stockhausen was born in Burg Mdrath, near Cologne, on August 22
1928, the son of a village schoolmaster. He began to play piano, violin and
oboe aged five.
His mother suffered from severe depression and went into an institution when
her son was four. She was later murdered in the Nazis' euthanasia
experiments. His father joined the Nazi party in the 1930s, enlisted in the
army at the outbreak of war and was killed in 1945.
Between 1944 and 1947 Stockhausen paid for his education by working as a
stretcher-bearer in a military hospital, as a farmhand, assistant to a
travelling magician and as a jazz pianist in clubs.
He was at Cologne High School for Music from 1947 to 1951, studying the
piano with Hans Otto Schmidt-Neuhaus, form with Hermann Schroeder, and
composition with the Swiss composer Frank Martin. He also enrolled at
Cologne University to study Musicology, Philology and Philosophy.
He was already composing, mainly choral pieces, and he made a special study
of the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Bartk. In Cologne he met the
composer Herbert Eimert, who worked for Cologne Radio and persuaded
Stockhausen to give some broadcast talks on contemporary music.
Eimert suggested that he should attend the 1951 Darmstadt international
summer school. There he first met Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez and was
much impressed by Messiaen's Four Studies in Rhythm and by a sonata for two
pianos by the Belgian Karel Goeyvaerts which was claimed as the first "total
serialist" work (the application of Schoenberg's 12-note rules to all
aspects of a composition).
Stockhausen could not understand this sonata but found it "terribly exciting
to discover that there was music of which I could not make sense". It
inspired him to write his Kreuzspiel (Cross Play) for oboe, bass clarinet,
piano and percussion in which extreme high and low sounds "crossed over",
hence the title. He likened it to the architecture of Le Corbusier.
In 1952 Stockhausen went to Paris to study with Messiaen for 14 months. At
Goeyvaerts's suggestion he also studied in French Radio's musique concrte
studio, where he learned the technicalities of handling tape.
While in Paris he composed several works, some of which he withdrew,
including Spiel (Play) for orchestra, although not until it had been
performed at the 1952 Donaueschingen Festival. But the instrumental
Kontra-Punkte (Counter-Points) became his first published work and was
performed at the 1953 Cologne Festival of New Music.
On his return to Cologne, Stockhausen went to work under Eimert's direction
in the new radio electronic studio. While there he found a place for Boulez,
who made his first version of Le Marteau sans Matre. Luigi Nono also
attended the studio. In Studie I (1953) Stockhausen created the first
composition to be constructed entirely from sine-waves.
>From 1953 to 1956 he studied phonetics and acoustics with Werner
Meyer-Eppler at Bonn University. In 1953 he had written his first four
Klavierstcke (Piano Pieces) which placed immense demands on the performer.
In the next six pieces (1954-55), he gave the pianist more freedom,
introducing "musical mobility", whereby the order of self-contained groups
could be varied so that musical continuity could be altered.
Stockhausen's study of Webern led him to take Webern's techniques much
further. He evolved a theory of "parameters" or dimensions of sound: pitch,
intensity, duration, timbre and spatial position. Stockhausen serialised
Where Webern had composed with small cells of motifs, Stockhausen developed
"group composition", a group being a slice of musical time, a "moment".
The culmination of this phase was in Momente (1961-64) for soprano, four
choral groups and 13 instruments, which was said to be a portrait of of his
second wife Mary Bauermeister. Its text comprised extracts from the Song of
Songs, letters and personal names, passages from Malinowski's Sexual Life of
Savages and samples of audience reaction. Besides singing, the chorus
clicked, clapped and stamped and played small percussion instruments.
Later he intensified the element of chance in his work, whereby the
performer had a large say in what was performed. Thus in Zyklus (Cycle,
1959), for solo percussionist, the performer may start at any of its 17
pages of score and go on until returning to the starting-point. He or she
may read from left to right or turn over the score and go from right to
left. In the score, graphic signs represent instruments in addition to
giving directions for performance.
In Refrain (1959) for three players, a movable strip of transparent plastic
on which are written the recurrent features of the refrain can be positioned
on the score wherever one likes and must be altered for each performance.
The players also contribute phonetic vocal sounds.
Gesang der Jnglinge belonged to 1955-56 and was first performed in Cologne
in May 1956. Stockhausen applied similar principles to Grppen (Groups) for
three orchestras, in which the performers, each group with its own
conductor, surround the audience on three sides and play different music.
>From 1952 to 1974 Stockhausen lectured at the Darmstadt summer courses and
from 1957 taught composition there.
He was strongly supportive of other composers' individuality and fought the
directors for invitations to certain musicians. For example, he stayed away
one year because of a refusal to invite John Cage and David Tudor. The next
year they were there.
He gave his first lecture-concerts in America in 1958 and was visiting
professor at several American universities in subsequent years. He became
professor of composition at Cologne High School for Music in 1971. He
visited many countries and became deeply involved in, and much influenced
by, oriental sounds.
He found Indian improvisations "very fixed, very academic" and was more
fascinated by the timing of Japanese music, particularly Gagaku and Noh
In Carr (Square) (1959-60) for four orchestras and choruses, the text
consists of phonetic sounds interspersed with personal names. Stockhausen
left completion of this score to his British assistant Cornelius Cardew. In
it Stockhausen started composing what he called "illusory rhythms".
>From the same period came Kontakte (Contacts) in which four loudspeaker
groups were placed around the auditorium. Written in one of its versions for
electronic sounds, piano and percussion, it represented an encounter between
instrumental and electronic music.
In 1964 Stockhausen formed his own ensemble to perform live-electronic
works, with himself at the mixing-desk. The first piece he wrote for it was
Mikrophonie I. This featured the tam-tam. Using microphones and electrical
filters, it was made to produce a rich range and variety of sounds.
In Prozession (1967), the performers improvised variants on extracts from
existing Stockhausen works. They had to rely on memory for these. In
Kurzwellen (Short Wave) (1983) the players imitate and improvise on sounds
they have picked up from short-wave receivers. In 1970, for Beethoven's
bicentenary, this work became Kurzwellen mit Beethoven, subtitled
Stockhoven-Beethausen Opus 1970, and the short-wave sounds were replaced by
Another work from the late 1960s was Hymnen, which exists in three versions.
The anthems of the title are national anthems. In 1970 Stockhausen's music
was played every day for six months in the German pavilion at the Osaka
World Fair. After this visit to the Far East he wrote Mantra for two
pianists, based on a single melodic cell, a mantra, which is repeated and
modified by ring modulation.
In 1971 came Sternklang (Star Sound), for open-air performance. The music,
played by several groups distributed around a park, is directed to be "read
off" the constellations whose names are ritually recited. When Stockhausen
was composer-in-residence at a Huddersfield Festival in the 1980s, this work
was performed in the town's sports hall.
In the mid-1970s Stockhausen directed all his creative energies to his cycle
of operas, Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: the Seven Days of the
Week), composed, like Wagner's operas, to his own librettos.
The cycle has three principal characters: Michael the hero, Eva the mother
and lover and Luzifer the father and antagonist. Each is also represented by
an instrument and a dancer. Michael is tenor and trumpet (the latter usually
played by the composer's son Markus), Eva soprano and clarinet (usually
Suzanne Stephens) and Luzifer bass and trombone. Most of the works
Stockhausen wrote after beginning Licht were offshoots from it.
In the mid-1980s he wrote several works for basset-horn and alto flute,
requiring the performers to re-learn their fingerings. For Suzanne Stephens
he wrote Xi (the Greek letter) for clarinet, which explored microtones.
Stockhausen's operatic week began on a Thursday with Donnerstag aus Licht,
premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1981 and performed at Covent Garden in
1985. The autobiographical element is obvious: in the first opera Michael's
mother is taken to an asylum and the father goes off to war. What some, even
among his admirers, regarded as an act of gigantic egomania has not
established itself in any opera house's repertory.
Nor, since the heyday of the 1960s, has most of Stockhausen's music. It has
its fanatical advocates still who regard him as a visionary pathfinder, but
most of the next generation of composers looked to Boulez before Stockhausen
or to Ligeti before both.
As for the mass of the general public, when not repelled it remained
baffled, convinced that this was not music and suspecting that the man was a
charlatan or an opportunist playing a vast hoax on the whole world of music.
There can be little doubt, though, that Stockhausen believed in everything
He was twice married and had six children.
|[W-OBITS] STOCHAUSEN: Karlheinz Stockhausen by "Peter McCrae" <>|