Stockhausen, Karlheinz

views updated Jun 27 2018

Karlheinz Stockhausen


This Is Crazy

Creative, Temperamental, and Eccentric

Massive Opera Cycle

Vilified for Remarksn

Selected discography


During his official seventieth birthday celebrations in 1998, Karlheinz Stockhausen was heralded in some quarters as Germanys greatest living composer. A pioneer in electronic music in the early 1950s, Stockhausen and his avant-garde compositions followed in the footsteps of Austrian modernist Arthur Schoenberg and Anton von Webern, creating works of aleatory (chance-based), serial, and intuitive music. Stockhausen is one of the great figures in modern composition, asserted Guardian writer John OMahony, a revolutionary whose shadow stretches across contemporary music in all its incarnations.

Stockhausen was born on August 22, 1928, in MÖdrath, a German town near the great cathedral city of Cologne. His early life was marked by tragedy: when he was four his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a psychiatric hospital where she was later killed as a result of Nazi-mandated euthanasia for the mentally ill. His father, a schoolteacher, later remarried.

Stockhausens musical gift was apparent at an early age, and he was performing in piano recitals by the age of eight. When World War II erupted, his father left to serve in the German army and was killed in Hungary during the final year of the war. Stockhausen, by then a teenager, was pressed into service as a stretcherbearer for the military, work in which he witnessed horrific injuries. After the war, his economic situation was dire for a time, and he supported himself by playing piano in bars.

Initially, Stockhausen harbored literary aspirations, especially after reading Herman Hesses acclaimed 1943 novel, The Glass Bead Game. He even wrote his own work of fiction, Geburt im Tot (Birth in Death), in 1949. By this time, however, he had already been enrolled two years in the Hochschule für Musik (Academy for Music) in Cologne where he studied piano and music education. He finished composing his first piece, Drei Lieder (Three Songs), just before his studies concluded. He submitted it to a summer program in Darmstadt that he was planning to attend, but the piece was rejected. He attended the school anyway, where he took some classes with Arthur Schoenberg, a pioneer in serial music (compositions based on an arrangement, termed a series, or row, that was a radical departure from the seven-tone diatonic scale of Western music).

This Is Crazy

In 1951 Stockhausen married music student Doris Andreae. The following year he went to Paris to study with avant-garde French composers Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. While there he also developed a professional kinship with another avant-garde composer, Pierre Boulez. During this time Stockhausen began using electronic instruments for the first time in an

For the Record

Born on August 22, 1928, in Modrath, Germany. son of Simon (a teacher) and Gertrud (Stupp) Stockhausen; married Doris Andreae, 1951; divorced; married Mary Bauermeister, 1967; divorced; children: (with Andreae) Suja, Christel, Markus, Majella; (with Bauermeister) Julika, Simon. Education: Stadtliche Hofschule für Musik (State Academy for Music), Cologne, and the University of Cologne, Germany, 1947-51; studied music composition with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud in Paris, 1952; studied phonetics, acoustics, and information and communication theory at the University of Bonn, 1954-56.

First work, Kreuzspiel (Crossplay), premiered in Darmstadt, Germany, 1952; composer of more than 290 compositions and 100 recorded works; has held guest professorships at the University of Pennsylvania, PA, 1965; University of California, Davis, 1966-67; Musikhochschule, Cologne, 1971-77.

Awards: Grand Art Prize for Music of the State of North Rhine-Westfalia, 1968; Grand Prix du Disque, 1968; Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers (Dutch Association of Producers and Importers of Image and Sound Media), Edison Prize, 1968-69, 1971, 1996; Distinguished Service Cross, first class (Germany), 1974; Italian music critics prize, 1981; Diapason dor (France), 1983; Commandeur dans Iordre des arts et des lettres (France), 1985; Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 1986; Cologne Culture Prize (Germany), 1996. International Festival for Animated Film Golden Dove Award for the film In Absentia, 2000; German Music Publishers Society Award, 2000, 2001; Royal Swedish Academy of Music Polar Music Prize, 2001.

Member: Free Academy of the Arts, Hamburg, 1968. Royal Swedish Academy, 1970; Academy of the Arts, Berlin, 1973; Philharmonic Academy of Rome, 1977. American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1979; European Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, 1980; Free Academy of the Arts Leipzig, 1996.

Addresses: Office Stockhausen-Verlag, Kettenberg 15, 51515 Kürten, Germany, website:

attempt to create his own sounds, working in a small studio with a sine-wave generator. He recorded tones onto magnetic tape and then spliced the tape to create an étude (study) or musical piece designed to develop a players technique. His first work to be performed publicly was Kreuzspiel (Crossplay), which premiered in Darmstadt in 1952. People thought, This is no music, this is crazy, Stockhausen recalled in the Guardian interview with OMahony. For the first time in the history of music, a piece was made up of individual notes. There were no melodies. Even the orchestra disliked it, one clarinetist departing from the score to sound a note of protest during a quieter moment.

Continuing his work back in Cologne, Stockhausen composed Elektronische Studien I und II, which premiered in Darmstadt in 1954. Wholly electronic, these were some of the first compositions to be performed without musicians. The iconoclastic American composer John Cage attended the performance and met Stockhausen. This meeting ignited Stockhausens interest in aleatory, or chance-based, music. In aleatory music, an orchestra might toss its score into the air, then pick up the pages at random and begin playing from them. In a 1951 Cage piece, 12 radios were placed onstage and tuned to 12 different stations.

Over the next decade, Stockhausen continued to pioneer atonal music, often with innovative electronic elements. One work from 1956, Gesang der jünglinge (Song of the Youths), was described by OMahony as neurotically beautiful; a piece in which a young boys hymn is periodically dipped in what can only be described as an electronic groan. Stockhausen ventured further into the avant-garde as the decade progressed. Perhaps his most daring work was Gruppen (Groups), first performed in May of 1956, in which three separate orchestras, each with its own conductor, played simultaneously; at other times one remained silent and two competed against one another. OMahony described that first performance as both a triumph and a scandal; it produced turbulent protests as well as comparisons with Stravinskys Rite of Spring. A later composition, Originate, debuted in 1961, reflected his relationship with artist Mary Bauermeister, the woman who would become his second wife. It was composed as a score to a theater performance piece for members of the German Fluxus artists group; at one point Korean artist Nam June Paik covered himself in shaving cream, then jumped into a vat of red paint.

Creative, Temperamental, and Eccentric

Stockhausens personal life was as storied as his creative eccentricities. He lived with Bauermeister and his first wife for a time, and a piece from 1962, Momente, possesses three musical elements: K-moments (for klang, or timbre), M-moments (melody), and D-moments (duration); the trio of letters also corresponded to the initials of the three. Mikrophonie I, from 1964, was one of the first-ever performances of live electronic music. Hymnen, published in 1966-67, combined radio static, electronically generated shrieks, and various European national anthems spliced together.

Stockhausen became known as a decidedly unconventional, if clearly gifted, composer. His temperamental bent made rehearsing with him notoriously difficult, particularly given the abstruse in his scores: Stop playing when you start thinking, read one, or Play a sound with the certainty that you have an infinite amount of time and space. Preferring to record and perform with his own small group of select musicians, he acquired land outside of Cologne, near the town of Kürten, in the mid-1960s. There he built what would come to be known as the Stockhausen complex, a place where he and Bauermeister, whom he wed in 1967, hoped to create a commune for avant-garde musical devotees. Stockhausen had seen such cooperatives in the Far East, where temple musicians lived together.

Stockhausens marriage to Bauermeister began to fall apart when she was pregnant with their second child. She went to San Francisco, where she became a devotee of an Indian mystic named Sri Aurobindo. When she formally severed their relationship in a 1968 letter, Stockhausen began a hunger strike, a seven-day fast that coincided with the famed street riots and strikes in Paris in May of 1968. During the seven days I had wonderful visions and sound experiences, the composer recalled to OMahony. Every so often I would sit down by the piano and play a single note. I changed a lot during this time.

From this experience Stockhausen wrote Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days). Its musicians were expected to fast, then play improvisations based on his instructions. Such radical experiments made Stockhausen a favorite with a new generation of musicians. John Lennon, still a musical innovator at the time, was a great fan. Stockhausens face appears on the cover of their Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and two Beatles tracks from this era, A Day in the Life and Revolution Number 9, contained elements that were directly inspired by the anthems in Hymnen. There was even talk of a joint concert by Stockhausen and the Beatles; after they broke up, Lennon would sometimes telephone Stockhausen to discuss modern music.

Massive Opera Cycle

In 1977, Stockhausen began writing his massive opus Licht: Die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: The Seven Days of the Week), a semiautobiographical opera that sought to portray humankinds struggle with evil. Its main characters, Michael and Eve, battled Lucifer and his armies, which in some cases were armed with trombones. Each of the segments, or days, contains about four hours of music; Stockhausen expects to complete the seventh day by 2005. The first, Donnerstag (Thursday), premiered at Milans La Scala opera house in 1981. In Freitag (Friday), dancing couples were costumed as Cat and Dog, Football and Boot, Arm and Syringe. Another of Stockhausens works challenged its audience in a way that few composers had done before: 1995s Helikopter streichquartett (Helicopter String Quartet) was an outdoor piece in which the performers were inside four helicopters that hovered above the audience.

Parts of Licht were heard in an electronic music festival series at Londons Barbican Hall in October of 2001, along with Hymnen. A reviewer for Londons Independent newspaper, Robert Maycock, granted that at first Stockhausens music was somewhat difficult for the listener to appreciate. He noted, however, that once a listener adjusted, the main soundscapes and adventures still have an unmistakable power and range, from brilliance and wit, to grandeur, to a sense of hovering above a tiny planet whose frantic activities, so competitive down below, seem all of a piece when youre up there. Its easy to see why Stockhausens electronic pieces spawned a whole world of academic music studios.

Vilified for Remarksn

Stockhausen attracted some measure of controversy for remarks he made after the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. At a Hamburg press conference, he pondered how characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for ten years, completely fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. Against that, we composers are nothing. The statement was widely disseminated, often in truncated form using only the greatest work of art phrase, and he was roundly criticized for it.

Already famously reclusive, Stockhausen canceled further interviews and was predicted to retreat even further after the media criticism over his remarks. His outlook, like his work, was infused with a deep personal spiritualism. All my life I have been convinced that there is an angel constantly guiding me, he declared in the Guardian interview with OMahony. Depending on the tasks I have set myself, and that have been set for me, the angel changes. They specialize in particular subjects, stages of life, and also particular kinds of creative activity. My angel is highly experienced in questions of music.

Stockhausen lives at his complex in Kürten, which is also home to a summer school for electronic music fans, with two women for whom he has composed works: American saxophonist Suzanne Stephens and Dutch flautist Kathinka Pasveer. On his seventieth birthday formal celebrations honoring his achievements took place in Paris, Zurich, Cologne, and on Frankfurts Hessischer Rundfunk radio. A perfectionist, he still makes his own high-quality compact discs. (Recordings of his work are difficult to find, since most are released by his own Stockhausen-Verlag and must be ordered.) Experts point out, however, that his work is best appreciated live. Impossible to reproduce on disc, Stockhausens music in concert exerts a physical, sculptural sense of space and time in constant flux, noted Tim Cumming in the Guardian.

Selected discography

Gesang der jünglinge (Song of the Youths), Deutsche Grammophon, 1963.

Mikrophonie I/Mikrophonie II, Columbia Masterworks, 1965.

Aus den Sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days), Universal, 1968.

Gruppen (Groups), Deutsche Grammophon, 1968.

(With Aloys Kontarsky, Alfred Alings, Rolf Gehlhaar, Johannes G. Fritsch, Harald Bojéé, K. Stockhausen) Hymnen: Anthems for Electronic and Concrete Sounds, Deutsche Grammophon, 1968.

Kontra-Punkte (Counter-Points), Deutsche Grammophon, 1974.

Chöre für Doris (Choirs for Doris); Choral; Drei Lieder (Three Songs); Sonatine; Kreuzspiel (Crossplay); Deutsche Grammophon, 1976.

Sternklang (Star Sound), Deutsche Grammophon, 1976.

Formel (Formula); Schlagtrio (Percussive Trio); Spiel (Play); Punkte (Points), Deutsche Grammophon, 1979.

Litanei 97 (Litany 97), Stockhausen-Verlag, 1999.

3x Refrain 2000, Stockhausen-Verlag, 2000.



American Record Guide, January-February, 1999.

Art Journal, Summer 2000, p. 55.

Billboard, April 21, 2001, p. 60.

Economist, October 13, 2001.

Guardian (U.K.), September 1, 2000; September 29, 2001; October 6, 2001.

Independent (U.K.), October 18, 2001 p. 12.

Notes, June 1999, p. 1014.

Opera News, November 1993, p. 54.


The Complete Marquis Whos Who, Biography Resource Center, (March 19, 2002).

Carol Brennan

Stockhausen, Karlheinz

views updated Jun 11 2018

Stockhausen, Karlheinz (b Mödrath, nr. Cologne, 1928). Ger. composer, regarded as leader of electronic avant-garde. Son of village schoolmaster. Began to learn pf. at 5, also vn. and ob. Worked after 1945 as farmhand, also played pf. in dance-bands. Studied at Cologne Musik-Hochschule 1947–51 (pf. and theory) and Cologne Univ. 1952. Studied comp. 1950 with Frank Martin and began his own analytical studies of Schoenberg, Bartók, and Webern. At Darmstadt int. summer school 1951 met Messiaen and Boulez. At this time he wrote his Kreuzspiel for pf., ob., bass cl., and perc. Lived in Paris 1952–3, studying with Messiaen. Worked in musique concrète studios of Fr. Radio and experimented with use of elec. tone generators. In 1953 returned to Cologne, becoming assistant to Herbert Eimert in elec. mus. studio of W. Ger. Radio. Became dir. of the studio in 1963. From 1954 to 1956 studied phonetics and acoustics with W. Meyer-Eppler at Bonn Univ., this enabling him to have a complete understanding of his mus. material through ability to produce an infinite number of sounds and their permutations and to analyse them scientifically. In 1954 became ed. of new magazine for serial mus., Die Reihe, founded by Eimert. Gave first lecture- concerts in USA 1958 and since then has toured frequently as lecturer and cond. of small ens. Pupils from all over the world went to study with him and in 1957 he was appointed head of comp. courses at Darmstadt. Visiting prof. at several Amer. univs. Founded, 1963, Cologne Course for New Mus., teaching comp. until 1968. Prof. of comp., Cologne Musik-Hochschule from 1971. Collected writings pubd. in several vols.

Few composers of the 20th-cent. ‘New Music’ can approach Stockhausen in the length and extent of his studies for his task. The first and strongest influence on his development was the mus. of Webern. Through detailed and profound analysis of Webern's mus., he realized how much further he could take Webern's techniques. He evolved the theory of ‘parameters’ or dimensions of sound: pitch, intensity, duration, timbre, and position in space. As Webern had serialized pitches, so Stockhausen in his early works serialized each parameter. Webern's method of composing with small ‘cells’ of motifs was developed by Stockhausen into what he called ‘group composition’, a group being a slice of mus. time (the larger groups are called ‘moments’). How various groups are inter-related decides the formal design of a work. The culmination of this period came in 1961–4 with Momente. The next step was a new attitude to mus. mobility, whereby the order of self- contained groups could be varied so that mus. continuity could be altered. The 11th (1956) of his series of pf. works Klavierstücke is in mobile form, the groups being playable in any order the performer selects. In Zyklus (1959) for solo percussionist, the performer may start at any of its 17 pages and go on until he returns to his starting-point (he may read from left to right or turn over the score and go from right to left). The element of chance in these works means that no 2 perfs. are ever likely to be identical. In elec. mus., Stockhausen explored the spatial parameter (and transferred the same procedures to live mus. in his Gruppen for 3 orchs.). He began to specify the procedures—placing and use of microphones, etc.—for producing sounds, sometimes, as in Carré, calculating beforehand the basic materials and forms but leaving realization of details to someone else. In Prozession (1967), the mus. events are taken from various of his earlier comps.

The whole concept of elec. mus. is still so strange to ears accustomed to the disciplines of instr. comp. that the majority of audiences find it beyond their ken. But Stockhausen has an enormous following. He is constantly re-examining his theories, restructuring his comps., and exploring new media, in contrast to Boulez who seems to have remained where he was 20 years earlier. He has reached a wide audience with such works as Gesang der Jünglinge, which combines elec. sounds with the v. of a boy sop. altered by echo-effects, filters, etc., and the Orient-inspired Stimmung, in which for 75 minutes 6 singers take up elec. tones coming from concealed speakers and create a trance-like but ever-shifting vocalization. Prin. works:OPERAS: Donnerstag aus Licht (1978–80); Samstag aus Licht (1981–3); Montag aus Licht (1984–8); Dienstag aus Licht (1977–91). Four parts of projected opera cycle, Licht, one for each day of the week.ORCH.: Formel (1951); Punkte (1952, rev. 1962; rev. as Kontra-Punkte, 10 instr. 1952–3); Spiel (1952, rev. 1973); Gruppen, 3 orch. (1955–7); Carré, 4 orch., 4 choirs (1959–60); Stop (1965; Paris version 1969 for 18 players in 6 groups; London version 19 instrs., 1973); Fresco, 4 orch. groups (1969); Trans (1971); Inori (Adorations), soloist, orch. (1973–4); Jubiläum (1977); Scenes from Licht (Part I, Der Jahreslauf, dancers, orch. 1977; Part 2 Michaels Reise um die Erde, tpt., ens. 1978; Part 3, Michaels Jugend, sop., ten., bass, tpt., basset horn, tb., modulated pf., 3 dancers, tape, 1978–9; Part 4, Michaels Heimkehr, as Part 3 except that ch. and orch. replace tape, 1979).CHAMBER ENSEMBLE: 3 Lieder, high v., chamber orch. (1950); Kreuzspiel, ob., bass cl., pf., perc. (1951); Percussion trio, pf., perc. (1952, rev. 1974); Kontra-punkte, 10 instr. (1952–3, rev. of Punkte for orch.); Zeitmasze, 5 winds (1955–6); Refrain, pf., cel., perc. (1959); Momente, sop., 4 ch. groups, 13 instr. (1961–4, another version 1972); Adieu, wind quintet (1966); Aus den sieben Tagen, 15 comps. for ens. (1968); Für Dr. K, sextet (1969); Für Kommende Zeiten, 17 texts for intuitive mus. (1968–70); Ylem, 19 players or singers (1972); Tierkreis (Zodiac) (1975–7); In Freundschaft, fl., cl., ob., tpt., vn., va. (1977).ELECTRONIC: Electronic Study I (1953), II (1954); Gesang der Jünglinge, on tape (boy's v.) (1955–6); Kontakte, pf., perc., elec. sounds (1959–60), also for elec. sounds (1959–60), and Originale (1961), mus. th. piece with Kontakte; Mikrophonie I, tam-tam and elecs. (1964), II, ch., Hammond org., elecs. (1965); Mixtur, 5 orch., elecs. (1964), reduced scoring (1967); Solo, melody instr. with feedback (1965–6); Telemusik, on tape (1966); Hymnen, tape and concrete mus. (1966–7), tape and concrete mus. with 4 soloists (1966–7), with orch. (1969, much shorter version); Prozession, tam-tam, pf., elecs. (1967); Kurzwellen (Short-wave), tam-tam, pf., elecs. (1968); Spiral, soloist with short-wave receiver (1969); Sirius, elecs., 4 soloists (1975).VOICES: Chöre für Doris, unacc. mixed ch. (1950); Choral, unacc. ch. (1950); Stimmung, 6 singers (1968); ‘Am Himmel wandre Ich …’, 12 Indian songs (1972); Atmen gibt das Leben …, mixed ch. (1974, rev. as ‘choral opera’ 1977).PIANO(S): Klavierstücke: I–IV (1952–3), V (1954–5), VI (1954–5), VII (1954–5), VIII (1954), IX (1954–5, rev. 1961), X (1954–5, rev. 1961), XI (1956); Pole, 2 pf., 2 short-wave receivers (1969–70); Expo, 3 pf. (1969–70); Mantra, 2 pianists, elecs. (1969–70); Klavierstücke XIII (part of Samstag aus Licht (1984)).SOLO PERCUSSION: Zyklus for 1 percussionist (1959).CHAMBER MUSIC: sonatina, vn., pf. (1951); Laub und Regen, cl., va. (1974); Harlekin, cl. (1975); Der kleine Harlekin, cl. (1975); Amour, 5 pieces, cl. (1976).

Stockhausen, Karlheinz

views updated May 23 2018

Stockhausen, Karlheinz

Stockhausen, Karlheinz, outstanding German composer; b. Modrath, near Cologne, Aug. 22, 1928. He was orphaned during World War II and was compelled to hold various jobs to keep body and soul together; all the same, he learned to play the piano, violin, and oboe; then studied piano with Hans Otto Schmidt-Neuhaus (1947–50), form with H. Schröder (1948), and composition with Frank Martin (1950) at the Cologne Staatliche Hochschule für Musik; also took courses in German philology, philosophy, and musicology at the Univ. of Cologne. After studies in Darmstadt (1951), he received instruction in composition from Messiaen in Paris (1952); subsequently studied communications theory and phonetics with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the Univ. of Bonn (1954–56). He was active at the electronic music studio of the West German Radio in Cologne (from 1953); also was a lecturer at the Internationalen Ferienkurse für Musik in Darmstadt (until 1974) and was founder-artistic director of the Cologne Kurse für Neue Musik (1963–68); likewise served as prof. of composition at the Cologne Hochschule für Musik (1971–77). He was made a member of the Swedish Royal Academy (1970), the Berlin Academy of Arts (1973), and the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters (1979); also was made a Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France (1985) and an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London (1987). He investigated the potentialities of musique concrète and partly incorporated its techniques into his own empiric method of composition, which from the very first included highly complex contrapuntal conglomerates with uninhibited applications of non-euphonious dissonance as well as recourse to the primal procedures of obdurate iteration of single tones; all this set in the freest of rhythmic patterns and diversified by constantly changing instrumental colors with obsessive percussive effects. He further perfected a system of constructivist composition, in which the subjective choice of the performer determines the succession of given thematic ingredients and their polyphonic simultaneities, ultimately leading to a totality of aleatory procedures in which the ostensible application of a composer’s commanding function is paradoxically reasserted by the inclusion of prerecorded materials and by recombinant uses of electronically altered thematic ingredients. He evolved energetic missionary activities in behalf of new music as a lecturer and master of ceremonies at avantgarde meetings all over the world; having mastered the intricacies of the English language, he made a lecture tour of Canadian and American univs. in 1958; in 1965, was a visiting prof. of composition at the Univ. of Pa.; was a visiting prof. at the Univ. of Pa. at;in 1966–67; in 1969, gave highly successful public lectures in England that were attended by hordes of musical and unmusical novitiates. Stockhausen is a pioneer of “time-space” music, marked by a controlled improvisation, and adding the vectorial (i.e., directional) parameter to the 4 traditional aspects of serial music (pitch, duration, timbre, and dynamics), with performers and electronic apparatuses placed in different parts of the concert hall; such performances, directed by himself, were often accompanied by screen projections and audience participation; he also specified the architectural aspects of the auditoriums in which he gave his demonstrations. His annotations to his own works were publ, in the series entitled Texte (6 vols., Cologne, 1963–88). See also R. Maconie, ed., Stockhausen on Music: Lectures and Interviews (London and N.Y., 1989).


Chöre für Doris (1950); Drei Lieder for Contralto and Chamber Orch. (1950); Choral (1950); Violin Sonatine (1951); Kreuzspiel for Oboe, Bass Clarinet, Piano, and 3 Percussion (1951); Formel for Orch. (1951); Etude, concrete music (1952); Spiel for Orch. (1952); Schlagtrio for Piano and Kettledrums (1952); Punkte for Orch. (1952; rev. 1962); Kontra -Punkte for 10 Instruments (Cologne, May 26, 1953); Klavierstücke I- IV (1952–53); Studie I (1953) and II (1954), electronic music; Klavierstücke V-X (1954–55); Zeitmasse for 5 Woodwinds (1955–56); Gruppen for 3 Orchs. (1955–57; Cologne, March 24, 1959); Klavierstücke XI (1956); Gesang der Junglinge, electronic music, after the Book of Daniel, dealing with the ordeal of 3 monotheistic Hebrew youths in the Babylonian fiery furnace, scored for 5 groups of loudspeakers surrounding the audience (Cologne, May 30, 1956); Zyklus for Percussion (1959); Carré for 4 Orchs. and Choruses (Hamburg, Oct. 28, 1960); Refrain for 3 Performers (1959); Kontakte for Electronics (1959–60); Kontakte for Electronics, Piano, and Percussion (Cologne, June 11, 1960); Originale, music theater (1961); Momente for Soprano, 4 Choruses, and 13 Instrumentalists (1962–64); Plus-Minus for Clarinet, Trombone, Cello, and 3 Pianos (1963; Warsaw, Sept. 25, 1968); Mikrophonie I for 6 Performers (1964) and II for 12 Singers, Hammond Organ, 4 Ring Modulators, and Tape (1965); Mixtur for Orch., Sinus Generator, and Ring Modulator (1964); Stop for Orch. (1965); Solo for Melody Instrument (1965–66); Telemusik, electronic music (1966; Warsaw, Sept. 23, 1968); Adieu for Wind Quintet (1966); Hymnen, electronic and concrete music (Cologne, Nov. 30, 1967); Prozession for Ensemble (1967); Stimmung for 6 Vocalists (1968); Kurzwellen for 6 Performers (1968); Aus den Sieben Tagen, 15 pieces in graphic notation for various ensembles (1968); Spiral for Soloist and Short-wave Transmitter (1968); Für kommende Zeiten, 17 texts of “intuitive music” (1968–70); Dr. K.-Sextett (1969); Fresco for 4 Orchs. (1969); Pole for 2 Performers or Singers, and Short-wave Transmitter (1969–70); Expo for 3 Instrumentalists or Singers and Shortwave Transmitter (1969–70); Mantra for 2 Pianos (Donaueschingen, Oct. 18, 1970); Sternklang, “park music” for 5 Groups (1971); Trans for Orch. (1971); Alphabet für Liège, 13 musical pictures for Soloist and Duo Performers (1972); “Am Himmel wandre ich…,” Indian lieder for 2 Soloists and Orch. (Donaue-schingen, Oct. 20, 1974); Herbstmusik for 4 Performers (1974); Musik im Brauch for Percussion and Musical Clocks (1975); “Atmen gibt das Leben…,” choral opera with Orch. or Tape (1975–77); Sirius, electronic music, dedicated to American pioneers on earth and in space (1975–77); Tierkreis for Various Instruments and Voices (4 versions, 1975–81); Harlekin for Clarinet (1975); Amour, 5 pieces for Clarinet (1976); Jubiläum for Orch. (1977; N.Y., Sept. 10, 1981); In Freundschaft for 11 Solo Instruments (1977); Licht, projected cycle of 7 operas, 1 for each day of the week: Dienstag aus Licht (1977–91); Donnerstag aus Licht (1978–80; Milan, April 3, 1981); Samstag aus Licht (1981–83; Milan, May 25, 1984); Montag aus Licht (1985–88; Milan, May 7, 1988).


K. Wörner, K. S., Werk und Wollen (Cologne, 1963; Eng. tr. as S., Life and Work, London, 1973); C. Cardew, S. Serves Imperialism, a rambling diatribe by a disenchanted follower who became a militant Maoist (London, 1974); J. Cott, S., Conversations with the Composer (N.Y., 1973, and London, 1974); J. Harvey, The Music of S.(London, 1975); R. Maconie, S. (London, 1976); B. Sullivan and M. Manion, S. in Den Haag (The Hague, 1983); H.-J. Nagel, ed., S. in Calcutta (Calcutta, 1984); M. Tannenbaum, Intervisto sul genio musicale (Rome, 1985; Eng. tr., 1987, as Conversations with S.); S.: 60. Geburtstag: 22. August 1988 (n.p., 1988); M. Kurtz, S.: Eine Biographie (Kassel and Basel, 1988; Eng. tr., 1992, as S.: A Biography); C. von Blumröder, Die Grundlegung der Musik K. S.s (Stuttgart, 1993); W. Hopp, Kurzwellen von K. S.: Konzeption und musikalische Poiesis (Mainz, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Karlheinz Stockhausen

views updated May 29 2018

Karlheinz Stockhausen

The German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (born 1928) was one of the most influential composers of the post-World War II period. His works embodied most of the advanced musical tendencies of his time.

Karlheinz Stockhausen was born August 22, 1928, in a suburb of Cologne, the son of a schoolteacher. He did not show any particular interest in music until after his demobilization from the army at the close of World War II in 1945. Then he studied musicology at the University of Cologne and music at the Musikhochschule, supporting himself by playing the piano in dance bands. His first compositions date from 1950, strongly influenced by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and have complex serial plans and pointillistic texture.

In 1951 Stockhausen attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, the center for many of the postwar developments in music. Here he became acquainted with Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez. He found their ideas— mainly concerning the serialization of durations, dynamics, and other parameters—so stimulating that he spent the next year in Paris, where he attended Messiaen's classes at the conservatory and worked in Pierre Schaeffer's newly established musique-concrète laboratory.

Upon his return to Germany, Stockhausen studied physics and acoustics at the University of Bonn, and in 1953 he joined the electronic music studio of the Cologne Radio. His Electronic Studies (1953) and The Song of the Youths (1955) were early landmarks in the medium, and the latter work was one of the first "space" compositions in that it was conceived to be heard from five separated loudspeakers.

In the mid-1950s Stockhausen became interested in writing compositions in which the form was fluid, to be determined by the performer at the time of performance. His best-known piece of this type was Piano Piece XI. It consisted of 19 fragments printed on a large roll of paper. The performer was instructed to look at random at the sheet of music and begin with any fragment that catches his eye. At the end of each group of notes he read the tempo, dynamic, and attack indications that follow and next looked at random at another group, which he then played in accordance with its indications. When a group was arrived at for the third time, one possible realization of the piece was completed. In any performance some sections of the piece may be omitted, and no two performances were ever apt to be the same.

In this kind of music, sometimes called aleatory, or chance music, there was a drastic abrogation of the composer's traditional rights and privileges. It was a style that interested many composers in the following years.

Stockhausen next turned to compositions calling for large groups of instruments, sometimes combined with electronic sounds, in which spatial effects play a role. Gruppen (1955-1957) calls for 109 instruments arranged in three groups, the performers seated in front of and at the left and right of the audience. The groups played separately and in various combinations in a texture that was so thick that it was impossible to distinguish individual sounds. Carré (1960) was for four orchestras and four choruses. The orchestras were located against the four walls of the room; the audience sat in the middle so as to hear the sounds coming from all sides.

Momente (1961, revised 1965) was another huge sound conglomerate, calling for soprano, four choral groups, and 13 instruments. "In this piece," Stockhausen said, "the distinction between sound and music disappears." It started with the sounds of handclapping, and then words, grunts, whispers, and shouts were added, giving the impression that one was listening to a political meeting. The piece lasted almost an hour and has been described as containing "everything—parody, persiflage, wit, childlikeness, psalmody, and electronic, yet man-made sounds." Another vast montage was Hymnen (1966-1971), based on the national anthems of many countries. The anthems were so distorted that they were rarely identifiable.

Stockhausen said that there was no musical causality in these pieces. "Although one moment may suggest the one which follows it, the connection is in no way causal, and it would be equally possible for a different moment to follow." Concentrated listening, then, was not called for; one could listen, or not, to any or all sections.

In some later compositions Stockhausen returned to smaller groups, combining live performance with on-the-spot electronic manipulation of the sounds. His Solo (1969) was written for any melody instrument with feedback. It called for one instrumentalist and four assistants, who electronically altered the sounds. Microphonie 1 (1964) consisted of sounds emanating from a large tam-tam altered through electronic means. One heard the natural sounds along with the manipulated ones. For the Tokyo Expo 70, Stockhausen wrote "continuous" music that was heard as people, coming and going, were in the room in which it was played.

In spite of the completely revolutionary character of his various kinds of music, Stockhausen enjoyed great success. He had the advantage of the Cologne Radio to publicize and present his compositions, as well as the influential Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt. His compositions were recorded and reviewed by critics as soon as they were written. He made worldwide lecture and concert tours and had several teaching appointments at American universities.

As part of the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, West Germany commissioned Stockhausen to write a cantata as a gift to the U.S., called Sirius. This piece was written for trumpet, clarinet, soprano, and bass, and included electronic sounds. The following year, Stockhausen unveiled a new work called Zodiac, a series of twelve melodies of the star signs for melody and keyboard instruments. This was originally composed two years earlier for music boxes, but Stockhausen rewrote them for formal instrumentation.

The year 1977 also marked the beginning of an operatic work that would progress for the next two decades. Stockhausen began composing Licht (meaning Light), which when completed would be representative of the seven days of the week. The first three acts were Michaels Jugend (1979), Michaels Reise (1978); and Michaels Heimkehr (1980). This massive work featured solo voices, solo instruments, dancers, choirs, orchestras, ballet, and electronic music. Donnerstag aus Licht was released in 1981, followed by Montag aus Licht in 1988. Dienstag aus Licht was written in 1990-91 (two parts), and Freitag aus Licht was presented in three parts from 1991 through 1994.

Throughout his career, Stockhausen has written more than 250 performance works, and has made more than 100 records. He wrote a book, Stockhausen on Music, in 1989, and since 1991, has been working on a project to put his entire works on CD. He has been cited for many awards, including the Picasso Medal, UNESCO (1992) and the Edison Prize from Holland (1996). He served as Professor of Composition, Cologne State Conservatory, and has been a visiting professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania and University of California.

Further Reading

Stockhausen was discussed in Effie B. Carlson, Twelve Tone and Serial Composers (1970); David Ewen, Composers of Tomorrow's Music (1970); and Peter S. Hansen, An Introduction to Twentieth Century Music (3d ed. 1971). Stockhausen on Music was published by Marion Boyars Publishers (1989). □

Stockhausen, Karlheinz

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Stockhausen, Karlheinz (1928– ) German composer and theorist, the most successful exponent of electronic music. An example of his work is Kontakte (1960), which uses instruments with tape. His seven-part opera, Licht, was begun in 1977; six parts have been completed.