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Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen (born August 22, 1928) is a contemporary composer.

Born in Burg Mödrath, near Cologne (German: Köln), he studied at the Cologne Musikhochschule and University (1947-51), at Darmstadt in 1951 and with OlivierMessiaen? in Paris (1951-53). From 1954 to 1956, at the University of Bonn, he studied phonetics, acoustics, and information theory and composition. After lecturing at the contemporary music seminars at Darmstadt (1957), Stockhausen gave lectures and concerts in Europe and North America.

Stockhausen has worked with serial and electronic procedures, with spatial placements of sound sources (for example in his noted work Gesang der Jünglinge), and with GraphicalNotation?. Stockhausen is unconcerned with musical tradition and his work is influenced by Messiaen and AntonWebern?. He claims that he explores fundamental psychological and acoustic aspects of music. Despite his interest in electronic music he gives performers a large role in determining certain parameters of a composition. In Zyklus for example, the score is written so that the performance can start on any page, and it may be read upside down, or from right to left, or not, as the performer chooses.

In most of his works, elements are played off against one another, simultaneously and successively: in Kontrapunkte (1953) pairs of instruments and extremes of note values "confront" one another; in Gruppen (1959) fanfares and passages of varying speed (based on the harmonic series) are flung between three full orchestras, giving the impression of movement in space.

Stockhausen has written over 200 individual works. He completed on a single enormous opera in seven parts, entitled Licht(1977-2002). In the early 1990s he gained access to all the recordings of his music he had made to that point, and began his own record company to make this music permanently available on compact disc. He also designs and prints his own musical scores. The score for his piece Refrain, for instance, is a circular (refrain).

The dream of flying has accompanied Karlheinz Stockhausen's career since the very beginning. Back in the early 1950s, when he was enthralling some and infuriating others in the avant-garde community around the Darmstadt Summer Courses in New Music with his first works Punkte, Kontra-Punkte and Kreuzspiel he was already developing his first ideas for liberating musicians from the constraints of gravity. With his studio technicians he discussed ways of positioning instrumentalists on chairs that could be swung through the room on ropes.

This interest came to a head with the Helikopter-Streichquartett, completed in 1993. In this, the four members of a string quartet each perform from their own helicopter flying above the concert hall. The sounds they play are mixed together with the sounds of the helicopters and played through speakers to the audience in the hall. Pictures of the performers are also transmitted back to the concert hall. The performers are kept in synchronicity with the aid of a click-track. Despite its extremely unusual nature, the piece has been given several performances, including one on 22nd August 2003 as part of the Salzburg Festival to open the Hangar-7 venue. The work has also been recorded by the Arditti Quartet.

Stockhausen and his music have been extremely controversial and influential. The influence of his Kontra-Punkte may be seen in Igor Stravinsky's Movements for piano and orchestra. Disparate musicians such as Can, Kraftwerk, Sonic Youth, MilesDavis?, Frank Zappa, and Herbie Hancock cite Stockhausen as an influence. Stockhausen, himself, has incorporated most recent musical innovations he did not originate himself, such as in the LaMonteYoung influenced Stimmung.

interview from Domus 876

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: Let's start with the beginnings. Last week I was talking to French composer François Bayle, who told me that the developments in music in the early 1950s were so exciting that he simply couldn't sleep. He also told me that for him you were the most important contemporary composer during those years. I wanted to ask you how it all started.

KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN: I studied piano at the Music Academy and I was interested in everything I heard about new methods of creating music. At the Music Academy there were lectures by 12-tone composers which I followed with great interest. Herbert Eimert, a Cologne-based critic, recommended that I go to Darmstadt. I had met him while I was performing a composition, a kind of music theatre. He asked me what I was currently doing, and I told him that I had just spent a year writing a thesis on Bela Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. This thesis resembled a study by a physicist investigating the nature of material down to the level of the atom. It was with this degree of exactitude that I wanted to know how Bartok had composed this work. In this way I made the acquaintance of 12-tone compositions. And Herbert Eimert said: "You must make a night programme out of this Bartok thesis without fail." He went on to ask me if I wrote music myself. I told him I did and showed him Kreuzspiel (Crossplay), which in December 1951 had conducted and recorded on the radio myself. This was the start of a different music. Previously I had composed what was more an expressive music written on strict 12-tone principles, like for example Sonatine for Violin and Piano or a 12-tone Choral, a transition from the traditional emotional music written for example by my teacher Frank Martin. I sometimes watched him composing. When he composed Golgatha for example, he sat at the piano, played what he had composed up to a certain point, then improvised on the piano for a moment and in this way found how to continue with the next few bars.

online resources:

-- HiazHhzz - 04 Feb 2005
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