Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007, German)

Memories, memories. I must have been 13 or 14, and one day at lunchtime my dad said he’d play an LP on the turntable, to see how the family reacted to it: it was Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Adolescents), an electronic composition with voices which must have recently been published by Deutsche Grammophon. I don’t know how my dad had gotten around that, his tastes were much more catholic than that, Karajan, Wagner, The Rite of Spring yes, but none of that “nth-tear contemporary stuff”. Well, no, I remember that he loved the music of Penderecki too, The Devils of Loudun and the St. Luke Passion.

Anyway, the rest of the family positively hated Gesang der Jünglinge – and I was fascinated, enraptured (still am). I appropriated the LP and there was a time when I listened continuously, as I would have a Beatle’s song. I probably still have that LP somewhere – I bought the reissue on CD as well. So the first contact with Stockhausen’s music was auspicious.

Not necessarily the next ones, and I came to associate Stockhausen (and Boulez) with the notion of unappealing, stern, severe contemporary music, music for the mind rather than for the senses, music to make a point rather than enrapture the senses – and mind you, I find a lot of contemporary music extremely appealing, and it includes Penderecki, Xenakis, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Crumb, Nono – so it’s not just me. There’s also something very “Guru-like” with Stockhausen that keeps me cautious.

More recently, though, my teen-aged son sung in the chorus of Wichever-Day-It-Was am Licht (it may have been Tuesday – it is part of the huge cycle of seven “operas” that Stockhausen wrote at the end of his life, one per day in the week): now HE hated it – hard to get the overall impression when you are just one cog in the great mechanism, asked to sing a very high note for 46 seconds, than something else as egregious as that – but I loved it. So I’ll have to reconsider Stockhausen and explore more seriously.

So far, Stockhausen is featured on this website only through his piece for solo clarinet “In Freundschaft”, performed by Ensemble Intercontemporain’s Alain Damiens on Adda 581066,  a recital CD from 1988 with other contemporary works for solo clarinet by Stravinsky, Boulez, Denisov, Donatoni and Berio.

Comments are welcome