Born in Mödrath near Cologne, died in Kürten. He composed 370 separate works, published ten volumes of Texte zur Musik (published by StockhausenVerlag) and a series of booklets comprising sketches and explanations of his works. His first thirty-six scores were published by Universal Edition, Vienna. Since 1975, the rest of his works have been published exclusively by his own publishing firm Stockhausen-Verlag, which since 1991 has also issued CDs of Stockhausen’s music – 139 editions by 2008. From 1998, the composer conducted courses for composers, performers, musicologists and auditors (Stockhausen Courses Kürten).
Stockhausen gained international fame in the 1950s with his first pointillist compositions. From that moment on, he created or developed several dozen different musical ideas, including serial, variable, electronic, spatial, static, aleatoric, intuitive, new percussion and piano music. He practiced collective composition, processual composition, moment composition, and both formula (Formel) and multi-formula composition. By integrating “found objects“ such as national anthems and folklore from various countries into a common sonic context, he devised the concept of “world music,“ also known as “universal music“. During his last thirty years, he worked on the monumental cycle of seven operas LICHT. Sieben Tage der Woche (1977–2003), in which he realised his idea of music theatre.
Most of the premieres and subsequent performances of Stockhausen’s works around the world were conducted by the composer himself, and he almost always directed performances as well. He was a guest lecturer in Switzerland, the US, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. From 1971 he was Professor of Composition at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Freie Universität in Berlin (1996) and Queen’s University in Belfast (2004). He was a member of twelve international academies for the arts and sciences. In 1988 he was made an honorary resident of Kürten. He received many awards and honours, including Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the German Federal Medal of Merit (1st Class), Siemens Music Prize, UNESCO Picasso Medal, Order of Merit of the Land of North Rhine–Westphalia, as well as eight publishing awards, including the German Music Publishers’ Society Award, the Bach Prize of Hamburg and the Culture Prize of Cologne. In 2001 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize.
Absolute stage music
For Stockhausen, the meaning of music was not limited to sounds, but included the domain of its stage presentation, too. The subtle mise en scène of his first works, such as KREUZSPIEL, KONTAKTE or ZYKLUS, in which the composer indicated the spatial distribution of musicians, their movement and behaviour on stage, was later developed into full-blown scenarios that also included lights, choreography, performers’ mimics and costumes. The serial music of the 1950s was a first step towards what Stockhausen would call, twenty years on, stage musicand what eventually led him to create the opera cycle LICHT. Instage musicthe theatrical elements are as important as the pure sonic substance; in fact, Stockhausen established a permanent bond between the two.
In the process, back in the 1960s, Stockhausen experimented with various stage music forms, inspired by visual and theatrical avant-garde. Starting with the musical happening ORIGINALE (1961) through the musical scenes of ALPHABET FÜR LIÈGE (1972), the radio feature HERBSTMUSIK (1974), the ballet INORI (1973–74), the cantata SIRIUS (1975), the stage composition MUSIK IM BAUCH (1975), the choral opera ATMEN GIBT DAS LEBEN (1975–77), up to the cycle of seven operas for the seven days of the week, LICHT, the composer attempted in various ways to “stage“ music. But he was not merely after a conventional combination of theatre, literature and music.
The tendency to stage music needn’t be related to theatre; it can also derive from a certain kind of musical thinking: music and sound “liberate“ scenic behaviour, “explode“ with scenic gestures, establishing a ceremonial character that is totally selfless and doesn’t claim to be theatre. Such are the sources of theatricality in the late music of Stockhausen, who defined the sense of stage music as the “production of scenicality under the charm of absolute music” 9. With Stockhausen, music is always first, and all stage actions, lights and costumes are derived from the musical structure. In that sense, stage music is rather a philosophy of sound, to which several aspects are attributed: gestural, visual, energetic, ceremonial. It is, in a way, a musical “magical thinking“, according to which sound is actual, and music becomes a concrete act and possesses concrete meaning. Contrarily to the instrumental theatre of Kagel or Schaeffer, stage musicis not a synthesis of music and gesture, but “music embodied in gesture“1.
The role played by gesture in the context of music is shown in INORI. The composer introduces on stage a dancer / mime who performs a score composed of 13 prayer gestures (inori meaning “prayer “ in Japanese) 2. The choreographic layer of INORI, however, is not simple dance with music, but a visual performance or, one could say, an analysis in artistic form.
The 13 gestures of INORI are coupled with 13 timbres. By spreading the arms or raising them and changing the position (from kneeling to upright), the dancer indicates pitch, rhythmical and dynamic value, and tempo. Section 20 (Adoration) requires the greatest virtuosity from the dancer: the gestures are notated on three staves, separately for both hands and the head.
The inspiration with the rituals of exotic cultures is obvious. Yet there exists a crucial difference between Stockhausen’s early anthropological research and the later stage music of INORI. Although the latter ’s visual layer resembles an exotic dance, its logic is totally different. The origin of gestures and their ordering is a formula: a precomposed plan of the work. By including gestures in this plan, Stockhausen was not moved by an intention of replaying rituals that he knew from other cultures. The conventional and eloquent character of prayer gestures served rather to emphasise the inner musical relationships. It is a peculiar ritualisation of Western musical tradition through a celebration of the principles of serial composition. References to non-European cultures, therefore, are only an added value.
The meaning of gestures in INORI is mirrored by the work’s pendant: VORTRAG ÜBER HU (1974), an artistically shaped analysis of INORI (Vortrag meaning lecture in German). The work consists of singing and dancing with the formal scheme of INORI and its musical implications displayed in the background.
The originality of Stockhausen’s concept of stage music lies in the musicalisation of elements such as choreography, lights, space and costumes, whose role is to emphasise the musical structure. Contrarily to many composers who transplanted elements of Eastern traditions to the ground of Western music, Stockhausen sought to ritualise serial procedures and discover or rediscover ceremoniality within the Western tradition.
1 Albrecht Riethmüller, Zum Ausdruck „szenische Musik”, in: Bericht über den internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress Bayreuth 1981, Kassel 1984, p. 198, quoted after Katerina Grohmannn,Karlheinz Stockhausen Oper MITTWOCH aus LICHT, Kassel 2010, p. 24.
2 In the score, this performer is defined asBeter, “the praying one”. This part can be interpreted simultaneously by two or three dancers, performing exactly the same gestures synchronically. Moreover, Stockhausen allows for a performance by a voice or instrument.