Author Topic: Stockhausen’s Operas  (Read 287 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Stockhausen’s Operas
« on: September 07, 2020, 07:16:33 AM »
I have set myself the project of listening to Licht, so I thought I’d create a thread.
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Offline Cato

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2020, 03:24:16 PM »
Several attempts have been made to start an opera thread for LICHT, but perhaps this one will take off!

Here is a review from c. 30+ years ago.



I have translated an article from the German magazine Der Spiegel from around 1987.  (Exact issue date is gone.)

Note it is written by the editor himself.


"With Hitler and a Bow-Wow into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land
Spiegel Editor Klaus Umbach on Karlheinz Stockhausen’s new opera Montag aus Licht

Like a lord, with curly hair down to his shoulders, he sits enthroned in the glow of spotlights 5 meters above the earthly stage.  His bright shirt is colorfully knitted, his trousers blossom white.  You cannot help but look at him: Karlheinz Stockhausen, 59, a figure of En-Light-enment for the contemporary electronic music scene.

With big eyes full of transfigured delight, this composer on the podium of the Cologne Philharmonic, a man who spiritually is able “to leave my body and observe it as if it were an automobile,” pursues a kind of neocreation of creativity: his work.  And he saw, that it was good.

Among “21 musical performers,”, small ensembles of singers, children’s choirs, traditional and electronic sound generators, among the cries of babies, goats bleating, and the beat of a cuckoo clock, 3 women named after the primeval mother Eve shriek through a squadron of giant loudspeakers “Huvva Luhudens” and “Akka Aditi”, at which point a choir, after a hymn to God as an “immeasurable Intelligence” monosyllabically chants a response: “Michi Michikiki niminimi.”

Then a “Birthday Aria” (“Parrot aye Parakeet Bow Wow!”) is to be understood, according to a published exegesis by Stockhausen himself, that Heaven has bestowed Life to 7 “Animal boys” and to 7 Dwarfs: “Luci-cat, Wee-wee-grimace, Penis-treasure, Birdie-boobs, Johnny Top, Manny-Tickle-Deer, and Little Brat.”

In grateful joy: 3 sailors gargle – according to the score – the sounds “a---öäua aö oöa oa ua” and then “ruketu Urt Werdani,” spitting out the water in high arches.

Up until then it had been a really colorful evening!

But then Hell bursts out in Stockhausen’s Eden.  Luci-Polyp steps out in the forms of 2 Beelzebubs and rattles down the alphabet “from A-fa and Be-fa to Upsilon-fa and Zee-fa.” Then an alarm clock goes off, and Adolf Hitler snores an historic O-tone, so that “we shoot back to 5:45 A.M.,” a crowd of men shout “Hail!” and a toilet flushes from an 8-track tape directed by 40 channels of sound.  Aha!  Creation is excrement, the miscarriage must go through the toilet back to a mother’s lap.

On to something new: a flock of lovely maidens prophesies “sea Samudra Ice,” apparently the code of an exotic genetic technology.  Because immediately a pair of rough chords occur on Eva’s Steinway (“Fertilization with Piano Piece”), the birth proceeds (“frai dai dai vae”) crazily fast, and already they are in the world of Karlheinz Stockhausen: “seven boys of the days,” “healthier and more beautiful human beings,” monstrosities of a composing visionary, who long ago lifted off into the cloud-cuckoo-land of his own crazy-quilted private philosophy.

So (“sonono nononono no”) this is the way things have been screaming with birth-pangs since 1977, and it will continue in installments until the next century, if the powers of inspiration remain whole for the creator.  Then it shall completely enlighten mankind: Stockhausen’s LIGHT, the most monumental and monomaniacal undertaking in Western Musical History, a cycle of operas structured and named after the days of the week, 5 times greater than all of Beethoven’ symphonies together, and at more than 30 hours a Colossus of Time, compared to which Wagner’s Ring tetralogy is a “a cute little chamber opera” (the newspaper Kölnische Rundschau).

At the beginning of April Stockhausen oversaw at the control panel the concert premiere of his latest piece Montag aus Licht.  On Saturday of this week Michael Bogdanov, Hamburg’s designated theater director, is arranging a premiere at La Scala of Donnerstag aus Licht via his previous London staging.

For over 4 hours this syllabic and sibylline  “Play of Light” winds around out of the incense from Poona and Oberammergau, from the Bible, legends, the vocabulary of children’s books, and the coffee grounds of Erich von Däniken (Note: a pseudo-scientist who claimed he had evidence of extra-terrestrial landings in ancient times), leading to the heights of the Bergisch Land and Kürten 5067 (Note: Stockhausen’s town and zip code), where Stockhausen has his center, a man who claims “not to be necessarily identical to Stockhausen the composer.”

Here at the address of Kettenberg 15, a green hill of electronic music astrology, he could listen in on “the 12 melodies of the zodiac”  as well as perceiving the vibrations of Sirius, the “central sun of our area of the Universe,” over 8.7 light-years away, “the highest form of oscillations,” under whose influence he went from new-sound revolutionary to a new-age softie, and from a philharmonic terror of the middle-class to the supernova of a messianically turned community.

Whether as a pioneer at the podium or the music mixer or as Heaven’s loudspeaker, he always stood at the center.  His work Kreuzspiel caused a scandal in 1952 at the Darmstadt New Music Festival.  His Gesang der Jünglinge almost became a classic.  He created by his won estimation the first works of purely electronic music in 19534 at the WDR studios.  The Beatles even honored him with his portrait on the album cover of Sergeant Pepper.  The Distinguished Service Cross Winner of the Republic of Germany once represented the brotherhood of the musical avant-garde in Bonn’s Villa Hammerschmidt and in Lebanon for a German cultural exposition.  During Expo 1970 in Osaka 21 soloists offered his new German sounds in a round auditorium for 5 1/2 hours per day over 183 days, and more than a million fair visitors listened enchanted to this new kind of permanent wave from Germany.

In Amsterdam, as late as 1985, according to a Stuttgart newspaper, “Stockhausen would draw more people than Karajan.”  And last year the composer’s son and trumpeter Markus even promoted his father in East Germany.

But the more frequently Stockhausen has directed ear into the Universe from his high throne his artistic sense to ideas on salvation, the more persistently he has destroyed his regular position as Germany’s #1 composer, which he quite rightly deserved as a revolutionary of the new and as a grandiose craftsman.

To be sure, even in the 3-act Montag aus Licht there are still some trace elements of his sonic inspiration in evidence, especially in the exquisite mixture of voices, synthesizers, and noises, even in the songs without words, which the bassett-horn player Suzanne Stephens and flautist Kathinka Pasveer perform with virtuoso elegance.

But unpleasantly there is nothing else of interest in this score, and it even becomes unsettling to realize: when it gets loud, it sounds like Orff, and when it gets soft, it moans like Cats, and if it keeps going like this, if Sonntag aus Licht is to be expected in the year 2002 as developing this trend, we can expect the world to beam in C major!

This whole musical-theatrical spectacle becomes embarrassing first through its “text-action-stew” (quote from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) with which “total artwork creator” (Gesamtkunstwerker) Stockhausen waters down his musical message, and it makes no difference, as composer and critic Dietmar Polaczek wonders, whether “lower Rhine peasant Buddhism” or “tantric-lamaistic monastic Catholicism” is befogging Stockhausen’s sensibilities.

In any case, his community of believers can be seized by the metaphysical smoke from Kürten, and even the Hamburg newspaper Die Zeit ("The Times") gives the prayer wheel a spin: this work LICHT, said the newspaper in all seriousness about the unfinished work, might be a new type of evangelization, a type of Apocalypse of Karlheinz, and between Hitler, Bow-Wow, and a parakeet (“who attempts to whistle the Marseillaise” according to the score) arises “the art of composing as a new sacrament of the new human in a new, transformed Universe.”

There, in this new ivory-tower full of thoroughly senseless “Times-liness”, the Guru from Bergisch Land “would like to be allowed to make music with planets and moons and roaring groups of planets and suns and moons.”

Really, it’s almost tragic: while Karlheinz Stockhausen, the searcher for God, treks down the Milky Way of the Cosmos with his retinue, the composer of the same name has been going down backward on the wrong road for a long time."



Obviously Klaus Umbach did not care much for this opera.  Would he change his mind today?
« Last Edit: September 07, 2020, 03:38:07 PM by Cato »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2020, 11:46:23 PM »
Licht is modular, each act is allegedly able to stand as a separate entity, so I started off for no good reason with Act One of Dienstag on this CD.



When it finished I felt the urge to listen to it again straight away - and then again this morning -  that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often with me. You can see I think it’s rather good.

The first thing I want to say is that much of the music is polyphonic - independent simultaneous instrumental voices with contrasting timbres. I like that. There also appears to be sort of tonal centre.  I would have thought that anyone who’s interested in Richard Barrett would want to hear it - it’s a similar sort of thing.



« Last Edit: September 07, 2020, 11:48:40 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Cato

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2020, 03:08:27 AM »

You can see I think it’s rather good.

The first thing I want to say is that much of the music is polyphonic - independent simultaneous instrumental voices with contrasting timbres. I like that. There also appears to be sort of tonal centre.  I would have thought that anyone who’s interested in Richard Barrett would want to hear it - it’s a similar sort of thing.

Very nice!

It was reported that Bruckner at the end of an opera by Wagner wanted to know why the heroine was dying.  He had concentrated so much on the music that the "drama" fell by the wayside.  I wonder whether the same might hold true for Stockhausen's creations here, i.e. one could ignore the idiosyncratic mythology and simply concentrate on the musical connections and find that just as satisfying as following the extra-musical content
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2020, 01:37:13 PM »
I'm glad to have read the phrase: In grateful joy: 3 sailors gargle
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2020, 09:29:58 PM »
I'm glad to have read the phrase: In grateful joy: 3 sailors gargle



Is that in one of the operas?
« Last Edit: September 08, 2020, 09:40:07 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2020, 09:33:52 PM »
Next module that has caught my imagination big time - Kathinkas Gesang, flute and percussion and other unnamable things I can’t name, bicycle pump maybe,  which is scene 2 from Samstag, on this recording. Parts of it are nature music which remind me of Bartok.

 I’m basically just picking scenes randomly and jumping over them if they don’t immediately sound fun and experimental.



It’s when it’s polyphonic that I like it, and when it’s melodic.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2020, 09:41:57 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2020, 11:16:51 PM »


More of Samstag, Act 3 is nicknamed Lucifer’s Dance, is music of serious polyphonic complexity, and a serious pulse in the first half especially, which energises the music. The pulse makes me think of Rihm’s Jagden Und Formen, but unlike Rihm, Stockhausen punctuated the music with moments of tranquility some of them quite extended, and so there’s relief.   Outstanding!

It’s related to another piece of music by Stockhausen, Rechter Augebrauentanz, which I will try to hear later today.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2020, 11:27:10 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2020, 11:19:40 PM »
Very nice!

It was reported that Bruckner at the end of an opera by Wagner wanted to know why the heroine was dying.  He had concentrated so much on the music that the "drama" fell by the wayside.  I wonder whether the same might hold true for Stockhausen's creations here, i.e. one could ignore the idiosyncratic mythology and simply concentrate on the musical connections and find that just as satisfying as following the extra-musical content

In the modules I’ve listened to, there isn’t much text. I mean there’s a bit but it’s not like something by Berg or Richard Strauss, for example. I’ll have a look at the libretti sometime soon though.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2020, 04:31:40 AM »


More of Samstag, Act 3 is nicknamed Lucifer’s Dance, is music of serious polyphonic complexity, and a serious pulse in the first half especially, which energises the music. The pulse makes me think of Rihm’s Jagden Und Formen, but unlike Rihm, Stockhausen punctuated the music with moments of tranquility some of them quite extended, and so there’s relief.   Outstanding!

It’s related to another piece of music by Stockhausen, Rechter Augebrauentanz, which I will try to hear later today.

A bit unfair to Rihm, that comment.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Stockhausen’s Operas
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2020, 01:59:57 AM »
This may be the best yet! And unfortunately it makes me want to see the text - does anyone know if it’s online anywhere



I’ll post about the modules sometime soon, suffice it to say that it is astonishingly good!
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