Karlheinz Stockhausen, born Aug. 22, 1928, in Mödrath, near Cologne, Germany, is the composer, and important creator and theoretician of electronic and serial music who strongly influenced avant-garde composers from the 1950s through the ’80s.
Stockhausen studied at the State Academy for Music in Cologne and the University of Cologne from 1947 to 1951. In 1952 he went to Paris, where he studied with the composers Olivier Messiaen and, for a time, Darius Milhaud. Returning to Cologne in 1953, Stockhausen joined its celebrated electronic music studio West German Broadcasting (Westdeutscher Rundfunk), where he served as artistic director from 1963 to 1977. His Studie I (1953; “Study”) was the first musical piece composed from sine-wave sounds, while Studie II (1954) was the first work of electronic music to be notated and published. From 1954 to 1956, at the University of Bonn, Stockhausen studied phonetics, acoustics, and information theory, all of which influenced his musical composition. Having lectured at summer courses on new music in Darmstadt since 1953, he began teaching composition there in 1957 and established a similar series of workshops at Cologne in 1963. Stockhausen lectured and gave concerts of his music throughout Europe and North America. From 1971 to 1977 he was professor of composition at the State Academy for Music in Cologne.
Opera, Blood, and Tears
Das Leben, das Du gibst / The Life You Give: Karlheinz Stockhausen
in celebration of his life in music
August 22 at 4pm EST
Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Young)
Klavierstücke I-XI (Piano Pieces)
Helikopter-Streichquartett (Helicopter String-quartet) Scene 3 of Mittwoch from Licht
Stockhausen’s explorations of fundamental psychological and acoustical aspects of music were highly independent. Serialism (music based on a series of tones in an ordered arrangement without regard for traditional tonality) was a guiding principle for him. But whereas composers such as Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg had confined the serial principle to pitch, Stockhausen, beginning with his composition Kreuzspiel (1951), set about extending serialism to other musical elements, inspired largely by the work of Messiaen. Thus, instrumentation, pitch register and intensity, melodic form, and time duration are deployed in musical pieces that assume an almost geometric level of organization. Stockhausen also began using tape recorders and other machines in the 1950s to analyze and investigate sounds through the electronic manipulation of their fundamental elements, sine waves. From this point he set out to create a new, radically serial approach to the basic elements of music and their organization. He used both electronic and traditional instrumental means and buttressed his approach with rigorous theoretical speculations and radical innovations in musical notation.
In general, Stockhausen’s works are composed of a series of small, individually characterized units, either “points” (individual notes), “groups” of notes, or “moments” (discrete musical sections), each of which can be enjoyed by the listener without forming part of a larger dramatic line or scheme of musical development. This sort of indeterminate, “open form” technique was pioneered by composer John Cage in the early 1950s and was subsequently adopted by Stockhausen. A typical example of Stockhausen’s “open form” is Momente (1962–69), a piece for soprano, 4 choruses, and 13 players. In some such works, such as Klavierstück XI (1956; Piano Piece XI), Stockhausen gives performers a choice of several possible sequences in which to play a given collection of individual moments, since they are equally interesting regardless of their order of occurrence. Chance decisions thus play an important role in many of the compositions.
Certain elements are played off against one another, simultaneously and successively. In Kontra-Punkte (Counter-Points; 1952–53; for 10 instruments), pairs of instruments and extremes of note values confront one another in a series of dramatic encounters; in Gruppen (Groups; 1955–57; for three orchestras), fanfares and passages of varying speed are flung from one orchestra to another, giving the impression of movement in space; while in Zeitmasze (Measures; 1955–56; for five woodwinds) various rates of acceleration and deceleration oppose one another.
In Stockhausen’s electronic music these juxtapositions are taken still further. In the early work Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56; Song of the Youths), a recording of a boy’s voice is mixed with highly sophisticated electronic sounds. Kontakte (1958–60) is an encounter between electronic sounds and instrumental music, with an emphasis on their similarities of timbre. In Mikrophonie I (1964), performers produce an enormous variety of sounds on a large gong with the aid of highly amplified microphones and electronic filters.
Stockhausen’s Stimmung (1968; “Tuning”), composed for six vocalists with microphones, contains text consisting of names, words, days of the week in German and English, and excerpts from German and Japanese poetry. Hymnen (1969; “Hymns”) was written for electronic sounds and is a recomposition of several national anthems into a single universal anthem. Stockhausen began to reincorporate more conventional melodic forms in such works as Mantra (1970). Virtually all of his compositions from 1977 through 2003 formed part of the grandiose seven-part operatic cycle LICHT (“Light”), a work steeped in spirituality and mysticism that he intended to be his masterpiece. In 2005 the first parts of another ambitious series, KLANG (“Sound”)—in segments that correspond to the 24 hours in a day—were premiered.
Stockhausen’s views on music were presented in a 10-volume collection, Texte, published in German, as well as in a number of other publications, including Mya Tannenbaum’s Conversations with Stockhausen (translated from Italian, 1987), Jonathan Cott’s Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer (1974), and a compilation of his lectures and interviews, Stockhausen on Music, assembled by Robin Maconie (1989).
A musical pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen broke many barriers and taboos. He wrote more than 300 works in various genres from opera and orchestral pieces to electronic music and complex compositions where performers, producers, helicopters, recording equipment, and audiences all together become his instruments.
His father, Simon, was a school teacher, his mother, Gertrude, was an amateur pianist. He played piano from age 7, showing a perfect pitch and impressive memory. He lost both parents in WWII, being only twelve years old. At age 16 he was recruited to serve at the war hospital, where he attended hundreds of severely wounded. He studied music at Cologne Musikhochschule, at Cologne University (1945-51), at Paris Conservatory (1951-53) with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. At the University of Bonn (1954-56) he studied information theory, acoustics and composition.
Stockhausen began his experiments with live music and recorded sounds in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He played with the tape-recorded sounds of glass, metal, wood and other unconventional sources in Paris Radio Studio and at Cologne Radio (WDR) electronic studio. His experimental work at the West Deutsche Rundfunk (WDR) studio in Cologne was the leading work with recorded sound at that time. His purely electronic compositions made in 1953-54, such as “Electronic Study” (1953), were the first ever written and published works in this new genre. His ground-braking “Klavierstuck XI (1956), which features 19 elements to be performed in changing sequences, was one of the early works in aleatoric (controlled chance) music.
In the early 1960s Stockhausen collaborated with Yoko Ono in her New York loft concerts. He also staged happenings with George Maciunas and other avant-garde performers of the “Fluxus” movement. At that time he experimented with cross-genre shows where musicians and audiences all together become performers in a setting that provoked imagination and inventiveness. and various non-musical objects, and even people in the audience were also used as musical instruments. Although details of such experimentations could not be registered in notation, the breakthrough was that any person could come out of the audiences and join the performers in making music.
In 1968 Stockhausen wrote the conceptual “From Seven Days” after living completely alone and without food, being influenced by Sri Aurobindo. In “Ylem” (1972) he instructs 19 musicians to establish telepathic communication with each other while performing this 26-minute happening. His “Helikopter-Streichquartett” (1992-95) was written for 4 musicians performing on 4 flying helicopters with electronic video and sound inter-com technology, and was performed and recorded in 1996 several times by the Arditti Quartet on helicopters provided by the Austrian Army. Stockhausen’s largest work took him 25 years to complete. It is the mega-opera consisting of seven operas, one 24-hour opera for each day of the week, is entitled “Licht” (Light, 1977-2003).
In the course of his career spanning over 60 years, Stockhausen created over 300 compositions, presenting a conceptual mix of occidental an oriental cultures. His thought-provoking output was cited as an influence by the The Beatles, Yoko Ono, Kraftwerk, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, and Björk. Stockhausen appeared on the cover of The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Paul McCartney, one of his numerous fans across the universe.
Outside of his entertainment profession, Stockhausen was a highly unusual and sometimes controversial figure. His comment about the tragedy of 9/11 as “the work of art” attracted much controversy. He later apologized for the reaction to the comment, but said that he was misquoted and misunderstood. Stockhausen was married twice and had six children. He died of natural causes on December 5, 2007, in Kuerten, and was laid to rest in the Forest cemetery in Kuerten, Germany.
Source: IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov