Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1928-2007

I just read (two days late) that composer Karlheinz Stockhausen died on Wednesday. I’m not about to get all “Ye sacred Muses” here or anything, but he was an important (if controversial) composer. I remember being distinctly weirded out by his vocal works as an undergrad, along with the peculiar mystico-universalist sort of spiritual leanings he wrote into many of his works (Stimmung, for example, calls out by name to a plethora of gods–“magic names,” as Stockhausen called them). His recently completed 7-opera cycle, Licht, was structured after the days of the week (employing all sorts of symbolism and [mis?-]appropriating spiritual and ritual traditions from all over the world), and the (to my knowledge) in-progress (and hence, now, incomplete) cycle of instrumental chamber works, Klang, similarly took their bases from the hours of the day. It remains to be seen what importance these rather ambitious projects will hold in the future (it is my guess that Licht in particular may have been intended as a modern take-off from Stockhausen’s long-departed fellow countryman’s most famous work).

Regardless, he will be remembered (for better or for worse) as an innovator in electronic music, and in odd sorts of performance practice (as in the Helicopter Quartet). He had fascinating, if unrealistic, ideas about performance space and time, specifying that some parts of music should be performed simultaneously with others, but completely removed from one another geographically. It was like a music-drama to fill the world–an extension of Wagner’s Gesamptkunstwerk?–rather than merely the concert hall. Over the years I have come to a limited appreciation of some of his works, although I’ve never devoted the time and attention to him that I have to Messiaen or Ligeti (who died last year).

It appears the old guard is leaving us.

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Scott

Composer of music and sonic art. Percussionist, guitarist, computer musician. Composition/theory/electronic music professor. Husband and father. Catholic. Food and beer enthusiast. Perpetually dissatisfied with the contents of my sock drawer.

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