Karl Heinz Stockhausen

Artist / Band / Musician
Experimental / Classical / Other
Born in Burg Mödrath, near Cologne, he studied at the Cologne Musikhochschule and the University of Cologne (1947-51), at Darmstadt in 1951, with Olivier Messiaen and (for a very short time) with Darius Milhaud in Paris (1952-53). From 1954 to 1956 he studied phonetics, acoustics, and information theory with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn. After lecturing at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik at Darmstadt (first in 1953), Stockhausen gave lectures and concerts in Europe, North America, and Asia. He was guest professor of composition at the University of Pennsylvania in 1965, and at the University of California, Davis, in 1966-67. He founded and directed the Cologne Courses for New Music from 1963 to 1968, and was appointed Professor of Composition at the National Conservatory of Music, Cologne, in 1971, where he taught until 1977. In 1998, he founded the annual Stockhausen Courses, Kürten.

Stockhausen has worked with a form of serial composition that set out from a rejection of the twelve-tone technique of Schoenberg, and electronic procedures, with spatial placements of sound sources (for example in his noted work Gesang der Jünglinge), and with graphical notation. Stockhausen sometimes departs radically from musical tradition and his work is influenced by Messiaen and Anton Webern, as well as by film (Stockhausen 1996) and by painters such as Mondrian and Klee. He claims that he explores fundamental psychological and acoustic aspects of music. His work with electronic music and its utter fixity led him to explore modes of instrumental and vocal music in which performers' individual capabilities and the circumstances of a particular performance (e.g., hall acoustics) may determine certain aspects of a composition. He calls this "variable form." In other cases, a work may be presented from a number of different perspectives. In Zyklus for example, the score is written so that the performance can start on any page, and it may be read upside down, or from right to left, as the performer chooses. Still other works permit different routes through the constituent parts. Stockhausen calls both of these possibilities "polyvalent form," which may be either open form (essentially incomplete, pointing beyond its frame), as with Klavierstück XI (1956), or "closed form" (complete and self-contained) as with Momente (1962-64/69).

In many of his works, elements are played off against one another, simultaneously and successively: in Kontra-Punkte ("Against Points", 1952-53), a process leading from an initial "point" texture of isolated notes toward a florid, ornamental ending is opposed by a tendency from diversity (six timbres, dynamics, and durations) toward uniformity (timbre of solo piano, a nearly constant soft dynamic, and fairly even durations); in Gruppen (1955-7) fanfares and passages of varying speed (superimposed durations based on the harmonic series) are occasionally flung between three full orchestras, giving the impression of movement in space.

In his Kontakte for electronic sounds (optionally with piano and percussion) (1959-60) he achieved for the first time an isomorphism of the four parameters of pitch, duration, dynamics, and timbre. He pioneered live electronics in "Mixtur" (1964) for orchestra and electronics, Mikrophonie I (1964) for tam-tam, two microphones, two filters with potentiometers (6 players), Mikrophonie II (1965) for choir, Hammond organ, and four ring modulators, and Solo for a melody instrument with feedback (1966).

Through the 1960s, Stockhausen explored the possibilities of "process composition" in works for live performance, such as "Prozession" (1967), "Kurzwellen" and "Spiral" (both 1968), culminating in the verbally described "intuitive music" compositions of Aus den sieben Tagen (1968) and "Für kommende Zeiten" (1968-70).

From Mantra (1970) until the completion of Licht in 2003, Stockhausen concentrated almost exclusively on formula composition, a compositional technique which involves the projection and multiplication of a single melody, double- or triple-line formula, sometimes stated at the outset as an introduction (Mantra, Inori).

Stockhausen has written over 200 individual works. Between 1977 to 2003 he composed a cycle of seven operas called Licht ("Light"). The Licht cycle deals with the relationships between three characters; Lucifer, Michael and Eve. Stockhausen's conception of opera is based significantly on ceremony and ritual and his approach to characterisation shows the influence of Artaud in its rejection of psychological perspective. Similarly, his approach to voice and text suggests a change from the traditional emphasis: a few parts of Licht are written in simulated languages.

Since completing Licht, Stockhausen has embarked on a new cycle of compositions, based on the hours of the day, titled Klang ("Sound"). The works from this cycle performed to date are First Hour: Himmelfahrt (Ascension), for organ or synthesizer, soprano and tenor (2004-5); Second Hour: Freude (Joy) for two harps (2005); Third Hour: Natürliche Dauern (Natural Durations) for piano (2005-6); and Fourth Hour: Himmels-Tür (Heaven's Door) for a percussionist and a little girl (2005). The Fifth Hour, Akkorde (Chords), was composed in 2006 but has not yet been premièred. The Sixth Hour, as yet untitled, is an electronic work, to be premiered in Rome in 2007.

In the early 1990s Stockhausen reacquired the licenses to most the recordings of his music he had made to that point, and began his own record company to make this music permanently available on compact disc. He also designs and prints his own musical scores, which often involve unconventional devices. The score for his piece Refrain, for instance, includes a rotatable (refrain) on a transparent plastic strip, and dynamics in Weltparlament (the first scene of Mittwoch aus Licht) are coded in colour.

Stockhausen is one of the few major twentieth-century composers to write a large amount of music for the trumpet, inspired by his son Markus Stockhausen, a trumpeter.

The dream of flying has accompanied Karlheinz Stockhausen's career since the very beginning. Back in the early 1950s, when he was enthralling some and infuriating others in the avant-garde community around the Darmstadt Summer Courses in New Music with his first works Punkte, Kontra-Punkte and Kreuzspiel, he was already developing his first ideas for liberating musicians from the constraints of gravity. This interest came to a head with the Helikopter-Streichquartett, completed in 1993. In this, the four members of a string quartet each perform from their own helicopter flying above the concert hall. The sounds they play are mixed together with the sounds of the helicopters and played through speakers to the audience in the hall. Videos of the performers are also transmitted back to the concert hall. The performers are synchronized with the aid of a click-track. Despite its extremely unusual nature, the piece has been given several performances, including one on 22nd August 2003 as part of the Salzburg Festival to open the Hangar-7 venue. The work has also been recorded by the Arditti Quartet.

Stockhausen and his music have been controversial and influential. The influence of his Kontra-Punkte, Zeitmasse and Gruppen may be seen in the work of many composers, including Igor Stravinsky's Threni (1957-58) and Movements for piano and orchestra (1958-59), and other works, up to the Variations: Aldous Huxley In Memoriam (1963-64). Popular and jazz musicians such as Anthony Braxton, Can, The Beatles, Kraftwerk, Coil, Björk, Sonic Youth, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and Herbie Hancock cite Stockhausen as an influence. It has been argued that various movements in electronic music such as the development of techno or even hip hop (in the use of sampling) could not have happened without Stockhausen's work.

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