STOCKHAUSEN: A KOZMIC MUSIC FOR A KOZMIC AGE
Karlheinz Stockhausen was born on the 22nd of August 1928, in Modrath, a village near Cologne, Germany. He would grow to become one of the most important composer of modern music, and a central figure in the rebirth of German culture following the Second World War. His music would be one that drew equally on the past and the future, acknowledging the ideas of kozmic harmony that had been such a feature of Platonism and the Renaissance, but embracing the new possibilities of electronic music.
After leaving school in 1947, the young Stockhausen moved to Cologne, where he would live for the next eighteen years, and attended the Musikhochschule. These early years were influenced by such literary giants as Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann, whose Glass Bead Game and Doktor Faustus respectively were personal benchmarks for Stockhausen. Indeed, there was nothing in Stockhausen's early years that suggested he would become a composer, and instead, it was the literary world that he seem destined for; whereas music would be just a way of making money. In the time available to him between his studies, Stockhausen produced poems, short stories, and even a play, Die Liebe der Anderen (The Love of Others), and it is one of these works that a hint can be found of the kozmic themes which would come to typify his musical work. In 1949, around the time of his twenty-first birthday, Stockhausen entered a trance-like state, and produced the story Geburt im Tod (Birth in death). Influenced by Hesse, the story tells of the Indian Mogul emperor Humayun (1508-56), who, as the story opens, is fatally bitten by a snake, but revives when his father suddenly dies in his stead; hence the title Birth in death. After being exiled from his kingdom, and then returning and winning it back, Humayun dies whilst descending the spiral staircase in his library: plunging over the edge and striking his head. What is significant about the story of Humayun, and which Stockhausen was unaware of at the time, is that the historical Humayun wore coloured clothing representing the seven planets (sun:gold, moon:silver, mars:red, venus:green, mercury:blue, saturn:black, etc), and had organized his officials along similar magickal lines based on the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. In 1977, and up to the present day, this septenary theme would come to the fore in Stockhausen's masterwork, the seven-part opera Licht, in which each part, an opera in itself, concerns itself with a day of the week.
The life and career of Karlheinz Stockhausen can be divided into distinct periods and styles. In the early years at the Cologne Musikhochschule, his life had been defined by Hesse and Mann, and musically by Arnold Schoenberg's Dance around the Golden Calf, but a new view of the world came in the early fifties in the form of Messiaen's Mode de valuers et d'intensites and Heidegger's Holzwege. This was the time of a musical Zero Hour, which had seen the deaths of both Bartok and Webern in 1945, and the emergence of a new approach to music, central to which was the simultaneously mystical and rational French composer Oliver Messiaen. Messiaen, in what would later come to be a Stockhausen trademark, approached music with the aim of creating a single sound from each note. This idea was not entirely new, echoing as it did the core concepts of mysticism, where simplicity is sought over obfuscation. Indeed, in a series of lectures on tone eurhythmy in 1924, Rudolf Steiner had spoken of the future of music being influenced by the single note: "Melody works through time. The chord is the corpse of the melody... we must become aware of the melody within a note, within a single note. In each note there are a number of notes -three at least. But the one note that we hear as the note which is sounding, which is being produced with the instrument, that acts as present. And then there is another one, which is as though we were remembering it. And there is a third one there, which is as if we were expecting it. Each note actually evokes memory and expectation, as melodious neighbor notes."
The excitement of the musical Zero Hour was in evidence at the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where various new musical forms were represented: a performance of Scoenberg's Dance around the Golden Calf from his opera Moses und Aron for twelve-note serialism; Pierre Schaeffer giving examples of his musique concrete; and a conference on the acoustic world of electronic music. In attendance were many of the young people who would later emerge as modern composers, including Stockhausen, as well as a former pupil of Messiaen from Antwerp, Karel Goeyvaerts. Both Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts had enrolled in Schoenberg's composition course, and although the composer had to cancel due to illness, the two became firm friends, sharing a love for the spiritual and numinous in music; so much so that they were dubbed "Adrian Leverkuhn and his famulus"; alluding to Mann's Doktor Faustus. This combination of influence at this musical Zero Hour came to a head for Stockhausen whilst hitch-hiking to see the woman who would become his first wife, Doris Andreae (a woman who, significantly, could trace her ancestry directly back to Johann Valentin Andreae, the author of The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz). He was picked up by a couple and as they drove towards Hamburg, he received, for want of a better word, his new composition, Kreuzspiel: "I began Kreuzspiel... as I had seen it inside my head, while these people were talking about something quite different. In a dream or a daydream a really strong pressure swells up inside like a bubble. It is both hearing and seeing at once... you hear it as a whole, as a landscape or mountain is seen from a great distance, and that is what is most important." Keuzspiel marked a new compositional approach Stockhausen, being influenced by the piano pieces of Messiaen. and Goeyvaerts, with each note defined exactly within all its parameters as a unique point of sound, like, as Stockhausen remarked, "stars in the night sky, each one of them an individual."
During this early phase, Stockhausen studied rhythm and aesthetics with Messiaen in Paris, and participated in the musique concrete group at French Radio. He also composed a number of his important works: the piano pieces Klavierstucke I-IV; Spiel for orchestra; Punkte for orchestra; and Etude, a musique concrete piece. The year 1952 also saw his first forays into electronic music.
After composing the work Kontra-Punkte for ten instruments in 1952, and discovering the limits of human performers and conventional instruments, Stockhausen began to investigate the potential of electronic music; having lamented "If only a clarinet could stay exactly the same over three octaves for eight minutes." In 1953, Stockhausen became a permanent collaborator at the electronic studio of Colgone Radio, which was equipped with electric and manual melochords and a sine-wave generator. By July, having made himself familiar with the rather rudimentary equipment, Stockhausen had began his first electronic composition, Studie I, which built up sounds from sine-waves, giving him cause to say: "It is unbelievably beautiful to hear such sounds, which are completely balanced, calm, static and illuminated only by structural proportions. Raindrops in the sun." The piece was finished in November, and became one of two electronic compositions commissioned by West German radio.
The use of electronic sounds was not, as is still frequently said, a rejection of nature or spirituality, but rather, a step towards the eternal in its true state, as pure energy. Indeed, it was with this motivation that in 1954, Stockhausen began planning the composition of an electronic mass; a work which would not simply be an exercise in combining the human voice with electronic sounds, but would be a sacred work based solidly on personal conviction. He hoped that the mass could be performed in Cologne Cathedral, but was refused since loudspeakers had no place in a church. So instead of an entire mass, Stockhausen turned his attention to just the Benedicite, a text called the Song of the Youths in the Fiery Furnace from theApocrypha to the Book of Daniel, which is recited at the close of the mass. The work became Gesang der Junglinge, the most famous of all pioneering electronic compositions. The vocal passages from the Benedicite and specific sequences of pitch were sang by a twelve-year-old boy, and combined with a timbre continuum which moved from sine-tone to white noise. The first performance of the work (titled Part 1 in the program as its thirteen minute length was all that had been completed from the intended twenty) was at an event called Unheard of Music: Composers without Audiences?, where it, Stockhausen's first sacred work, was premiered with the final, unfinished work of Schoenberg (O Du mein Gott, alle Volker preisen Dich). The audience were seated within the sound, with five loudspeakers surrounding them through which the sound circled and wandered, creating a sense of space in which the inner and outer, the causal and acausal merged; or in the words of Novalis: Time is inner space - space, external time.
ON THE SEVENTH DAY
Over the decade following Gesang der Junglinge, Stockhausen continued to compose both conventional and electronic music, including the works Mikrophonie I & II, Stop, Pole, Kontakte, Zyklus, Refrain, and Hymnen. But seven days in May of 1968 became another dramatic turning point for the career and musical style of Stockhausen. When his second wife, the painter Mary Bauermeister, decided to end their relationship, Stockhausen became depressed and realized that he could not go on. He decided to begin a hunger-strike to make Mary return to him, and on the second day of the strike he wrote a text composition (instructions for the performer of a piece of music, in which the performers response to the guidelines is the sole music), where the performers was to chose a sound, and play it for however long they felt was necessary. Over the next fourteen days, fourteen more text compositions were written, along with a number of koan-like texts, and these were later compiled as Aus den sieben Tagen. Through the carthartic experience of intense depression and a glimpse of death, Stockhausen gained a yet still more streamlined compositional form, in which no events or motifs occur, and the performer is the direct conduit between the causal and acausal.
Revitilized by this new approach to composition, Stockhausen began work on new projects. He worked with the painter and light-artist Otto Piene on Hinab-Hinauf, a contribution to the German pavilion at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, which featured a vast star-lit sphere within which Stockhausen's music was performed for 5 and a half hours each day for 183 days; reaching over a million listeners. Around the same time that work began on Hinab-Hinauf, Stockhausen completed his solo piece for the year, Spiral, a work for a soloist with a short-wave receiver, where the instructions require repetition until a spiral effect is achieved. In 1971, it was through this work that Stockhausen came into Contact/Order with Jill Purce, an English art historian who was researching an extensive project on the spiral in art, nature and mysticism. Part of her book, The Mystic Spiral, was written at Stockhausen's house, and through her connections with the Sufi movement, he was in turn introduced to the writings of the Sufi musician Hazrat Inayat Khan. Khan's ideas echo those of Platonism and the Renaissance, speaking of a kozmic harmony between the macrokozm and the microkozm. Stockhausen was equally interested in the western equivalents of Khan, and immersed himself in the writings of Jakob Bohme, Nostradamus, Robert James Lee, and Helena Blavatsky. He was also attracted to Jakob Lorber (1800-1864), a music-teacher from Graz, who, at the age of forty-two, heard a voice say "Take up thy stylus and write", and produced twenty-five volumes of New Revelations.
It was a text by Lorber that Stockhausen set to music in his work Sirius; for electronics, trumpet, soprano, bass clarinet and bass. The piece depicted the cycles of the year, with each of the soloists representing one of the seasons; just as Humayun had divided his officials. With an understanding of the importance of Sirius to the ancient Egyptians (for whom it symbolized Sothis-Isis, and presaged the annual flooding of the Nile), Stockhausen felt a further connection with the dog star. He regarded Sirius as a star for whose inhabitants "Music is the highest form of all vibrations. For this reason, music there is the most highly developed of all things. Every musical composition of Sirius is linked to the rhythms of the star constellations, seasons of the year and times of the day, the elements and the existential differences of the living beings." The significance of Sirius for Stockhausen had come after two dreams which he has never explained in detail, but which did reveal that not only did he come from Sirius, but that he completed his musical education there. Implicit in the music for Sirius were several of Lorber's beliefs about the star, ideas which though received over a hundred years ago are still extant: that Sirius is the central sun of our region of space, and that Sirians were responsible for creating life on earth; themes that can be found in sources as diverse as the ONA, Typhonian magick, and conventional New Age groups.
Stars also played an important role in other works Stockhausen composed around this time. Musik in Bauch, for six percussionists and music boxes, was also inspired by a dream, and was premiered at an arts festival in Royan. A huge eagle-headed figure called Miron hung above the middle of the stage wearing a Mexican shirt, while the percussionists playing antique cymbals, glockenspiels and marimba entered the stag or were heard on the wings. Three of them moved stiffly towards Miron, encircling, prodding, and dancing around him, until at the sound of a tubular bell, they froze. The belly of Miron was cut open, and in succession the three pulled out a music box each, playing the melodies of Leo, Capricorn, and Aquarius. They accompanied the melodies on a little glockenspiel at Miron's feet, before departing one at a time until all that was left were the music boxes playing until they wound down. The zodiac melodies in this Aztec-Toltec mystery play (with its obvious suggestions of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent), were added to make a complete set of twelve in 1975, where they became part of another cyclic astral work, Tierkreis; written for a melodic instrument and/or a chordal instrument, with other versions with text for six voices, and another for a chamber orchestra with clarinet, horn, bassoon, and strings.
The autumn of 1977 saw Stockhausen begin work on his magnum opus, Licht; a seven-part work representing seven days, with the composing of each day taking three and a half years. As Sirius had been based on the inspired revelations of Jakob Lorber, much of Licht, whilst drawing on mystical traditions from through out the world, was largely influenced by The Urantia Book; a channelled work of over 2000 pages which gives an alternate, spiritual history of the world. Stockhausen took as his central characters for Licht three beings who represent spiritual essences: Eve, Lucifer, and Michael. Eve (as soprano, basset-horn, and dancer) renews the genetic quality of humanity by giving birth to more musical people; Michael (as tenor, trumpet, and dancer) is a progressive force of development; while Lucifer (as bass, trombone, and dancer) is his rebellious antagonist. Each of the seven days, with its corresponding colours, symbols, plants and animals, is either dedicated to one of the three beings, or to some event between them: Thursday is Michael's day; Friday is the day of Eve's temptation by Lucifer; Saturday is Lucifer's day; Sunday is the day of mystic union between Eve and Michael; Monday is Eve's day; Tuesday is the day of confrontation between Lucifer and Michael; and Wednesday is the day of collaboration between all three. According to Stockhausen: "Licht isn't a story at all. Licht is the proof of the existence of Michael, of Lucifer, and of Eve, the triple manifestation of the spirit materialized in the interpreters."
Donnerstag (Thursday), the first of the Licht operas, begins with Michael, who has incarnated on earth in order to experience the fate of mankind. In an early childhood which directly, and purposely, mirrors that of Stockhausen himself, Michael is taught by his father how to pray, act, and hunt, while his mother teaches him the names of the sun, moon, and stars, and dances, sings, and laughs. He meets Mondeva, a girl from the stars (and an hypostasis of Eve), and passes his musical exams before setting out on Michael's Journey Around The Earth. In Act 3, Michael returns to his celestial residence and is welcomed by Eve, who addresses him as Son of Love, Protector of Mankind, Hermes-Christos, Thor-Donar, and sings "Sirius composed this hymn for you, Does it not please you? Holy be your Work, Michael, Musichel."
The next installment in Licht was Samstag (Saturday), the day of Lucifer, and the day of death. With obvious pagan insight, Stockhausen viewed death not as a negative state, as in Christian belief, but as an essential part of life itself: "From childhood on, I quite often experienced death directly as the moment of a possible transition that can come at any time, something we do not necessarily have to spend twenty, thirty or forty years preparing for, and which is followed immediately by continuation in some other form. My conception of art and the whole of my work in composition have been stamped with this experience." In preparation for Samstag, Stockhausen studied the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and said at the time that he had come to terms with the question of death. Samstag opens with the appearance of Lucifer dressed entirely in black, enveloped in fog and smoke. He dreams a piano piece, and seeks to abolish time by counting up to thirteen and invoking the elements of air, water, earth, and fire in sing. On hearing the melody of Eve, he dies, enchanted by the sensual human music.
The next scene occurs in a graveyard, with a legless grand piano forming a grave upon which are laid wreaths and garlands. In a direct echo of the Aradia myth of Lucifer, a cat, called Kathinka, plays a requiem for Lucifer on a flute, with the intent not to mourn his passing, but to help him achieve rebirth. Kathinka climbs to the top of a pyramid where she plays twenty-four musical exercises for Lucifer, each of which are illuminated on two mandalas standing on each side of the grave. She is accompanied by six percussionists, representing the six senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch, and thinking. With the release of the senses, Lucifer rises reborn from the grave and begins to dance. Michael enters, seeking harmony from playing together, but is driven away by Lucifer with seven tamtam strokes. Kathinka the cat returns and plays the Tip of the Tongue Dance, while a demon she has brought dances, unwrapping fourteen letters of black ribbon which form the phrase Salve Satanelli (Greeting Satan's children). In a sudden change of scene which combines the causal with the acausal, the musicians playing the piece gradually stop playing there instruments and go on strike, as their contractually agreed time has run out. Chaos quickly ensues, and in the final scenes, a black bird is carried in a cage by twenty-six monks, who release it when church bells ring. A bulging sack has in the meantime fallen from heaven, from which each monk draws a coconut, and throws it against a stone slab in front of a church, making a wish as they do it.
In May, 1988, Montag was first premiered in Milan. For Stockhausen, Eve represented the archetypal goddess (with none of the contempt shown for her in the book of Genesis), and the first act begins with her sitting beside the ocean in the form of a huge statue, being made ready for birth by twenty-one women; a scene rich in mythical precedence. From the throat of the statue, Eve sings as a triple voice (three sopranos), and one by one, fourteen fantastic creatures come into being: seven boys with heads of animals (lion, swallows, horse, parrot, budgerigar, and dog), and seven grey-haired boys. While this again has an obvious mythic and archetypal resonance, the connection is made clearer when three sailors disembark from ships, bearing gifts, and singing another birth aria in which the Greek fates and the Germanic Norns are referred to:
urturu Geburt uru
urukete tukete lachetu tukete lachetu
Urd Werdandi ninini
ruketu Urt Werdandi ruketu
tukete tukete take teke tike toke tuke tu ketu
Urrt jeketu urt Werdandi
tubedube skuld tubedup
acqua acqua Samudra
In the final act of Montag opens, the sea after being frozen over has melted and Eve sits upon a lawn. A man, Ave, the mirror image of Eve appears and is heralded by the chorus as a magickal musician. Eve and Ava fall in love and play a duet, which ultimately casts a spell over the children of Eve, until their voices are transformed into bird-song, and the statue of Eve becomes a mountain with bushes and streams.
* * *
The archetypal nature of Stockhausen's work, perhaps best illustrated by the rich tapestry of images that appear in Licht, reveals him as a spiritual composer in much the same vein as Part and Taverner; even if the musical style may vary markedly. What separates him from such composers is his thoroughly magickal use of a kozmology which is, on the whole, distinct from the Christian paradigm, and draws from the archetypal source pool of Western heritage. At the same time, though, Stockhausen is the best example, and the true pioneer of the Faustian spirit which seeks knowledge in the past, but is unafraid to explore the future. Small wonder that a man who once hailed Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus as a personal touchstone, should embrace, like Faust, the promise of pure knowledge, and seek to create a music for the future. A kozmic music for a kozmic age.
See all the lights that the dead have seen.
Hear all the tones that the dead have heard.
See all the lights that the unborn shall see.
Hear all the tones that the unborn shall see.
Time stands still.
Space stands still.