Karlheinz Stockhausen RIP


The news is starting to filter through: the world’s most influential composer has died, aged 79. The death of the Hungarian composer András Szöllösy was announced earlier today, but an already dark day just got much blacker.


Stockhausen’s legacy is immense and impossible to calculate, although many will try over the next few days. I’ve only this week been editing a new list of his works; even after Licht he remained hugely productive, attempting to outstrip even that ambitious project with Klang, a projected cycle of 24 works, one for each hour of the day. Klang will remain a long way from completion now, but even more sad is that Stockhausen never got to see his final two operas (Mittwoch and Sonntag) staged; the complete cycle is sketched in for Essen in 2010.

I’m off to listen to Gruppen, loud, and toast a genius. I suggest you do likewise.

6 thoughts on “Karlheinz Stockhausen RIP

  1. Sad news indeed, especially about not being able to see Licht performed complete. Since I have 5 performances of Gruppen on my iPod, which one to choose? [looks at list] Ah, Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Orchestre de Paris with Boulez, Eotvos and Robertson it is.

  2. This is sad news, to say the least. What’s even more saddening is that a genius like Stockhausen will still be maligned by the majority of people out there, even after he has passed on. Oh well, that must be the price to pay for such an immense talent. I too am off to listen to Gruppen, followed by a close listen to Hymnen.

  3. Perhaps he is the last of the great composers.
    That is to say there are few, if any, composers alive whose every work is important.

  4. My first encounter with the music of Stockhausen was his Klavierstuke I – XI when I was an aspiring pianist at age 10. It was a lifelong obsession at this point to delve into “modern” classical music. 41 years later Stockhausen still leads the pack! You will be sorely missed by many. Long live your legacy!!
    Please check the definitive website stockhausen.org.

  5. I am always interested to learn of people who enjoy or even revere Stockhausen or other of the serious technoobscurantists. The trouble is I have never found articulate descriptions of what it is that is inspiring, interesting, and attractive in his work. Nor have I seen any discussion of how it enhances life for more than a small number of musical sophisticates. One explanation is that it triggers creative responses in the minds of a certain type of person. In short, instead of the composer providing the communicative inspiration (a la Beethoven, etc.) the avante gardist composer catalyzes activity in the minds of receptive cognoscenti. Another theory suggests it is the joy of whacking typical bourgoise music lovers (“epater les bourgeoisie” )and thereby achieving emancipation and an elevated status.

  6. Frank – thanks for your comment. The thing, is I don’t think any theory is needed to explain Stockhausen’s musical attraction, any more than one is needed to explain Beethoven’s, 50 Cent’s or Charlie Parker’s. Certainly, “the avante gardist composer catalyzes activity in the minds of receptive cognoscenti”, but I imagine that holds true for all artistic activity. And there is a small aspect of bourgeoisie-whacking, but I’m not sure that holds for Stockhausen’s music to anything like the same extent as it does for Nono, Cage, death metal or hardcore techno. I’ve never got the impression it was something Stockhausen was artistically terribly interested in.

    Really, truly, people (myself included) enjoy the music. Simple as that. For me it’s a combination of things. Firstly, there is no one who sounds like Stockhausen. He maintained throughout his life an absolutely unique and distinctive voice; this doesn’t count for everything, but it is a difficult feat to pull off, and one shared by all of history’s greats. Then there are the sounds: he did things that no one else imagined at the time, and few have successfully emulated since. His sonic imagination was extraordinary. There’s also a lunatic ambition behind Stockhausen’s aesthetic that I find personally very endearing, and very human: his music sits at the brink of destroying itself through its own ambition. The reason it doesn’t is because he was canny enough to rein things in, to tweak his own systems when required. And you can clearly hear that; what’s more, some of his most ambitious pieces – Stimmung, Gruppen, the Helicopter String Quartet – have been the most successful.

    But most important is the sense – that is thoroughly justified by the development of each piece in performance – that we are entering a new world in Stockhausen’s music. Every tie that might attach its experience to something earthly is cut, and you become completely involved – physically, intellectually and spiritually – in the music. I admit it takes a certain leap of faith sometimes, but that leap is always rewarded with a musical experience that is intense, profound, and utterly unique.

    That’s probably not the articulate description you were after (maybe have a look at Albrecht Moritz’s site for detailed commentary), but it’s what I’ve got.

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