How Stockhausen composed his own oblivion

How Stockhausen composed his own oblivion


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2014

Tim Page, in a typically incisive essay for the New York Review of Books, remarks on the disappearance of Karlheinz Stockhausen who, along with Pierre Boulez, led the post-War avant-garde in European music.

Very little Stockhausen is available on record and scores are obtainable only from his estate at outrageous prices. Eead Tim here.

I happen to remember when the madness set in and Stockhausen began clawing back all of his music from publishers and record labels.

He was about to premiere one of the segments of his week-long Licht opera at La Scala in the late 1980s when a photographer approached me, saying the the great man had agreed to one session of portraits and a conversation with a journalist. Would I be up for it?

Like a shot. Nothing is more magnetic to a curious writer than a self-declared hermit with a built-in harem.

Then the conditions started coming in. Stockhausen demanded copyright in all photographs, because he was the ‘sole owner of his own image’. Not my problem, but the snapper looked worried.

Then he demanded physical ownership of any tape I recorded of him speaking. He was the owner of his own voice. I said I’d think about it.

Then he asserted copyright ownership over every word that he uttered and I wanted to quote.

End of conversation. Bye-bye Karlheinz Stockhausen.

stockhausen sweater




  • Mark Powell says:

    Makes one wonder why this kind of personality would turn to composition at all. Rabid World Denial is usually the realm of other kinds of artists, not composers.

  • Michael Endres says:

    The Internet has beaten the stingy Maestro : a lot of Stockhausen’s music is on you tube,heaps actually !

    Some rather nice finds of his wildly imaginative music ,that sonds as fresh as a daisy to me… ( piano version of Tierkreis ) ( Inori , needs patience and headphones of course ) ( Luzifer’s dance from ‘Licht’ , a great work !! )

    The GEMA in Germany will probably block it alltogether, but here in sunny Norway it’s a free ride !!

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    I don’t know what he’s on about really, it’s quite easy to cheaply find some Stockhausen to listen to, if you really want, even some pieces beyond the well-known “hits” (the “s” is in the right place, honestly)

    There is quite a lot on Spotify and lots more on YouTube. You can also hear it live quite often. For example the council tax payers of Birmingham very kindly laid on 4 helicopters in 2012 so we could hear some of the “masterpiece” that is Licht. And many university libraries have spent money on scores and recordings that anyone can inspect if they can be bothered to make an advance appointment.

    I was privileged to witness Ian Pace play some Stockhausen in Oxford a few years ago. I was very impressed, but I think I was moved more by Ian’s dramatic performance (special gloves!) and brilliant technique than the music, which was the same old nonsense. I’ve stepped in some at the Huddersfield festival too on occasion.

  • Andrey says:

    Let’s face it, the world would be better off saying good bye not just to his image, but to his entire musical legacy.

    • Michael Endres says:

      Lets face it: the world would be better off saying good bye to anonymous postings containing uninformed drivel.

  • His music aside, it didn’t help KS’s posthumous reputation when he called the terrorist attack of 9/11 the greatest work of art in the history of the world.

  • Sixtus says:

    Stockhausen hasn’t totally disappeared from modern music making. For example, within the last few years there have been live performances in NYC and Europe of Gruppen, one of his masterworks. And Kontakte still gets many more performances (in its live-performer+prerecorded tape version) than the great majority of pieces its age. One wonders if Boulez will fare any better after he is gone and his immediate disciples (and IRCAM) move on. One of the biggest barriers to more performances of all these musics are the logistics and cost of assembling the necessary artistic and technical elements, as they often make Meyerbeerian demands.

    Most Stockhausen-score prices (at least as listed at the site below) are rather reasonable, by the way. Can anybody (or any organization, for that matter) afford a full score of Messiaen’s St Francis opera, which costs THOUSANDS of dollars.