When did you last hear some good Stockhausen?

It has been a while. The composer died in 2007 and complications with his performing and recording rights mean that his music hardly ever gets a hearing. So a new Decca release by a young Italian pianist who had worked with Stockhausen and won his approval presented a good opportunity to test how the music had stood the test of time.

It’s my album of the week on sinfinimusic.com. Click here to read.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell_Stockhausen1_credit Alain taquet_500

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  • “Hardly any Stockhausen is presently available on record…”

    Well, apart from his complete works being very easily available on CD, that is. Might not be available in shops or on big corporate websites, but it’s REALLY not hard to find Stockhausen’s music on disc (even if it’s not exactly easy to afford!).

  • Plus numerous alternative versions on labels like HatArt, Wergo, DG, Mode, Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, EMI Classics – all but a mouse-click away.

    Oh, and Stockhausen continued composing his Klaverstucke well into the 1980s (not finishing in 1961 as you suggest).

    And it’s simply not true that Stockhausen’s music is rarely performed.

    And a phrase like ‘random plinky-plonks’ have no place in supposedly serious music criticism.

    • ‘Random plinky-plonks’ describes better mostly John Cage’s production. With exception of his intuitive music (about 1968-69) Stockhausen composed very precise plinky-plonks. I appreciate very much his Webernian plinky-plonks from 1952 to 1959, from the first piano pieces to Kontakte.

      • Stockhausen’s plinks or plonks are, in the end, above all things, plinks and plonks: acoustical events without any musical consequences, and were intended as such (read his writings). As music, it’s borig and puerile, or merely gross. As sonic art, for people who like such things, it’s confirming their need to hear sounds as such. Nothing wrong with this.

  • Lorin Maazel has related how Stockhausen got him to stand near a loudspeaker then played some of his music full blast, nearly rupturing Maazel’s eardrum. I thought that a vile trick and have hardly ever listened to the few CDs of his I have since. When I do, I think when it’s over. “Interesting. Now let’s have some Mozart.”

  • For further investigation there are films of both Cherkassky and Pollini playing Stockhausen’s Klavierstuke. Perhaps the earlier pieces are a bit dry but I love no.10 (like a post-nuclear Gaspard de la Nuit)

    • Was that not on that occasion where a false alarm went off, and people thought a terrorist attack was happening?

  • For those unfamiliar with this famous anecdote, the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked if he had ever heard any Stockhausen. His alleged reply was “no, but I might have trodden in some”.

  • Just one example – the great pianist Pierre Laurent Aimard is giving cycles of the piano music in Paris and Munich.

    And the electronic music such as Kontakte and Gesang der Junglinge is very widely performed.

    I get mixed messages from this piece. You’re making it album of the week – but really don’t like Stockhausen’s music ??

    Ivor Morgan

    Secretary of UK Stockhausen Society.

    • Obviously, the article made it the ‘CD of the week’ to check-out whether S’s work has survived aging. That is a good reason.

  • It’s disappointing to see such low-brow writing on this site.

    Actually it’s not “The 8 piano pieces..” but “Eight of the piano pieces…”
    That is, I to V and VII to IX

  • ===Exclusively from the Stockhausen site. At wacky prices.

    No, no that’s ancient news and things are different now. The CD of ‘Mantra’, one of Stockhausen’s great masterpieces, is widely available in stores for about 5 GBP.

  • This so-called ‘criticism’ is from the man who once accused Michael Tippett (another composer who goes straight over Lebrecht’s head) of plagiarising Stockhausen’s Licht in a work that was finished long before Licht was begun. Had Tippett been alive at the time, Lebrecht would have had a lawsuit on his hands.

    Why can’t he leave music criticism to the professionals and go back to tending his gossip columns?

    • You, sir, are both a liar and a fool. I reported at the time that Tippett was taking a close interest in Stockhausen’s Licht segment at Covent Garden, with a view to using some electronic effects in his next opera. This I saw with my own eyes and heard later from Tippett himself in a lengthy conversation. Now withdraw that stupid allegation before I set the dogs on you.

  • “……………. a brave old world that has virtually vanished.” An excellent pun with a wink to Aldous Huxley.

  • Stockhausen has been performed quite frequently, especially since his death .. and to sold out crowds too. The major premieres of 2 of his Light operas met with favorable critical reception to packed crowds. The entire Klang was premiered (the Met premiere this mammoth work happens next year also). Ditto many of the recent New York events .. i.e. Micheals Reise, Gruppen (huge capacity crowds at the armoury, plus streamed), Oktophonie (they had to create extra dates for this one) etc ..

    Festival, tributes .. you name it.

    His official website always lists annual performances .. and it is always expanded and updated .. http://www.karlheinzstockhausen.org/Auffuhrungen_Performances_english.htm

    It will take time, but his work is and will slowly flourish, i can’t imagine it not doing so.

    • S’s works just need some more time till audiences will discover it is mere fifties and sixties kitsch, like the painters Bouguereau, Tadema and Makart respresent the kitsch of their own time before the impressionists got their turn and established themselves as something with substance.

      • kitsch? I don’t think so, his thing was certainly ‘heavy’ .. there is definitely a lot of substance there .. many of his pathbreaking works are bonafide masterpieces, and some of the absolute best of the post-war era. heck .. look into his pioneering efforts within the field of electronic music & surround-sound alone .. but there are so many other areas to his music that one could go on and on about. he was one of the big beasts.

        • …. but not of music. Reading his writings you see that S ignored the field of music altogether. He was exploring sound combinations and theories to organize and justify them. A simple check: can you play wrong notes in Stockhausen? Yes and no: the notion of ‘wrongness’ cannot exist in his ‘universe’, because his materials can only exist outside his works as random sounds and that is not music. Reflect on this: “We are amazed and exhilarated by Beethoven’s formal achievements – like the first movement of the Eroica – because the material which they organize lives separately in us. Le Marteau sans Maitre gives no comparable experience, since it contains no recognizable material – no units of significance that can live outside the work that produces them.” Roger Scruton on sonic art (Aesthetics of Music, 1997/99).

          • Yes, of music. And it is hardly random .. it is music of forensic rigour, detail and focus .. and it explores all of the parameters of music & performance.

            A performer can completely fuck up a performance of his work.

            Roger Scruton often talks a lot of shit and has no imagination or ears, his quote about Le Marteau is a prime example .. as that work certainly is memorable within the pantheon of western art music, and has recognizable material from the top down. And obviously Boulez’s voice as an artist should be quite different from those of centuries prior AND contemporaneous composers. Ditto Stockhausen.

          • Mr. Borstlap must be more careful — what he presumes to be ” music” is only his
            opinion — his views on Beethoven sound combinations may not be shared by others .

    • Well said.
      Ian Pace gave a brilliant performance of KlavierstuckeX last year at City University. The 26 minutes or so whizzed by. NL has holds Boulez in higher estimation but I beg to differ…a miniaturist with a much more limited scope. The large scale pieces can be quite pretty but feel interminable.

      • Boulez is a great musician & conductor .. no doubt about that, but his work is much narrower in scope compared to Stockhausen, and less inventive & daring.

  • These are Tippett’s operas :

    The Midsummer Marriage (1955)
    King Priam (1962)
    The Knot Garden (1970)
    The Ice Break (1977)
    New Year (1989)

    GIven that Stockhausen’s Donnerstag was performed at CG in 1985, it’s most likely it was an influence on MT’s ‘New Year’ and not ‘Ice Break’

  • I must say, pairing stockhausen with beffa is quite puzzling (regardless of the merits of each composer). It’s like pairing boulez’s 2nd sonata with a john borstlap piece. Two very different, somewhat antagonistic musical languages (beffa is at the head of the so-called neotonal movement here in France).
    I don’t say that such a programming choice is bad, just that it raises questions about its artistic coherence.

  • Mr. Lebrecht claims below that he made a slip of the pen in confusing Tippett’s ‘The Ice Break’ with ‘New Year’. If so, it is a slip of the pen that he has made before – see his 2004 article on Tippett (Scena Musicale, 22 December 2004), in which he writes ‘The tedium of [Tippett’s] fourth opera, The Ice Break, was briefly relieved by the use of laser beams, which Tippett had copied from Stockhausen’s Licht.’ ‘Copied’ is a slightly different formation to his ‘taking a close interest in’ above. As Mr. Twyborn (who I hope has read Patrick White!) points out – this is impossible. The Ice Break was finished in 1976; Licht was begun a year later, and the English premiere of Donnerstag was in 1985.

    So did Mr. Lebrecht (twice) mean to say that Stockhausen’s laser effects were actually an influence (‘copied from’ is demonstrably too strong) on New Year (premiered at Texas in 1989)? The music contains a small amount of electronic music, but neither Peter Hall’s first production (also shown at Glyndebourne), nor the adapted GTO production, used laser beams, and Tippett very rarely, if ever, involved himself with the staging and production of his later operas. Laser beams are not stipulated in the score or the libretto of New Year.

    Laser beams WERE used in the premiere of The Ice Break, as Mr. Lebrecht correctly remembered – though again, they are not stipulated in the score or libretto. They were also a last-minute decision. Tippett recommended the creator of a holography exhibition to the director, Sam Wanamaker, hoping that holographic images might be a solution to the opera’s many demands, but ‘workshop errors at Covent Garden […] made the intended holographic images impossible, so the special effects were confined to laser beams’. (Tippett, Those Twentieth Century Blues, an autobiography, London, 1991, 223).

    Tippett considers Stockhausen briefly in an essay published in 1970, ‘Some Categories of Judgement in Modern Music’, but I can find no mention of Licht in his autobiography, essays or published correspondence.

    • These heated exchanges about late Tippett operas and Stockhausen are proving to be most timely as I was delighted to note that Birmingham opera revived ‘The Ice Break’ a few months back to rave reviews. The same rapturous response greeted their performance of Stockhausen’s ‘ Wednesday’ in 2013.

    • I tried to sit through Stockhausen’s ‘Donnerstag aus Licht’ in London in the eighties and survived the greatest bulk of pretentious boredom in my life. It is not so difficult to understand S had no idea what music is.

      • I remember it as a most enthralling experience .There were many disgruntled audience
        members who left and I thought how sad to have such closed minds . To this day
        I remember it as a marvelous adventure.

        • Good for you…. there should be pluralism in music life (no irony intended!). But one could turn the ‘argument’ all around and conclude that listeners who thought it was a good piece were the ones that suffered from ‘closed minds’, and the people who left, were bereft of any enjoyable experience because their mind stood wide open – and thus detected the nonsense. It has been a tiresome clichée, a hundred years old, that rejection of new music can ONLY be the result of ‘not being open to the new’, to reactionary attitudes, to conservatism, to a lack of imagination, as if it could not be exactly the opposite – that an open, progressive and adventurous mind would detect at a much earlier stage the artistic failures presented to them. If a work of art is not accepted, that does not necessarily mean that for that reason, it must be good. That is why pluralism, free debate, and a background of aesthetic experience, are the best conditions for a collection of excellent works that stand the test of time to be formed.

          Mr Stockhausen is surely one of the founding fathers of sonic art and for sonic listeners he will always be revered. Sonic listeners who don’t understand the difference with music, will always protest that his works are not given the status of music, like photographers who want their photos being framed and hung next to paintings in the Louvre and are frustrated that staff are quite reluctant to do so.

          But of course it’s merely my personal opinion, as any observation is, and 2 + 2 = only 4 if there are enough people prepared to believe that.

          • Mr. Borstlap rather than ” turn the argument around ” would it not be better to hear a work
            on its own terms not wishing it were something else and noting that it didn’t add up to “something else” from the past with which one was more comfortable . One does not look
            at a Turner wishing it were a Botticelli . It seems to me that only so called “music lovers ”
            define terms for “new ” music by harking back to some” glorious” past . Why isn’t Stockhausen
            a Beethoven ? because he is a Stockhausen …he is of our time as Beethoven was of his .
            You can turn a phrase all you want but a closed mind is a closed mind no matter how
            you game play . I love my Mozart operas but I also found Stockhausen
            enthralling for that evening , while it wasn’t Mozart it worked for me and that is
            all you can ask of a composer or any creative artist for that matter, that the time they have with you” works” on” all” levels. The sonic bit along with the photo comment is
            apples and oranges and carry little weight . I am pleased to note that you admit that
            all is but a personal opinion.There is hope for you yet .

  • Yes, of music. And it is hardly random .. it is music of forensic rigour, detail and focus .. and it explores all of the parameters of music & performance.

    A performer can completely fuck up a performance of his work.

    Roger Scruton often talks a lot of shit and has no imagination or ears, his quote about Le Marteau is a prime example .. as that work certainly is memorable within the pantheon of western art music, and has recognizable material from the top down. And obviously Boulez’s voice as an artist should be quite different from those of centuries prior AND contemporaneous composers. Ditto Stockhausen.

    • Just read Scruton’s further remarks of Le Marteau in his ‘Aesthetics of Music’, and the context of his arguments, and you would – maybe – begin to understand what he meant (page 294, 301).

      Interesting that arguments, critical of modernism, so often merely are met with irritation instead of substantial counter-argumentation. I think that is the inevitable result of ideology instead of debate.

  • I’m not interested in Scurton’s “words”, they don’t matter. I listen to Stockhausen’s vast musical universe and I love it, it has A LOT to offer and I have benefited greatly from absorbing it. Plain & simple.

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