Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet crashes

Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet crashes


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2015

It’s not easy or cheap to perform, but with Audi on board as sponsors the heat-seeking Minguet Quartet put on a rare and widely-anticipated performance of the airborne work in Ingolstadt.

Then bits started falling off.

Viola player Aroa Sorin withdrew after a test flight.

She was replaced by Munich orchestra player Felix Gargerle, who was meant to be introducing the performance. He, in turn, was replaced on stage by an Audi flak who called for more Vorsprung, the festival’s brand name.

The Minguet’s second violin Annette Reisinger was looking green. She asked for a sick bag. Apparently she used it.

The show was a shambles.

Review here.

photo: Audi

Do not try this at home.


  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    The Helicopter SQ really is Stockhausen’s worst piece and he tarnished his reputation for ever more with this nonsense. I attended performance in Austria where the composer was there and there was some amusement from seeing him like a child in a toyshop. but in general it’s a wretched piece.

    The money could have been better spent mounting Carre, Gruppen or Momente.

    • Guilherme C. says:

      Well, it is a matter of taste, understanding and bein open or not. I personally think its very good that Stockhausen always tried to push boundaries and never to repeat himself. It is great that he didn’t stay in the 60s and 70s forever, even though the pieces you mention are some of the finest things written in the 2nd half of the 20th century

    • Robert Roy says:

      I heard Irvine Arditti, the leader of the quartet that commissioned the work comment, ‘We wanted a work we could play anywhere. What we got was a work that we could play nowhere’. He sounded pretty upset about it.

      • Halldor says:

        When it was performed in Birmingham as part of “Mittwoch aus Licht” it made perfect dramatic sense. Maybe not as a stand-alone work – but in that context it is highly effective.

  • RW2013 says:

    “With magical lightness and stupendous precision…
    A gloriously woven celebration of what is possible” (roughly translated).
    Doesn’t read like a shambles to me.

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    ==The show was a shambles ==

    No, the show narrowly escaped from being a shambles. Very different !

  • John Borstlap says:

    Even more stunning than the Stockhausen ‘quartet’ is the discovery that there are grown-up people in the world who take this sort of thing seriously.

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    ==When it was performed in Birmingham as part of “Mittwoch aus Licht” it made perfect dramatic sense.

    Yes, well everything in Mittwoch was to do with Vertical distance from the ground. Welt Parlament had the singers on those incredibly high lamp-post stools, and Orchester Finalisten had the players suspended high in the air.

    So the HSQ was a logical extension of all that.

    Plus wasn’t Michaelion (the final act) set on a spaceship ?

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s all taking psychological and spiritual notions literally, materialistically, like children do when confronted with ‘abstract’ ideas. Stockhausen thought that ‘highbrow music’ were to be found up-there on the roof and he needed electronic ladders to get there.

  • william osborne says:

    I sometimes wonder if Stockhausen’s “Helicopter Quartet” might have been related to his view that the 9/11 attacks were “the greatest work of art ever.” (He later claimed he said, “Satan’s greatest work of art ever.”

    When a journalist asked Stockhausen if he equate art and crime, he explained, “It is a crime because the people were not agreed. They didn’t go to the ‘concert.’ That is clear. And no one gave them notice that they might pass away [draufgehen]. What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing.”

    In some ways, this shows how modernism’s idealistic ethos grew out transcendental romanticism. We see an “artist-prophet’s” transcendental view that art must be a revelation, a process of spiritual death, remorse and rebirth – an all or nothing, idealized world where anything else is valueless.

    It is interesting in history how often artist-prophets have confused human life itself with the material of their “creations.” I think this form of transcendental idealism that objectifies human life has played a large but unacknowledged role in the development of Western art music. It is noticeable, for example, in the authoritarianism and hierarchies of the symphony orchestra – especially as manifested by the old terroristic conductors like Toscanini or Rainer. And of course, there are many other examples in classical music and other forms of Western art.

    The results of this worldview were catastrophic for humanity. Hitler viewed himself as an artist-prophet, and in many respects, he was the last Romantic. The larger design of his ideology as an artist-prophet included the recreation of humanity according to a new aesthetic. From this perspective, the Holocaust was a work of art, a “purification” of culture, a “sculpting” of the human race. Western culture had developed a frightening ability for idealizing aesthetics in a way that enhanced the allure of radical evil. Aesthetic and political ideology synthezised into a single terrifying force. Human life became clay in the artist-prophet’s hands.

    Stalinism was similar in a way. It was more of an aesthetic vision of humanity and society rather than an even remotely rational political or economic system.

    In these grand, if not cosmic, patriarchal concepts, flying airliners into skyscrapers becomes a “work of art.”

    All that said, I still admire Stockhausen as an artist, though ironically, rather than seeing his operas as cosmic, I see them as ironically limited by an outdated patriarchal view on a little planet in the middle of nowhere.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Mr Osborne has, with this comment, achieved the remarkable feat of bending the 9/11 attack into a demonstration of the murderous evil of classical symphony orchestras, which helped Hitler to create the Holocaust work of art. If classical music dies, it will be at the hands of the likes of Mr Osborne, thus finishing-off the attempts of left-wing egalitarian, populist thought to get rid of art altogether.

      The first mistake is to equate Stockhausen’s psychic disturbances with the partiarchal culture of ‘classical music’ and ‘symphony orchestras’. The second is to see Hitler and the Holocaust as logical and inevitable products of romanticism. The third is to expose such embarrassing nonsense on a website…. his therapist will be greatly alarmed.

  • James says:

    This work has been receiving quite a few performances in recent years .. and the number keeps going up. No composer explored time & space as much as Stockhausen did.

  • James says:

    This one has been performed quite a bit in recent years and the number keeps going up. No composer explored time & space as much as Stockhausen did.

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    ==rather than seeing [Stockhausen’s] operas as cosmic, I see them as ironically limited by an outdated patriarchal view

    Yes, well said. Take Freitag aus Licht (which is probably the weakest musically of the seven operas). It has that embarrassingly crude white versus black children battle and all the mating of inanimate objects, like violin bow and pencil sharpener. Yes…..really.

    • william osborne says:

      Given the theme of light and darkness in “Licht,” I try to give Stockhausen the benefit of the doubt about that scene from “Freitag.” On the other hand, how could he overlook the obvious racist implications, intended or not?

      Some of the background of the work adds to the concerns. An odd tome called “The Urantia Book,” written sometime between the 1920s and 50s, was a major inspiration for “Licht.” The book was popular in the American counter culture of the 1960s. Stockhausen was given a copy in 1971 during a trip to the USA. Even though the book was purportedly written by celestial beings who wanted to unite religion, science and philosophy into a higher form of understanding for humans, the actual author, or at least editor, was a eugenicist named William Sadler. The book contains controversial statements about race.

      To be fair, musicians like Jimmy Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, even if perhaps not the most discerning readers, were also fans of “The Urantia Book.” This weakens the idea that it might have been an inspiration for racist ideas. Perhaps one has to simply include that scene with the countless other oddities of “Licht.” One of the main characters in “Mittwoch aus Licht,” for example, is a Bactrian camel.

  • John says:

    I was there at Ingolstadt. It was a disaster, the musicians didn’t play the piece well, but the worst thing was the sound guy , who put the hellicopters audio in a really low volumen against the strings, which sounded completely unbalanced even by themselves (viola louder than cello at one point, then the opposite, etc).

    Big dissapointment, because the technical aspect of the piece (wireless transmission) is really difficult to do correctly and that worked perfectly there.