My ménage-à-trois with Stockhausen

The artist Mary Bauermeister, who is 80, has published an extraordinary autobiography in which she lays bare her life with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen … and his wife and children.

The book,  Ich hänge im Triolengitter is published by Bertelsmann (in German). This Die Zeit article, also in German, gives a taste of the unorthodox Stockhausen ménage.

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  • I’m an American who has lived in Germany for the last 35 years. One of the most striking things about German culture is capacity of so many of the people to give a boundless devotion and worship to men of authority. Politically this sort of behavior became unacceptable, but in the arts it continues unabated. They often turn those viewed as great artists into something like gurus. This mindset is apparent in Baumeister’s language, the idealism, absolutism, and transcendentalism all taken to an extreme – until the day everything collapses.

    Stockhausen exploited these cultural attributes in his marriages. His first wife, Doris, already had three children and was pregnant with a fourth when he added Baumeister to the household. For such an ego, one wife was never enough. Stockhausen could pull this off due to the absolute and worshipful devotion to artistic authority that is characteristic in Germany. After Doris and Mary left, he he took up with two other women who lived with him as his wifes until his death. As Mary Baumeister notes at the end of the article, they have made “a kind of Bayreuth” out of his house.”

    There is, of course, a large picture to all of this. Hitler was able to put the people of Germany in his thrall not as a politician, but because he presented himself as an artist and visionary. History resonates with profound ironies….

    • Spot on! I live in Germany, too, and I couldn’t agree more about Mr Osborne’s thoughts.
      As for Stockhausen’s music, who cares about it, nowadays? Gruppen is occasionally performed, but it is more a legend than truly interesting in musical terms. The early serial works are awfully grey, the middle-period works such as ‘Kontakte’ or ‘Stimmung’ are interesting, though more in terms of conceptualism than as fully successful musical works; ‘Aus den sieben Tagen’ is the worst imaginable example of charlatanism, and ‘Licht’ is quite awful (last, but not least, because of Stockhausen’s miserable libretti), Klavierstücke 9-10 are decent, but far away from the musical content of the works of Messiaen, Ligeti, Dutilleux, even Boulez and many other 20th composers. And of course Stockhausen’s totalitarian and utterly arrogant attitude is beneath contempt.

      • Sorry, but your dismissal strikes me as being more than a little bit uninformed. You sound a little bit like Beethoven’s contemporaries, who thought that his works were “crazy” and “destructive”. Try not to mix up Stockhausen’s sometimes naive statements with his actual music. Perhaps you need to know more about Stockhausen’s compositions. I direct you to my blog which analyses almost all of Stockhausen’s works:

        http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/

        By the way, Stockhausen is still quite popular and his opera DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT is being staged next year in Switzerland.

      • Nimra, do you actually have the score of Gruppen? Have you spent some time studying it? Can you tell us who published the score without some research?

    • Three other charismatic Germans openly maintained menages a trois, and oddly, with Stockhausen, all four are Leos, behaving like lions in the wild. Is it a blond beast thing?

      • Something got left out: the other three. Carl Jung’s situation is pretty well-known; Paul Tillich tested open marriage to the limit; and Ernst Schrodinger lost several academic appointments for living openly with two women.
        .

    • Couldn’t it be a good thing if respect for achievement and authority is projected into the artistic field, when in politics it has disappeared? As an antidote against the egalitarian society where ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge’, and where anything goes, and where money for the arts has become under serious pressure because of being ‘elitist’?

      But then it is very ironic that it is mr S who drew these projections upon him… It seems to be the need for an empty vessel that can hold such frustrated projections that has carried him along. It could certainly not be musical inspiration.

    • You conveniently forgot to mention that Stockhausen’s last two women who carried on this idol worshipping so typical for Germans were American and Dutch.

      • But would they have entered such an odd relationship had they not been immersed in Germany’s cultural milieu? Hard to say, but somehow I think not. Off hand I can’t think of anything like it in the States. It would also probably not be tolerated by the public — or at least not without extreme derision. If you like, you can think of the acceptance of Stockhausen’s eccentricity as an example of German tolerance.

        When I think of conductors like Karajan, Thielemann, or Celibidache, and the way they are/were worshiped, I can only place it in Germany. Perhaps the apprehension Thielemann inspires is a sign Germany is changing?

        • Oh, it happens in the States, of course – but with religious figures, not artistic ones.

          Fortunately, those figures and their followers tend to be dismissed (and sometimes feared) as cults by mainstream American society, and their leaders – e.g., Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Rajneesh, even Joseph Smith – tend to come to bad ends.

          (Yes, Joseph Smith’s church became successful beyond what even he probably could have dreamed of, but he himselfdid come to a bad end – and I’d guess that the Mormons might well have withered away eventually if Smith hadn’t been lynched.)

      • In Holland there was a painter who lived with 7 (seven) ‘brides’ in a rather run-down barn, like a small surreal hippy camp, and he was greatly admired for it and his ‘paintings’ – scriblings looking like the disturbing expressions of psychopathic patients – made lots of money.

  • I’m not sure why you’re reporting this as though it was news. Ich hänge im Triolengitter came out two years ago.

    • Haha! “German silence is organic as opposed to French silence which is ornamental…” Glenn Gould was a genius.

        • Well, I think some of Gould’s interpretations were absolutely wonderful, other ones were nauseating, and sometimes his recordings could be wonderful and nauseating at the same time. What is sure is that Gould was a super-witty iconoclast who possessed prodigious hands and quite a twisted sense of humor. But of course it quite misses the point if he is being elevated to a God-like status.

  • Mary Bauermeister is quite dismissive of Kathinka Pasveer and Suzanne Stephens:

    “the two make a kind of Bayreuth from his home”
    (die beiden machen eine Art Bayreuth aus seinem Haus. )

    Actually, I don’t think they’re keeping the flame alive that well. Have you seen the price of the CD box sets which must be ordered from Kurten ?

    NATÜRLICHE DAUERN (just 2 CDs !!) 46€

    They seem to have no commercial sense at all.

    .

    .

  • Gould’s parody of Karlheinz Kloppweisser (alias Karlheinz S.) is funny, but Stockhausen’s involuntary self-parody in speeches like these is even more funny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTeLI5dUzKw
    While this sort of wacky balderdash is actually quite hilarious, the same cannot be said about Stockhausen’s unsurpassably disgusting, egomaniac, stupid and disturbed comments about the 9/11 attacks (which he called “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos” – yes, this is exactly what he said.)

    • Fully agree. S’ speech is not ony hilarious but dangerously psychopathic. How outdated and puerile all that now appears.

    • How is the score of Gruppen and all these non-musical details related? What subtext are we talking about except for your mild sarcasm? Every human being has private shortcomings that when aired in public may be atrocious or funny to varying degrees. If we looked at those of every single historical thinker or artist the Hague would be very busy. But their work, especially in the case of abstract music, stands on its own!

  • Don’t believe everything you read. That was initially reported by the equivalent of the Daily Mail and was eagerly swallowed up by the self-loathing German press.

    • I am sorry but what you are offering is a factually incorrect conspiracy theory. Stockhausen’s atrocious comments about 9/11 were NOT initially reported by the Daily Mail. His statements were made during a press conference in Hamburg and recorded by the public broadcaster NDR, and everything written about it by the serious German press (Frankfurter Allgemeine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt, Die Zeit, etc.) is based on the press conference or/and on NDR’s broadcast.
      Furthermore, I don’t understand what you mean by “self-loathing German press”. German press is far from being self-loathing – quite the contrary, it can be rather self-centered and patriotic. A good example is how German media (in general) writes about the Greece crisis, but an even better example is German news coverage about classical music which is largely ignorant of what happens outside of Germany. As for Stockhausen, he was (and still is) being glorified by German media even though Stockhausen always claimed otherwise (he always used to claim that he had been “persecuted like a dog” though his accolades – Bundesverdienstkreuz 1.Klasse as early as in 1974, other orders of merits from the state, Siemens Prize, etc etc – tell a rather different story…)

  • The Zeit interview is highly interesting.
    The menage a trois thing might have had its origin in the fact that Stockhausen’s mother got killed by the Nazis in an asylum. During that time and her absence his father lived together with the housekeeper. His father then got killed in the war.
    A psychatrist who knew Bauermeister and the situation remarked to her that she could never expect to have this man just for herself.
    Not an easy early life for Stockhausen, and it might explain some of his strange behavioural patterns and later radicalism.

  • A documentation of Stockhausen’s atrocious comments on 9/11 can be found here:
    http://www.osborne-conant.org/documentation_stockhausen.htm

    Here is NDR’s broadcast recording of Stockhausen’s statements:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20060829003224/http://www.danskmusiktidsskrift.dk/doku/stockhausen-16sep2001.mp3

    These statements were also reported about by mainstream international media (Der Spiegel, New York Times, Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine, etc etc etc etc)

  • Wow, what a wonderful blood-boiler this little commentary is. Stockhausen, be he brilliant composer, new-age proselytizer, guru or wonderfully effective charlatan as some idiot suggested, was and is – effective, as an artist, theoretician, socio-political commentator and 21st century visionary. The narrow, one-dimensional achievements of Boulez, Messiaen and their unfortunate lot pale by comparison. ‘Licht’ is the 21st century ‘Ring’ and immeasurably more affirmative and interesting. Why denigrate the perceptual intelligence of his female companions simply because they are ‘hip’ to the zeitgeist? I’ll tell you why – because those who elect to join that particular puritanical bandwagon have a quite specific regressive judeo-christian agenda of decrying all those whose vision of life on earth (or sirius for that matter) is a little too large for their minuscule intellects to grapple with.
    We can rest easy knowing they will die the death of the dinosaurs while the brilliance of Stockhausen and his companions shines a beacon into an affirmative, humanistic future filled with wonderful music.

    I mean really .. you don’t like Stockhausen! .. who cares? You are welcome to your narrow. perverse, retarded slice of Mozart or whatever, so why bother engaging with the 21st century at all?

    • Wow, you may be almost one year late, but the towering size of your ego is quite impressive. Karlheinz, are you really back?

  • How in the world is all of this relevant to Gruppen, one of the first historical works to explore the antiphonal possibilities of three juxtaposed ensembles??????

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