A Stockhausen opera is coming your way, live and free

This is apparently the first time a Stockhausen opera has been streamed.

It is also the first staging of Donnerstag in 30 years.

Press release:

On Saturday 1st October from 16:00 to 21:30 CET Sonostream.tv again affirms its imaginative and enterprising approach to arts broadcasting by carrying the first-ever livestream of a performance from Theater Basel, one of Switzerland’s leading opera theatres.  The sense of occasion is heightened by the work chosen for the webcast: Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Donnerstag aus Licht.
An ambitious, visionary piece which utilizes various elements of opera, ballet, oratorio and absolute music, Donnerstag is one of the seven music dramas that form Stockhausen’s cycle Licht, composed between 1977 and 2003.  Donnerstag was premiered at La Scala, Milan in 1981, but this staging at Theater Basel – first seen in June this year – is not only the Swiss premiere of the work, but its first production anywhere in more than 30 years.

The livestream is available free of charge to viewers around the world and will be available on demand, also free of charge for two weeks after the live broadcast.

The stage director is the young American Lydia Steier, who takes a fresh, highly theatrical approach to the piece. Titus Engel, especially renowned in modern music, is the conductor, while Kathinka Pasveer, a long-time collaborator of Stockhausen (who died in 2007) takes charge of the sound-mixing, having been closely involved with the musical preparation. The central role of Michael, a modern Orpheus, is taken by no fewer than four performers: the tenors Peter Tantsits and Rolf Romei, the trumpeter Paul Hübner and the dancer Emmanuelle Grach. The video production and direction is by Bernhard Fleischer.


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  • Stockhausen was a genius, and Donnerstag aus Licht is a modern masterpiece. I will watch this with interest. Anytime Stockhausen is performed is a reason to celebrate.

    • Agreed.
      I am looking forward very much having the chance to see this.
      My interest in Stockhausen started when Gidon Kremer played -after a stunning performance of Robert Schumann’s violin concerto – an excerpt from the Tierkreis as an encore.
      You could have hear a needle drop in the hall …magic music and music making.

  • I attended the UK premiere somewhere in the eighties…. extremely boring and the usual pretenious craziness. And according to this short video, which is supposed to be inviting, this new production is something of an ‘Historically Informed Performance’. Like a drain pipe, it will attract the type of audience who are desperately seeking the lowest aesthetic denominator.

      • No offence, but ‘Licht’ may seem ‘spiritual’ if one only follows the ‘plot’, and read the programme booklet – it was meant as a great spiritual thing. But something does not become spiritual when you just write a story with all kinds of spiritual figures and symbols and words in it, everybody can do that. In music theatre, it is not the words which convey some spiritual quality, but the music. Maybe you are entirely right to find ‘Licht’ very spiritual, but I merely see consciously wrought, naive nonsense, accompanied by incoherent sounds where notes / pitches don’t have any meaning. I think S went to the local library, read about Wagner’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, and – like an enthusiastic teenager – thought: I want that TOO! and got all the books he found on the shelves with ‘spiritual’ content, and threw all those things together and thought: well, NOW I have something really great!

        But I may have been spoilt by Parsifal which is a truly spiritual opera, in spite of the rather silly plot, or by truly spiritual music like Brahms’ German Requiem, or Messiaen’s prewar organ works, or Beethoven’s last quartets. Since I hear nothing musical in his work, I find Stockhausen a mere charlatan with lots of pretention. (And as for soul: it should be remembered that S mentioned the 9/11 attacks on NY a ‘great work of art’.)

          • In other words, the greatest of all evils. Try to think about things before you quote them out of context.

          • No, he didn’t. What he said, verbatim, is:
            “Das ist das größte Kunstwerk, das es überhaupt gibt für den ganzen Kosmos. Stellen Sie sich das doch vor, was da passiert ist. Da sind also Leute, die sind so konzentriert auf eine Aufführung, und dann werden 5000 Leute in die Auferstehung gejagt, in einem Moment. Das könnte ich nicht. Dagegen sind wir gar nichts, als Komponisten.”

            Engl. Translation:
            This is the greatest work of art that exists for the entire cosmos. Just imagine what has happened there. There are people who are very concentrated on a performance and then 5000 people are [literally translated] ‘hunted into resurrection’, in a single moment. I couldn’t do that. Compared to that we as composers are nothing.

        • I have listened to the first 4 operas of the ‘Licht’ circle, and to some excerpts/scenes of the others, and mostly agree with your judgement especially concerning the ‘spiritual’ aspect of the music. ‘Donnerstag’ is, however, much better than what I know of the rest, in this case the libretto mostly makes sense and probably the reason is that the narrative seems to have many autobiographical aspects. Stockhausen composed great music up to about 1958, there is a moving, spiritual element in ‘Gesäng der Jünglinge’ (Stockhausen was by that time Roman Catholic), but after ‘Gruppen’ it seems that something really bad happened to him.

          Your comment that this production is something of a ‘Historically Informed Performance’ is interesting – electronic music (or electronic sonic art, if you wish) is dependent on the current technology at the time of its composition/première, and becomes soon incompatible with available technical means. For example ‘Gesäng der Jünglinge’ cannot be performed as in the première because there is no preserved tape-player of the original kind (we know this music from a 4-channel remastering done after the première). Other examples of fast deterioration are the works using live-electronics by Luigi Nono (from the 1980’s) whose original concept probably will be impossible to perform in the near future (I can foresee your comment: no great loss).

          As for ‘Parsifal’, it is not ‘spiritual’ at all, it’s rather blasphemous, and the ‘spiritual’ music is in this respect a temptation of the devil. But I recognize that atheists could experience some ‘spiritual’ itches.

    • Your obnoxious and incessant trolling is getting, to mutate your own phrase, a drain pipe, attracting the type of better-informed responses that are assertively seeking to counteract your low invective denominator.

      • Ad hominem attacks like yours have no place on a sight dedicated to discussing culture and the find arts. If Stockhausen is not your cup of tea, fine. Please do not attack those of us who appreciate good music when we hear it.

        • Agreed. And it is perfectly natural that people who despise what other people passionately love, and vice versa, come-up with some arguments and / or explications, so that we learn.

          Meanwhile it is interesting to see that criticizing modernism sends some people into the curtains, foaming with indignation. It must be because there are no real arguments to defend it.

          “Why should I complain when an ass kicks me?” (Socrates)

  • Finding Wagner operas at best a therapy for insomnia, and otherwise waiting in vain for Fiodorligi to strip off, I ‘ll take this one in. Especially for the chick playing the trombone on top of the birthday cake. Thumbs up !

    • A comment from a real sonic art lover. I think we should see this as the core of the attraction of Stockhausen’s works. S shared such unexpected interests with his pal:

      From an interview with the conductor Diego Masson, friend of Pierre Boulez, in the Haretz magazine:

      “Pierre Boulez, for example – do you know how he earned a living in his youth? He played at the Folies Bergere club and, together with his giant white piano, he would break through the stage straight into the crowd of nude women prancing around him, playing the ‘Warsaw Concerto,’ engulfed in kitsch and lit by a pinkish light – and that was while he was writing his second sonata.”

  • You can see or not, but the emperor is completely naked with this work and the stage is completely embarrasment

    • True. Unfortunately, that is only clear for ears and eyes trained by artistic valuable works, and that takes time. Stockhausen has always been for teenagers.

      • Musicians like Barenboim,Rattle,Abbado,Pollini and Aimard ( to name a few ) whose ears and eyes seem well “trained by artistic valuable works” played his music and hardly qualify as ‘teenagers’.

        I do prefer a more balanced view about these matters such as :

        “I am quite certain in my heart of hearts that modern music and modern art is not a conspiracy, but is a form of truth and integrity for those who practise it honestly, decently and with all their being.” ( Michael Tippett ).

        • Money can buy anything but truth. The emperor is naked.

          In other words, to make sounds does not necessarily have to do with music. See John Cage …j

          Fortunately the age of music subsidized is near to end.

        • Tippett was part of the central performance culture and his work based upon its fundamentals. ‘Modern music’ can be anything, and does not define quality. Ravel wrote ‘modern music’ in his time, in the same period that Schoenberg and Webern wrote their version of ‘modern music’. If ‘modern’ means contemporary, every composer is contemporary in his own time.

          By performing Stockhausen, the mentioned conductors merely betray their underdeveloped aesthetic insights and taste. People can be very musical, but suffering from serious cultural and intellectual flaws in the same time. Example: Barenboim wrote books in which he celebrated the humanist values embodied in classical music, the expressive palette of the repertoire, the universal meaning of great musical works etc. etc. but he regularly performed Boulez, and never sensed what Boulez’ work actually is. He is a good example of great musical talent combined with – let’s be polite – naivety.


          Stockhausen was merely crazy, and traumatized by war. He never had a clue about that art form, other than his own: music. In his many writings, he never mentioned existing pre-WWII repertoire, since he had never noticed it as something of interest. That is why his many ‘inventions’ like calling small fragments ‘Formeln’ as if this was something quite new, can be explained by never having come across of the very common concept of ‘motive’. And so on…

          • Abbado, Aimard, Pollini, Barenboim,Rattle all suffer from “serious cultural and intellectual flaws “?
            I rest my case.

          • Why couldn’t it be possible that great performers are clueless when dealing with sonic art? Why couldn’t they be blinded by the nice, streamlined modernist narrative of one single developing line from Tristan vias Mahler and Schoenberg to Stockhausen, which is nonsensical? Why should they have authority to stop our independent thinking? Are great performers holy, perfect, superhuman? I don’t think so. When someone like Barenboim makes claims in the way the Soviet Union’s Central Committee liked to do: ‘Beethoven and Schoenberg changed music forever’, as if music is a bureaucratic enterprise led by single composers, he looses credibility when such pronouncements are critically considered.

  • ==Musicians like Barenboim,Rattle

    I’m convinced Barenboim has never played or conducted Stockhausen. It’s strange considering his enthusiam for Boulez. Sir Simon has conducted Gruppen quite a number of time throughout Europe but I’ve never heard of him doing anything else.

  • If you have a limited mind and no clue what art is essentially about, regardless wether its music, painting or literature, then anything from Stockhausen must be meaningless to you. Stockhausen was an excentric person and somewhat stubborn and naive in what regards his seemingly ultra-catholic world (not unlike Messiaen). But he was a true master and his works are endlessly creative in many ways, mixing styles from the past with modern means and impressions of other culture’s music. I agree that the text of the Licht cycle is silly, and some parts of the Licht cycle don’t impress me at all musically. But at least Donnerstag and Dienstag are perfect masterpieces with highly fascinating music. Mittwoch especially has some of the greatest music for chorus written in the last century. If you can write something as complex and deep as Michaelion, then you are a true master.

    • Deleting boundaries, transgressing limitations, dissolving distinctions are the driving passions of adolescence. With the onset of maturity, things that cannot stand comparison with the best, sink in estimation. Teenagers call that ‘narrowness’…. With the 20C cultivation of immaturity, Stockhausen found his vocation, as his influence on transgressing pop music demonstrates.

    • It appears that they first had gtiven permission and then withdrew it, probably when they discovered that the plot had been altered, including elements of S’s life story. So, however chaotic, uncooked, juvenile and nonsensical the work, performance should be realized from a purist point of view, according to the S foundation.

      Tracey Emin’s bed comes to mind, this dirty, chaotic ‘installation’ by the British ‘artist’, with empty bottles, used tissues and other unspeakable objects, presented as a work of art, and the protests when a tissue was accidentally laid at another location of the thing.

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