Death of a Stockhausen authority

Death of a Stockhausen authority


norman lebrecht

June 20, 2017

Richard Toop, former teaching assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen and latterly professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has died at 71 after a long illness.

Richard was a fine writer about music – I commissioned his biography of Ligeti for the Phaidon composers series – and an inspiring teacher. Students complained of exhaustion at his lessons because his mind ran so much faster than theirs.

Originally from Chichester, he studied at Hull before moving to Cologne as Stockhausen’s aide. He migrated to Australia in 1975.

Richard Toop, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Stephen Truelove at The Stockhausen Courses 2002 photo: ingvar loco nordin/Stockhausen Estate


  • Bum Note says:

    A wrong noter or was he a sound sculptor? What did Sir Thomas Beecham say when asked if had heard any Stockhausen? No, but I once trod in some!

    • Jerry says:

      Stockhausen was one on the 7 tuneless wonders of 20th Century music, helicopters and all.

      • John Borstlap says:

        ‘Tunes are for sissies.’ (L v Beethoven, 1770-1827)

        • J.O.E. Vandeleur says:

          He said nothing of the kind and you repeat yourself ad nauseum. You need to be more original and do your own research remember that yarn about your relative Waterloo, total rubbish.

          In Ireland, we say if it has no tune it cannot be music.

          There are tunes in Bach, tunes in Handel, tunes in Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven etc up to Johann Strauss II then it all went down the u bend, the 20th Century left us with 7 tuneless wonders, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage, Ligiti, Stockhausen, Boulez, Rihm, there is no audience for this rubblish. No one wants to listen to it. Here is some real music. Turlough O’Carolan

        • Peadar O'Loughlainn says:

          Tunes make money, wrong notes don’t!

          Let’s face it music composed from last century to the present is definitely not as good as previous centuries, it will never really be remembered. It is totally devoid of any real soul, or melody. The main reasons for this are firstly there was a gradual shift away from traditional jobbing composers who earned a living mainly from selling their compositions, the rapid decline of home music making due to the rise of the recording industry, towards full time academics who held teaching posts and whose income did not really depend on selling their compositions or whether anyone liked them. It is a well known fact that you cannot teach someone to be creative, academics themselves do not make good creative artists, as Bernard Shaw remarked, Those who can do, those who can’t teach.
          The trouble with the methods of structuring music that were developed during the last century was that they were answerable to the mind rather than the ear. Ultimately music has to be answerable to ear. Tonality evolved in a natural way and with its loss the greatest means of musical expression has been squandered. It must be one of the greatest challenges, these days to find an original voice within a tonal context. It’s much easier to write music that doesn’t have to sound decent and that no-one can judge and which incidentally has to be subsidised by the tax payer, because no-one want to buy it. In Ireland, It’s well known that music with tunes sells, boring or wrong note music doesn’t.
          In Ireland, we still have a tradition of home music making which is lost in most other places. There is now a network of amateur composers from different backgrounds. I had a plumbing business which my son now has taken over, my background was in Irish traditional music and in between slack periods I played and composed traditional music mostly for home, friends, weddings and wakes! Then my daughter Aine who is now graduated from music at TCD and plays in the Irich Chmber Orchestra, took me to a Irish baroque orchestra concert, I was really impressed and after meeting Paula Chateauneuf, and I asked my cousin in Donegal, Eamon who makes guitars to make me a lute which I managed to teach myself to to play. I now have incorporated it into my music. Most of my music initially was based on small band of traditional instruments, tin whistle, fiddle, Uillean pipes, Irish harp, banjo, guitar, Bodhrán, which I have expanded with a baroque lute, theorbo and piano. I also have written songs, part songs for the choral group Sestina and some choral music for my local church. Some of these have been recorded by Claddagh Records.
          Latterly after meeting some other musicians through my daughter Aine, I have been encouraged to write bigger pieces and have just finished a chamber symphony which took me five years to compose. I asked Aine and some of her friends in the Irish Chamber Orchestra to look over it and to make some suggestions where it needed improving I am pleased to say it got performed last year at the Galway Arts Festival and I am now making a revised version, expanding it for full orchestra. A friend of Aine’s who lives in Austria suggested performing it at that the contemporary music festival in Linz, so next year I will travel over there. At present, I am working on a one act opera Fionn MacCumhaill, which will be performed in Belfast next year.

      • Fraser says:

        Hi Jerry. Yep that just about sums it up. No point to it at all. Did I tell you I mastered the baroque lute in 2 months. Now playing some Sylvius Leopold Weiss, full of nice tunes unlike Stocky’s stuff and Bortslap’s things! Ugh. Audiences love it,

      • Seamus O'Connor says:

        Why is newly composed classical music today so very dull, boring and poor in quality. Well it is impossible to make a living as a full time composer today hence composition itself has now been largely taken over by talentless academics, who act as gatekeepers within their circles of influence such as on this site. As Bernard Shaw rightly remarked, “Those who can do, those who can’t teach”. Certainly when it comes to composing you cannot teach someone to be creative, you either have it in bucket loads or not at all.
        There are those here who seem to think music should not be” tuney”, this is because they are unable to compose any original tunes themselves. All the great composers of the past composed tunes within their works for example, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Purcell, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert their compositions are full of them. None of them were academics, most were self taught.
        Compositions which do not have good tunes are soulless and dull, they will not be accepted by audiences, moreover they will never be remembered. Music after all is supposed to cheer you up and we certainly need cheering up what with all the terrible events which have been occurring recently around the world.
        Ireland has a long tradition of making music in the home, something which has died out completely elsewhere. In Ireland we have a small network of independent self taught modern classical composers from various walks of life who have regular day jobs and compose in their spare time. Most of these have some background either in Irish traditional music, jazz or rock music. They compose a wide variety of music, traditional, songs, choral music, small chamber pieces, piano solos, concertos. Most of this music is aimed at home performance, some incorporate elements of traditional music, jazz or rock into their compositions. Gradually our compositions are now becoming known more widely. I am pleased to report that my Irish opera, Fionn mac Cumhaill is now finally completed and will be performed at the Theater an der Wien in 2018.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is mostly the case that when the ‘centers’ of creativity are drying-up, it is at the ‘margins’ that the flame is kept alive. When Athens had fizzled-out, it were the peripheries which blossemed, and eventually it were the Romans who spread the arts to all corners of the Western world. So, when in Ireland some of music’s creativity is flowering, that would be entirely natural. Only, when ‘rock’ and ‘jazz’ are mentioned, which are not indigenous to the island as far as I know, some suspicion as to the possibility of infection by inferior entertainment makes itself felt.

          But what are ‘tunes’? It is a term with the same indistinct character as ‘pictures’ when referring to painting. When is meant: ‘melodic material’, there is much music since 1900 that is full of it. For Western art music, melodic material is indeed at the heart of the art form. But original melody hardly exists, since it has to be written within rather drastic limitations. The originality of effective melody depends upon context, so that Debussy, Scriabine, Ravel, Bartok and (indeed) Stravinsky use comparable formulae but they all sound different. Even Shostakovich is full of melody and even, tunes, although they are not the best element of his music.

          The difference between ‘tune’ and ‘melody’ can be demonstrated by the hymn of Beethoven IX last mvt as compared to Debussy’s Faun Prelude. Beethoven’s is a tune (and not a very original one, and based upon all kinds of revolutionary tunes of the time) and when later composers try to emulate it, like in Brahms’ 1st symphony last mvt, it inevitably brings the example to mind. In the Faun Prelude, melody is spun-out in flexible threads which can go any direction and which do not have clear beginnings and endings, so that the effect is ambigious and far more subtle and interesting – and not less but more expressive, although listeners mostly are unable to hum any melodic fragment even after many hearings. In other words, when people would listen more closely and more carefully, they would discover many types of ‘tunes’ that offer as many different experiences.

          Complaining that Schoenberg, Boulez or Stockhausen did not write ‘tunes’ is like complaining about the lack of hilarious side-splitters in the plays of Samuel Becket, or about the absence of folies-bergère-dancers at the Vatican.

          “Music after all is supposed to cheer you up and we certainly need cheering up what with all the terrible events which have been occurring recently around the world.” For cheering-up there are ample opportunities elswhere, outside classical music, one would think. But translated, the phrase expresses the justified need to drink at the well of some creativity and a transcending, constructive world view. Totally agreed. Only nice tunes would be rather insufficient, I fear.

    • Hilary says:

      Otto Klemperer, on the other hand enjoyed Stockhausen’s Gruppen. It always does Thomas Beecham a terrible disservice whenever that tired old quote is dug out.

      • Turlough says:

        You cannot call his stuff music. In Ireland, we have a simple criterion. If it has no tune, it cannot be music. Stockhausen as Jerry says is one of the 7 tuneless wonders of the 20th century, the other 6 are, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, John Cage, Ligeti, Rihm, Boulez.

        The BBC never puts on invite concerts for these as no one would turn up.

        Here is some real music played by my pal Rosario.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Stravinsky wrote lots of tunes. When very old, he decided to write the other notes, for a change. But on the whole, the majority of his works are very tuneful, but not the simpleton variety.

          • Turlough says:

            Yesterday you said about preferring JM Hauer to Stravinsky was like wet sand for a stale Bolognese pizza, come on you are being a hypocrite. No one likes modern music fact there is no audience for it, for heavens sake classical music died out after Johann Strauss II. Fact. I don’t mind plenty of Bach and earlier stuff to listen to with real tunes. Ireland has John Field, O’Carolan, Balfe, CV Stanford don’t you know. Does your country have any, that is if your country still exists in the EU

          • M2N2K says:

            You got your “facts” very wrong. There is lots of very fine music written in the last century and plenty of audience for it.

      • Sue says:

        That conductor could be such a pill. Oh, wait…

    • Dougal Maguire says:

      This raises an interesting point. Modern classical music is now mostly the domain of lumbering academics rather than jobbing composers. Most would not know the difference between a slip jig and a hornpipe. They have safe day jobs with a pension and their income does not depend on selling music copy. The reason why modern composers seem unable to write real melodic stuff is that it’s the schools fault. The problem is that today’s prominent composers are writing in this non-melodic style, so when music departments look for composition lecturers, they only have these people to turn to. That in turn produces composers that write in that style.

      For example, the current composition lecturer at my university is actually a sound artist rather than a composer. Problem two – because schools don’t have composers that write in a melodic style, composers that do write in a melodic style are either forced to write in the style that their lecturer teaches in (so that they can get a degree) or not do a composition degree. The problem here is that many publishing houses won’t even accept scores from people without an undergraduate degree, with preference given to compositional degree holders (preferably with a post graduate degree).

      Therefore the only composers whose music you actually get to hear are those who had to adapt their style to be the non-melodic stuff that their lecturers taught. Those that actually aim for a melody are not able to get a look in either way, even if their music be very well written and have a beautiful melody. Some options for composers: Keep writing, and publish your music yourself. Programs such as lilypond will engrave your music into a PDF file, which makes it easy to post your music to a website. Then all you need to do is to get people to listen and read your works. If someone has written a piece for violin, and make the score available on the web, they should come onto this website and say “Hey, nice piece here for violin, come listen, let me know if you play it” etc. It’s getting that foot in the door to being well known, and then people might start to listen and realise that people don’t want noise, they want a melody that they can remember.

      • M2N2K says:

        Not necessarily. Some of us want music that makes us feel and think, regardless of whether it is “melodic” or not.

  • Hilary says:

    I fondly recall his essay “Four Facets of New Complexity” for Contact Magazine. None of the composers represented in this elaborate article (Finnissy, Dench,Dillon and Barrett) appeared in Paul Griffith’s contemporaneous “New Sounds New Personalities” so was in part a redress to this.

  • Bruys says:

    Before we get side-tracked by Stockhausen bashing (an undoubtedly important, and what’s more varied composer), there are some touching remembrances of Richard Toop to be found on the internet. In an article about the Sydney Conservatorium’s anniversary in 2015, Richard Tognetti is reported as saying:


    Violinist, artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra

    Studied from 1977-87

    Favourite memory … having the cataclysmic, shocking and alluring worlds of modernism revealed to me through the prism of Dr Richard Toop’s heady lectures. Post-modernism was just starting to foment strong reactions in the student mind, and crossover was not yet a serious consideration. I rebelliously joined the “early music movement” whose liberating, alternative musical lifestyles beckoned followers to Holland, England and Austria. Back then, the grass was certainly greener in Europe.

    • John Borstlap says:

      HIP (historically Informed Performance) and modernism are closely related and are both a reaction against the 19th century and the central performance culture which came down from it. The difference is that HIP is still rooted in tradition, only a more authentic interpretation of it, while modernism broke entirely with the tradition and started-up something new – music without music, i.e. sonic art, where the placing of the notes according to their harmonic series (tonality: the relationships between the notes) no longer counted.

      All those ‘isms’ stemmed from the 19C trend of projecting quasi-scientific progressiveness into music, together with the inclination to reflect on it in a classifying way, labelling different styles with an ‘ism’ so that it may look / sound more acceptable because of seeming more respectable. In the visual arts, every 3 years a new ism was invented and used for promotion. The postwar isms like modernism, postmodernism, pre-postmodernism, spectralism, etc. etc. are supposed to define a line of progress, which was never there. Because art, and art music, is not science and does not progress. The only factors that can be referred to by something like ‘progress’ in art are the accumulation of material means and the increase of artistic quality: it is progress if there are more means to choose from, and if artists get better at their work. That is all there is.

      • Hilary says:

        “HIP and modernism are closely related” yes, this is true to a certain extent. One thinks of Joshua Rifkin ( pioneering one voice per part versions of Bach) who studied under Stockhausen. Also, the pianist Ian Pace who is well known for his advocacy of modernist music, but is also is very interested in performance HIP.

  • Tony says:

    What a shame that an announcement of the passing of such a fine person should dissolve into such petty discussion.

    I met Richard in last few months of his life when he was experiencing tremendous pain. In spite of it all his generosity of spirit and mentor qualities shone brightly and we shared passionate discussions on many interesting aspects of life and of course death. He maintained his passion through all this and the world is poorer for the loss of such a generous spirit.

    Farewell Richard. You leave behind the legacy of a challenging mind that was always inspiring.

  • Thomas C says:

    Professor Toop was an excellent lecturer and a foremost authority on the music of Stockhausen. I had my mind expanded greatly from attending his lectures at the Stockhausen Courses in Kurten, Germany for a number of years. He is greatly missed.

    To the idiots rehashing the Beecham quote, and saying there’s no audience for modern music, you should have tried to get tickets to any of Stockhausen’s operas – they were all sold out, and should you ever bother actually listening to any of them, you’ll know why immediately.