London’s Tate Modern to stage Stockhausen’s Gruppen

press release:

The London Symphony Orchestra [LSO] today announced full details of its performances of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s orchestral masterpiece Gruppen which will take place at 16.30 and 18.15 on Saturday 30 June 2018 in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The announcement comes as Sir Simon Rattle’s second season as LSO Music Director, which runs from September 2018 to June 2019 at the Barbican, goes on sale.

Stockhausen at Tate Modern

Gruppen requires three separate orchestras playing simultaneously, each with its own conductor. 109 LSO musicians will be split into three groups in the Turbine Hall, conducted by Simon Rattle, Matthias Pintscher and Duncan Ward. The audience will be right in the middle of the performance space, enveloped by the sound and encouraged to move around as the work is performed. BBC Radio 3 will record the performances in binaural sound for broadcast later the same evening, allowing listeners on headphones to recreate the aural experience of being in the Turbine Hall.

The LSO and Simon Rattle will also perform Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And I await the resurrection of the dead), written by French composer Olivier Messiaen to commemorate the fallen in both World Wars.

Both works were inspired by the vast scale of the Alpine mountains surrounding each composer as he worked, Stockhausen in Switzerland and Messiaen in south-eastern France, and both are well-suited for performance in non-traditional venues like the Turbine Hall.

A true landmark in the history of music, Gruppen treated the construction and performance of music in a completely different way, challenging both performers and audiences. Its title refers to 174 ‘groups’ of which the work is comprised – cohesive groupings of musical notes which are not brought together because of their pitch (like a traditional chord), but share a particular characteristic, such as speed, or richness of colour or dynamics. The world premiere took place at a concert in Cologne in 1957 in the Kölner Messe, an international trade fair and conference centre, conducted by three of the most significant avant-garde musicians of the day: Stockhausen himself, Pierre Boulez and Bruno Maderna.

This is the first UK performance of Gruppen not to take place in a concert hall or other venue traditionally associated with classical music. Gruppen has been performed nine times in the UK since it’s British premiere in Glasgow in 1961. The Turbine Hall – a huge industrial space at the heart of Tate Modern – has been used for a wide variety of performances and events since the gallery first opened in 2000, from Kraftwerk’s eight-day retrospective of concerts to Michael Clark Company’s spectacular residencies.

Stockhausen at Tate Modern is produced by the London Symphony Orchestra, in association with Tate Modern. There will be two performances on Saturday 30 June, at 16.30 and 18.15. Tickets go on sale in April. For full details please visit:


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  • I’s so happy to read about this! I’ll be there, also my old uncle Duncan who is a Stockfan (also a Woodstock fanatic, he still keeps his sandals from that time – those were the days!) Finally people begin to understand the beauty of this stuff, it’s great! it’s new! and full of unexpected things, so contemporary, like the news nowadays. When I get fed-up with the work here, and all that snob thing going around about classical music and stuff, I take a break, go down to the basement and play a Boulez, Xenakis or Stock CD, it so confirms my ‘Lebensgefühl’ as grandma always said. Did you know that walking around between the Gruppen is wildly therapeutic? No? Do try it at the Tate in June…! I walked through the Gesang der Junglinge once, was a great experience, before I was removed by staff because at the time such audience understanding was not understood. But the Tate undestands our time, true! They always have the newest stuff there, even from decennia ago. When I’m visited by my German and American friends I always take them to Tate modern, so contemporary. After leaving the building they always feel much more at home in central London with the traffic and stuff. What we need is confirmation of our modernity, and not all those old dead white suppressing male things with symphonies and the like… soooo glad I live in these times.

    For people who are not sure – I regularly listen to this wonderful performance:

    Go and walk through the Gruppen…. you won’t regret it! Once in a life time!


    • Boringfileclerk (underneath you at the moment) should know that it’s at least uncouth to big-up Stockhausen while belittling you. Why does he do it!?

      I know: he feels the S greatness very intensely. S was his father, too. Boring-‘s the number one fan! Plus: he’s a hep cat.

      And now Sally, also hep, though a chick. Zeit and geist, she breathes ’em both in deeply, though not necessarily in that order — wouldn’t Stockhausen? not? You can’t be Only ahead of your time and shaper of every art form ever heard of.

      She out-writes all of us. Be careful, Boring-, don’t make her feel bad, please don’t drive our sunshine away.

      Love one another.

        • I watched all five episodes of “The House” (Covent Garden) on YT. Knocked me silly, yet to recover… not sure if I can…

          If you go there make sure (for epi 2) you’re in a secure chair, one you can’t fall out of, during the arrival of the horses at a dress rehearsal Janacek’s Katya Kabonova

    • Hey John – this is a serious question for you. First of all, I have to profess my total ignorance of Stockhausen’s music. Absolutely don’t know anything about it and have never listened – hence I am a tabula rasa in this case. What do you think, why does Pollini (a great artist in the opinion of those who know much more about music than me) champion Stockhausen’s music? If it were total junk, he would have never played it. And Pollini is not a fool or dilettante. This is not an antagonistic question – just plain curiosity – wanting to know what you think. Please excuse my ignorance and thanks a lot in advance.

      • There is a thing called ‘neurosis’ – part of the personality acquires emotional independence from the rest and begins to undermine the centre. Characteristic of neurosis is also the independence from reality and facts, neurosis creates its own ‘reality’. Performers are, in spite of their artistic achievements, mere human, so it is entirely understandable that the spirit of Stockhausen’s work (which is not difficult to spot) is, for some people suffering from neurosis, a therapeutic confirmation of their condition. It can be considered a private indulgence, and its damaging aspects (both for the performer and for the audience) are completely missed. For gifted performers like Pollini and Rattle, liking Stockhausen is a symptom of a personality disorder; for entirely unmusical people who are seriously culturally-challenged, it is merely a symbol of freedom from the obligation to embark upon some trajectory of personal development.

        • OK. First, thank you for your opinion. Second, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to call Pollini and Rattle neurotic? It’s a pretty strong statement. Of all artists, both seem very grounded. If you called Pogorelich neurotic, I would agree – but these two?

          • I thought Pollini quite neurotic, also when it does not intervene with his Chopin etc. His control seems to be an immense overcompensation for emotional disturbances (watch his facial expressions while playing, certainly it is not a pleaseure to himself). With Rattle, on reflection his Stockchoice may also be inspired by conventionality, he still thinks the modernist postwar narrative to be somehow true (the line of Tristan-Mahler-Schoenberg-Boulez&Stockhausen defines progress). I feel sorry for the orchestral players.

        • So, according to your logic, people who don’t like the past Avantgarde are neurotic?….
          Thanks for the laugh of the day!

        • Thank you John Borstlap! The cause of my affection for contemporary music has until now been a bafflement. Imagine my relief to learn that my affliction was mental illness. In the coming week I shall visit my physician. God willing she will prescribe medication, therapy, or, more likely, an intense program that fuses the two.

          Perhaps one day, after treatment and the support of my loved ones, I will become a functioning member of the musical community, despising Ligeti and tolerating Borstlap, whoever he is.

          • No need to take it personally, nor to fall back upon ad hominum attacks. Why be content with something that is so obviously primitive and unsophisticated, uncultured, while there is so much of great beauty and artistic meaning all around? Why would one prefer the cold emptiness of the gutter when there is a well-heated, well-lighted salon over there, accessible to anybody with an open mind? There is nothing wrong with liking Stockhausen’s works, but one must be insensitive to what it actually represents to enjoy it. Also there is nothing wrong with being insensitive. Only, one would hope that the overall accessibility of music nowadays would open a few doors which lead to a better life than the neurotic excrements of a traumatized war victim could possibly inspire.

          • The drugs aren’t working. Contemporary music stimulates and Borstlap bores. More drugs, mommy, please!

  • Stockhausen was the only composer who understood music, and what it was capable of doing for humanity. His innovations had profound influence on popular music, and well as serious music, art, and literature. He was for many of us, the father of the modern era. “Sally” can scoff all she wants, yet she cannot ignore his greatness. Few composers could boast of changing the history of western music, and yet, Stockhausen did just that.

        • Yes, of course, but Stockhausen was the first to recognize the beauty of the helicopter as a musical instrument. It’s called “progress”.


          • The idea of progress is not sufficiently understood! What is progress? It’s understanding your own time. And that means that pieces from the past should be modernized to become part of us…. like in modern opera, wow do I love that. I once walked through the St Matthew Passion, it’s all organised sound isn’t it? Bach, Stock and barrel, and that piece is awfully long and in itself quite boring and antisemitic with all those jews – it was at St John’s Smith Square and halfway I fell over a gamba right into a harpsichord, suddenly there was a real Sockhausen moment! everybody waking-up. Beautiful sounds and the uproar of the players and audience gave lustre to the moment, but alas I was removed and have been excluded from the hall ever since. But what I want to say is that all that reverence is wrong and creates barriers to fantastic music like Stockhausen’s! also concert halls & stuff are wrong. Museums etc. much better, maybe raiway stations? Would love to walk thorugh Gruppen at Waterloo Station or King’s Cross, with the additional train sounds and shuffling people.


    • Yes absolutely. Sally, or should I say John should reflect on his mocking of deeply held beliefs. There seems to be a real double standard in operation here, one similar to attitudes regarding the acceptability of poking fun at people’s religious affiliations. Scientology, and Mormonism for example appear fair game, whereas Islam is clearly off limits.

      Fact is, human beings are in essence pretty irrational and will believe in all manner of weird stuff, be it the ideas of Joseph Smith, L Ron Hubbard or Karlheinz Stockhausen. We have to learn tolerance, to live and let live.

      Of course we all know that when it comes to openness and tolerance of our inherent differences, the classical music avant-garde led by Boulez and Stockhausen were a beacon, setting a standard for all to follow!

      • David – I posted the same question to John above and would appreciate your opinion, too. If Stockhausen were so bizarre, why does Pollini champion his music? As I said, I don’t know anything about S. – just trying to make sense. Thank you!

        • Why does Pollini champion his music? He probably genuinely likes it and I have zero problem with that. Music in essence is tribal, it’s in many ways about identity. It has a natural tendency to organise itself into cults, we’re all probably a member of one or another. Hell damn, mine is Wagner, and a fervent belief at that. As if I can talk…

    • “Few composers could boast of changing the history of western music, and yet, Stockhausen did just that.” What an immense misconception. Boulez and Stockhausen were the arch fathers of an entirely new art form: sound art, and AS SUCH their work was welcomed since it liberated unmusical people from the problems of 20C MUSIC. Sound art was more modern than these arch fathers imagined – they stepped-out of the musical paradigm and conceived a new one, based upon purely sonic patterns, and thoroughly materialistic. It is not music however: you cannot destroy the fundaments of an art form and then claim you represent a new development of it. The same with the visual arts and concept art: the latter is something fundamentally different. You cannot lay down a filthy bed surrounded by used tissues and empty bottles and then claim you create a work of visual art. Stockhausen’s influence – like the influence of concept art – is comparable with a virus which only brings down the most vulnerable species, in this case: people who did not have an understanding of their own culture, and they are always in the majority. The same with John Cage: happily embraced by the musically-challenged.

      So, please spare me the deification of such cranks like mr Stockhomes.

      • Your ignorance of modern music is astonishing.You also forget that the tenderhearted and quaint tonal harmony you so fervently defend, was itself once considered avant garde, and a cacophony. Continue to live in the dark ages if you wish. But as for I, I will live to hear the music of the future.

        • Nothing ages so quickly as the music of the future…. and Stockhausen is the music of the future of the past. You only seem to have read about one single simple conventional narrative of 20C music history? Try Roger Scruton’s Aesthetics of Music (Oxford University Press) for a bit of enlightenment on the matter of 20C music history. Or Alex Ross: ‘The Rest is Noise’ for some background information. Then there is Richard Taruskin’s massive History of Western Music…..

          …. who, in the last volume punctures, with strong arguments supported by music practice, the conventional and mistaken modernist narrative as the only way to regard music history – the totalitarian, streamlined ‘line of development’ from Wagner’s Tristan etc. etc. over Schönberg to Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis and the ‘music of the future’.

          Music as an art form (!) has no future, only a present.

          The music history of the last century has been seriously distorted by many academics who, for a while, bought the postwar modernist narrative, because it offered them an infinite horizon of explanation, while Beethoven c.s. after a while, is exhausted.

          • PS:

            As for “tenderhearted and quaint tonal harmony”…… where would that come from? Is the existing repertoire that people like Stockhausen et al wanted to dispose of, including Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Bach, Beethoven, Monteverdi etc. etc. etc. (etc.) merely sentimental drivel? That is exactly the revealing ignorance of modernism, and proving my point that one must be thoroughly uncultured and entirely ignorant of the entire Western musical tradition to even come-up with such notions. This is also the explanation why there have been so many ‘modernist composers’, it is easy and one does not have to have any musical sophistication. The postwar archfathers wanted to open the doors of music life to the music of the future, but unintentionally opened the door to amateurism:


  • While initially it was great that ensembles were taking up this piece and Stockhausen’s music wasn’t fading into complete obscurity after his death, I do worry that Gruppen is seen, in its own way, as a “safe choice” and other Stockhausen repertoire – even from his pre-LICHT days – is being eclipsed. I’d love to hear a performance of Carré in a special, large performance space like the Tate, or of Sternklang in a public park, but those pieces aren’t getting revived like Gruppen is.

  • Gruppen has been performed nine times in the UK since it’s British premiere in Glasgow in 1961

    Grammar at it’s best.

  • Well it looks interesting but I do remember walking out of Donnerstag at the Garden with Stockhausen in charge of his machine! Maybe I am more tolerant now! I’ll give it a try!

    • Hugh, why? You obviously feel pressured by some of the affectatious intellectualist nonsense that surrounds these works. Those who can relate to this music should enjoy it for what it is without all the expansionist emotional blackmail, the delusions of intellectual superiority that come with it.

      It is a fringe and will only ever be of fringe appeal. That doesn’t make it worse than what it is but it certainly doesn’t better. That notion is counter-intuitive bollocks.

  • >>Gruppen has been performed nine times in the UK since it’s British premiere in Glasgow in 1961

    Yes, it’s bad. Actually I make it more than nine:

    Barbican (Abbado) 1983
    Royal Festival Hall (Rattle) 1996
    Royal Festival Hall BBC SO 2000
    Trinity College of Music around 2003
    Proms 2008
    Royal Festival Hall circa 2015

    Also Boulez did three times at Proms.
    There was also a Royal College of Music performance.

    Would be wonderful to experience Carre. BBC SO/Singers performed it in Paris 10+ years ago, but not here in London !

    • Birmingham University’s Department of Music performed Carre in Birmingham in 2010 (in a concert along with Berio’s Laborintus II, Allegri’s Miserere and Tallis’ Spem In Alium). Vic Hoyland and Jonty Harrison were among the conductors for the Stockhausen.

      Very good it was too.

    • Scintillating piece which ought to b pe heard more often. However, I wonder what Queen Elizabeth 2nd thought of it as I assume it was written in honour of her Silver Wedding Jubilee of 1977.

  • A major postwar work once viewed as unplayably difficult and unlistenably complex looks set to become an established classic – even to enter the standard repertoire.

    Reaction from the composer’s champions: belittle the piece and express dismay.

    I’ve never seen a more perfect example of the snobbery that motivates so many contemporary music fans. Popular = Bad. And the minute large numbers of people actually start enjoying a given work, you drop it like a hot potato.

    Though to be fair, that whole obscurity vs popularity equation is just as bad across the whole of classical music. A Vivaldi cantata lies unplayed (and is lamented as “unfairly neglected”) for centuries: but as soon as it catches on with Classic FM, it’s an embarrassment. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony isn’t any less great than the Grosse Fuge simply because one always has been – and always will be – more popular than the other. And I’m also old enough to remember when Gorecki and John Tavener were still admissible in highbrow company. The notes are still the same, people. Perhaps it would be fruitful to ask yourselves why some pieces find an audience, while others don’t, instead of playing this eternal game of Obscurity Top Trumps. It’s all just very silly.

    • I don’t see anyone here belittling Gruppen. Many think it a good piece and it’s easy to see why audiences like it. It just shouldn’t be the only Stockhausen piece that gets programmed at impressive concerts like this.

      • Someone described it as a “safe choice” – which no-one with much experience of concert planning or promotion could ever say about anything by Stockhausen (even Tierkreis). And as someone else points out, when a piece has managed no more than a dozen performances in around 60 years, it may be a bit premature to start worrying about it eclipsing other works.

        Yet always this eternal “should /shouldn’t”… Who decides what we “should” and “shouldn’t” hear? Audiences, taken en masse, are surprisingly shrewd judges, and sensible promoters (and conductors) know what they can get away with. Maybe we “should” hear more Glazunov than the Violin Concerto, more Dohnanyi than the Nursery Tune Variations, more Penderecki than the Threnody. But we don’t. Perhaps Stockhausen is destined to be a “one-work composer”. It’d be interesting to ask why, and what specific qualities Gruppen possesses that have enabled it to achieve this measure of popularity. And worth reflecting that actually, there are worse fates for a composer than being known in the concert hall principally for one work – like being known for none.

        Meanwhile this is the work that Rattle clearly most wants to perform, and this Tate performance will do nothing but good for Stockhausen’s profile in the UK. Just watch.

        • Gruppen is a safe choice compared to the other two pieces I mentioned, as it can draw the media buzz of an adventurous stereophonic work while still having fairly limited forces and being attractive to a large enough circle of conductors. Programming Carré would involve larger forces (a choir, a fourth conductor), and Sternklang a large open-air venue and probably expensive rehearsal. Stockhausen is not in danger of being a one-piece composer – his chamber works (e.g. Tierkreis) are heard often enough, and even the LICHT music is being revived from time to time. The prominence of Gruppen only disappoints because in the limited context of ensembles wanting to do a piece in a special venue, this is the one that tends to always be chosen.

          • According this description Gruppen is not popular with audiences but with the ‘buzz’ – all the elements AROUND it which have nothing to do with musical / artistic quality – the wrapping paper. As long as people think that ‘the audience’ has to be ‘educated’ to ‘appreciate’ the ‘music’ of their own time of half a century ago, there will be this sort of waste of money, time, effort, propaganda texts etc. etc. in an effort to keep a corpse upright that was already deadborn long ago.

            While we have only one life, why wasting time and efforts on something that is merely a time capsule of a postwar mental and emotional hangover? People who think this is a type of work that connects us with our own time, exercise cynical and masochistic claims, intentionally or unintentionally (I don’t know what is worse).

    • Quite a perceptive comment in some ways, in others, a tad deluded.

      We are at a point in our history where the push-back against the dictatorship of the avant-garde, the rules enforced by the (as I recently heard the Intendant of a major German opera house describe them) ‘avant-garde police’, is well underway.

      Of course the establishment is digging in. But we’re talking here of a work that depending on who you believe has had perhaps a dozen performances in the UK in its 60 year of existence. That’s not evidence of it coming anywhere near the standard repertoire, at least as defined by any sensible criteria. No work by a member of the post-war classical avant-garde ever has.

      That is not to say that performing this work at Tate Modern is not a good idea, it is indeed the ideal venue for it. I hope the performance is a success.

      In the meantime we can get on with the urgent task of using the concert halls and opera houses to nurture a new diverse approach to contemporary music, a new mainstream that acknowledges that the views of audiences are at least as important if not more so than those of the ‘specialists’.

      • As with the William Glock years at the BBC, best not to trust some of the popular mythology about Darmstadt.
        A causal glance at the archives reveals swathes of composers represented at the Summer School who don’t belong to the hard-line avant-garde (to coin a rather meaningless label). For instance: Poulenc, Henze, Fortner,Skempton and Woolrich….

        • They were a minority quickly pushed to the margins, as is usual with totalitarian movements. The first staff and members of Darmstadt were people who had had no qualms with working with the nazis: read ‘Music after Hitler 1945-1955’ by Toby Thacker. Wolfgang Fortner and Hermann Heiss, who were involved in the setting-up of the summer school, were blacklisted by the Americans; Heiss had happily collaborated with the nazis by writing marches, Fortner wrote ‘festive music’ for the Hitlerjugend, etc. etc. The setting-up of Darmstadt was not a reaction to the nazi period and its consequent war trauma but a product of it. The totalitarian nonsense under the banner of ‘progress’ was well-known all over the place, and I think that the suicide of Bernd Alois Zimmermann who was a bit older than the Stockhausen generation, was partly due to him being excluded from the movement because of still clinging a bit to the expressionism of the early 20th century (Schönberg, Berg). The same with the modernist music festival Donaueschingen: under the nazis it was a celebrative thing of folky Blut und Boden music, and the 1st postwar director, composer Hugo Hermann, used to conduct the National Socialist Symphony Orchestra there, dressed in a brown dinner jacket. Many composers being played at Donaueschingen in the first years were all compromised. And so on and so forth… Hindemith was condemned for being oldfashioned and tonal, decent composers like Walter Braunfels who had resisted nazi invitations, which costed him his career and job, did not get a 2nd chance after the war because he wrote a Straussian type of music which was considered not progressive enough. And so on… and then there are still people looking forward to the music of the future, like the North Koreans desperately longing for the paradise their progressive leaders have been proclaiming all along. And for the time being they are treated on Gruppen to keep the flame of the future burning.

          • You mention Walter Braunfels as being a ‘decent’ composer. Yes…but is that good enough?
            To my ears, the thematic material falls short of being all that distinctive and it’s rather meandering. Nice that it gets an occasional airing though.
            Give me ‘Kreutzspiel’ any day, or the last scene of ‘Daphne’ … you’re besotted with labels and style. Great music transcends all of this petty stuff.

          • To Hillary:

            No, it is not about ‘labels’ but about ears.

            Braunfels may not have been a great composer, but he was one, while Stock & co were not – and they appointed themselves as commissars of the party line deciding who was and was not ‘relevant’. After WW II new music became a form of politics, entirely independent from any artistic value and from ears. And Darmstadt is still the hub without ears:


    • Indeed popularity and quality are 2 distinct categories. When people want to hear certain pieces again and again, it may be because the piece tells them something meaningful, or it happily confirms them in their underdeveloped taste and functions like absolution – ‘I’m OK because this is classical music, after all’. There are no hard rules to assess these things.

      Modernism was born from dissatisfaction with the supposed ‘degenerate musical taste’ of early 20C audiences and since premieres of pieces by Debussy, Stravinsky, Schönberg et al were mostly boo’d, composers hoped to provoke audiences into rejection so that they could believe their piece was great. A mythology developed about audience reactions and new music, covering the real problems of post-traditional music. But we should always ask ourselves, when confronted by an unknown work: does it ‘say’ something? Does it want to ‘share’ something? And if so, what is it that is ‘said’? Does it contribute to the better sides of humanity? Does it make me feel better, or worse, and if so, why? Only then, the ‘exchange’ with the ‘unknown’ can be interesting and fruitful, in a cultural and psychological sense. Therefore performances of Stockhausen can fulfill a need to engage with these questions, apart from the usual conventional snob value.

      • Stockhausen’s voice at the end of the talk called ‘Singing Stockhausen’s Gruppen – a melodic and rhythmic analyis’ available on the Stockhausen Society’s website, can be heard praising my approach.

        That was all he ever wanted – people to listen to his music and enjoy what they are listening to. Singing it is even better. Music can only speak of itself. What has telling people that there are 174 groups got to do with anything about the music? How many times does the four-note cell occur in Boulez Piano Sonata no 2?.

        Contemporary music has suffered from unthinking ‘explanations’. At the South Bank a BBC employee gave a talk on Gruppen which was meaningless. The packed afternoon audience learnt nothing that could have given them an inkling of what to expect at the evening performances.The post-interval performance was to a depleted audience.

        And the diatribes above? Shhhhh!

        • I agree, one should listen to what is played. In the case of Gruppen, one should not be distracted by any wrapping paper, positive or negative. And what would one hear? That’s the whole point – primitive, incoherent gestures made-up of random tone collections. Also after many hearings, this aural experience never changes. Either you like the sound patterns immediately, if you like unexpected sound patterns coming from different directions, or never. If you find a Gruppen performance a rather poor cultural experience, how can you know whether repeated hearings will add more to the experience than what can already be heard at the first hearing? But we will never know, since Gruppen is never performed, say, 25 times in a row. And recordings don’t give the full effect of the acoustic placing of the groups. The work will remain a promise for ever, as is appropriate for music of the future.

          How is it possible that an ‘old’ piece, written long before pure sound patterns became trendy, can – with every hearing – gradually unfold more layers of meaning, of connections between parts and between motives and themes, and create ever more expressive nuances for the acute listener? How is it possible that some pieces can become something like a good friend whose presence you need on a regular basis? Difficult to put your finger on it, but I bet it has something to do with the idea that music is not merely sound patterns but psychology through relationships.

  • I was blissfully unaware of Stockhausen and Birtwistle too, for the most part until this thread. Having listened a bit and poked around, I’ve been struck most by the grandiose claims made by and for Stockhausen especially and the often bullying tone of his defenders, from a position that seems to be organized — read the Wikipedia entry. Most of our contemporary greats end up just slinking away — not these guys!

    I see that our paterfamilias Norman broke through into the Birtwistle zone, after some quality time with the man himself (don’t recall him actually writing that he liked the music); who am I to say it’s no good? I can’t relate but I would like to understand the phenomenon better.

    “Music in essence is tribal, it’s in many ways about identity. It has a natural tendency to organize itself into cults…” — I was struck by this sentence of David Osborne’s. And also by the the childish claim of Stockhausen’s immense influence over pop music, the principle evidence being his mug, among the many, on the Sgt Pepper cover (so was Aleister Crowly’s).

    Would it be fair or instructive to compare the Stockhausen impulse — as taken up by the devotees — to that of punk?

      • Hilary, beware the analysts, those who authoritatively reduce music to a set of numbers. You can’t analyse your way to understanding music.

          • Hilary, It always concerns me that newcomers to this subject, those yet unfamiliar with the ideas of the post WW II avant-garde, are vulnerable to being badly misled by the linguistic approach of the movement’s advocates: The grandiose, definite language, the relentless expression of opinion dressed as fact, the constant use of adulatory descriptions. All of this shrouded in a fog of complexity, complex ideas and even more complex explanations as if complexity in itself equals merit. It does not. Any more than pseudo-maths equations equal music. Music just isn’t going to give up it’s secrets in this way. We cannot and I hope never will be able to analyse our way to understanding it. So what do we know?

            We know that outside of it’s bubble this music has very few, almost a statistically insignificant number of adherents, but that those who do embrace it, advocate for it with a fervour that approaches religious intensity. We know that by accident of history this movement appeared at the same time as did the post war European model of funding the art-form publicly, and that they took the opportunity to assume creative control over the direction of new classical music by controlling where the money went. Any dissent, any alternative approaches to musical creativity were relentlessly suppressed. We know that as a consequence, from Germany, music’s great epicentre, there has emerged not a single new work in the post-war period that has captured the imagination of mainstream classical audiences in any meaningful way except for the Vier Letzte Lieder of Richard Strauss in 1947. The work of a then 83 year old.

            We will never know what music, what great diversity, what unforeseen branches of the art-form may have emerged had we not been obliged to endure the 70+ year dictatorship of the avant-garde. Pause to imagine for a moment a contemporary music world that actually grows it’s audience. Where the views of audiences matter as much, if not more than those of the specialists. That is not such a ludicrous notion. But somehow, it seems unlikely. So there you have it, an alternative view of Stockhausen’s legacy.

          • To David:

            The religious intensity is understandable, because creating the impression of ‘being-in-the know’ is an attractive social instrument, while ‘understanding’ where there is not much to understand in a musical sense, may intimidate listeners who indeed failed to hear anything musically interesting in S’s works. Postwar avantgarde is a gift for ambitious people without musical talent, its establishment support and funding confirmed the suggestion that it was OK and thus, the inner emptiness of its adherents was given absolution. This liberation from guilt over one’s lack of musical sensibility creates euforia which is then projected upon the Master.

        • With all due respect, there’s no sense of this work being ‘reduced to a set of numbers’ in the Samuel Andreyev analysis. His approach is the reverse of that infact.
          You must have been watching a different video, or mistaking it for a book you’ve read.

    • You raise some very interesting points there Buxtehude. I’ve drawn the comparison before on this site before between the social phenomenon that was mid-late 70s punk and the 2nd Viennese school.

      Both these movements were a reaction against a musical world that they felt had become corporatised, self indulgent, bloated and stale. They were much needed in their time, and both were predominantly bottom up, grass roots driven affairs.

      A better equivalent to the post-war modernists in my mind would be post-punk, one example being Sonic Youth, a group who our friend the esteemed Alex Ross likes to sing the praises of. I saw this band perform in their heyday, it was to be perfectly frank, a rather tame affair, and the response of the audience that night told the story. Nobody appeared to be having a good time. Feedback, and noise, are a dead end. They become meaningless once they lose their ability to shock. Sound familiar?

      Finally, a word on the idea of cults. It is worth pointing out some of the similarities in the light of earlier comments about S’s influence. The period of time that the Beatles, mainly McCartney, started showing some interest in Stockhausen and co., was also the one in which they became serious devotees of the Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

      Coincidence? I think not. Because they were looking for something that felt like it was missing from their lives,wanting to explore new possibilities and hoping to find easy answers from someone who had cultivated the image of being in some way advanced. A gifted and inspired leader. Or at least somebody who can do a convincing impression.

      • I grew up on the Beatles and for me they are, still, an outstanding ornament of the last century. But your phrase “easy answers” is well-chosen and Sir Paul is an example of how one can be a genius and not very bright at the same time.

        Here he shares the secret of his approach to classical music, once he’d decided to compose for orchestra:

        Lucky that Martinu didn’t suffer from this! He had to hear everyone!

        • And that McCartnian procedure sounds like it had a lot to do with business-related fears — like he was afraid of being sued for plagiarism and therefore putting on blinkers would be the safest path. Sad, isn’t it?

  • Actually I did see this; listening again as I write, to bring back the experience. By accident I’m hearing two streams at once, one from the start and the other from the center. Interesting! (Even better than Glenn Gould’s vocal documentaries, superimposing up to four voices recorded in the field, a monumental undertaking and broadcast coast to coast.) Perhaps I should listen to this guy on everyone else as well.

    • It was very enlightening for me also, watching that young man speak with such conviction. Before, I was prepared to give this work the benefit of the doubt. Now, based on that lecture, I know beyond any shadow of doubt that it is a load of utter tosh.

      • It’s not for you. Fine.
        Needless to say, tastes differ very markedly.

        Others like his music though, though I concede it doesn’t have mass appeal, and probably never will!
        Based on current ticket availability, I estimate that the two performances of Donnerstag aus Licht at the RFH this year will play to full capacity audiences.

      • “watching that young man speak with such conviction.”

        Samuel Andreyev is in his mid-late thirties…

        “I know beyond any shadow of doubt that it is a load of utter tosh.”

        As always, you can’t have the common courtesy to refrain from voicing negative opinions about a composer or work when you know that there are fans of that music around.

          • Yes! I HATE it when I see Stock’s name slandered by snobs. If there’s a cult around him, so what? He gave the world so much…. in spite of being so generously funded… and being appropriated by pop groups. Wasn’t it Jesus himself who set-up a cult? And look what happened!!


        • Ah Christopher, how does one differentiate between an ‘elite’ and a ‘cult’, when such a difference can only be in the eye of the beholder? Might it be in part that cults do not tolerate ideas that differ from their own? They are very sensitive to criticism? They hate being made fun of?

          Or perhaps it is that a cult is a very small grouping of people that collectively and passionately believe in a set of ideas that the vast majority find utterly bewildering.

          But OK, you’re right, that guy’s not young. Nor is true musical creativity an exercise in pseudo-maths.

          • “Might it be in part that cults do not tolerate ideas that differ from their own? They are very sensitive to criticism? They hate being made fun of?”

            If you repeatedly negative sentiments about a composer on a site where there are definitely at least a few fans of that composer present, I say you’re acting like a bellend regardless of how large or small that composer’s following was, and regardless of whether I personally like that composer.

  • Re the sensitive poster Christoper Culver’s use of the word “bellend”: it means the knob of a cock, I looked this up.

    Any poster repeatedly negative about any-composer-liked-by-anyone is a prick, even if CC doesn’t like that composer either.


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