Stockhausen would have been 90 today. Time for a comeback?

Stockhausen would have been 90 today. Time for a comeback?


norman lebrecht

August 22, 2018

One of the ruling trinity of late-20th century modernism, we hear less of Stockhausen a decade after his death than we do of his confrères Boulez and Ligeti.

Time for a reassessment?

UPDATE: Message from Pierre Audi: Dutch National Opera, the Holland Festival and The Hague Conservatorium are teaming up to present Aus Licht: a three day event covering in one venue large parts of all 7 operas from the LICHT cycle. The project is four years in the making. If this is not a come back in Stockhausen ‘s 90th year I don’t know what it is . We are covering about 18 hours of music. I am in charge of the semi staging and Kathinka Pasveer is the musical director of the project.

Or do we have to wait for his centenary in 2028?


  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Norman – I thought you lived in London. Early next year, London SInfonietta and associates are giving 2 semi-staged performances of Donnerstag aus Licht. Plus South Bank also doing piano pieces 1-11, Kontakte, Zyklus, Mantra etc.

    Loads of Stockhausen this month in Lucerne. A staging of Donnerstag in November. And of course Rattle and friends recently did Gruppen in the Tate.
    In the last couple of years Gruppen has its Russian and Japanese premieres.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    A comeback would imply there was once a great career to come back to. Stockhausen was never mainstream or popular. His “music” is too bizarre for most ears. Reassessment maybe. He’ll be remembered mostly for the preface to vol. 1 of La Grange’s Mahler biography.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Stockhausen was very popular in the 1960’s to the point that DG released a vinyl LP of his ‘greatest hits’ (the title, if I remember well, was ‘Stockhausen for Millions’).

      • PaulD says:

        He was so popular in the sixties, his face was among the crowd on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s.”

      • John Borstlap says:

        S’s popularity rested upon the association with drug abuse and ‘transgression of boundaries’, all of this was considered among the progressive youths of the time as being profound signals of liberation from old fogeys’ authoritatian rule. Since then, many of those ‘transgressions’ have not quite brought the Happiness and Liberation which were hoped for, so Stockhausen’s fame waned, because it was never based upon understanding of what he did, it was purely associative, like slogans or flag waving. The human condition is dependent upon certain ways people through the generations have experienced life and have found certain basic insights about how to live.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It seems to be advisable to wait for 2028 when this corpus will be dug-out from total oblivion and offer pleasant surprises for video game producers.

    Curiously, the videos above give the impression of clumsy imitations of the average ‘modern music aesthetic’. And the piano noises of XIV – not those of the performer – sound like a concert pianist who thinks he can also compose and tries his hand(s) at ‘being contemporary’.

  • Alan says:

    Norman, having real problems with site. Constantly being asked to accept and then nothing happens or sometimes site freezes! Please get back to normal.

  • msc says:

    May I suggest that the proposed new London concert hall must be large enough to accommodate Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet?

  • Daphnis 176 says:

    After Stockhausen’s comments in Hamburg six days after the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, calling the terrorism “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos,” I think we can safely consign him to history’s most ignoble trash heap and allow him to rot in Hell in perpetuity. That day, he forfeited any right he may ever have had to be treated as a human being. Other musicians’ immoral behavior may be viewed historically as separate from their artistic accomplishments, but none of them betrayed the most elemental requirements of humanity to the degree of that pronouncement.

    • Stuart says:

      Too harsh, I think.

      • Daphnis 176 says:

        I wonder what the almost 4,000 people who died in that “greatest work of art” (plus their families) would think is more harsh, Stockhausen’s characterization of their tragedy or my reaction to his remarks.

        • Stuart says:

          Clearly the former. I am not defending the stupidity of his remark or its gross insensitivity. But I still found your original statement too harsh.

          • Anon says:

            Perhaps this squabble over “harshness” could be explained if “Daphnis” is an American and Stuart is not. Or maybe it’s just not the crux of the issue at all.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      If you look at the full context of Stockhausen’s quotation, he was talking about the act as a Luciferian deed in the context of the Lucifer–Michael–Eve trinity that had completely taken over his work (on the LICHT operas) and, it appears, his view of the world in general. The quotation certainly establishes that Stockhausen was bonkers, but I don’t think he should be condemned as a bad man for it, any more than anyone’s kindly but dotty uncle is a bad man.

      • Daphnis 176 says:

        I truly appreciate your informed perspective on this troubling matter. Certainly, you know far more about Stockhausen than his music ever tempted me to discover. While your posting shows far more understanding than mine, what I said is probably far more representative of the global reaction that Stockhausen ignited.

        The trouble is that with fame comes responsibility. While a limited number of aficionados of the defiantly avant-garde intellectualization of music can appreciate this context, the remaining billions of people around the world who only heard/read the so widely-quoted words above were not simply listening to a bonkers dotty old uncle.

        I think we are all currently witnessing that an increasing number of people are being judged by and held accountable for their past actions and statements. For me and many others, the insensitivity of his remark disqualifies him from any further attention, let alone reassessment.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I agree. That incredible remark can only bubble-up in a mind which has got off the rails long before, and the intellectual context does not make it less stupid and evil. From whatever angle you consider the remark, there is no excuse, and it defines the man’s thinking as crazy and inhuman. And that is how most of his works sound.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I can recall our college music history professor adopting his serious eyebrow face and solemnly intoning “Stockhausen” as if just saying it conveyed great meaning.

    It’s a name that is prominent in text books on “20th Century Music” perhaps because there is so little else of value to talk about.

    One must go very far and wide to find anyone wanting to perform his music.

    • Hilary says:

      ‘one must go far and wide to find anyone wanting to perform his music’

      You must lead a very sheltered life as that statement is simply untrue.
      It’s a very uneven output. The Klavierstucke which NL posted is ghastly. Kreuzspiel is another matter. The London Sinfonietta gave a disappointingly soft centred account of it awhile back.

  • Stephen says:

    I lost sympathy for Stockhausen after he deliberately got Lorin Maazel to stand by a loudspeaker and then let fly some of his stuff full blast. “A monster,” concluded Maazel.

  • Stephen says:

    Maazel recalled his meeting with the iconoclastic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne, Germany, years ago. Stockhausen referred to the “sentimental weakness of German Jewish immigrants” who kept alive an “obscene love” for Romantic music, Mr. Maazel said, then suggested that Mr. Maazel come close to a speaker to hear a piece of his. “A tremendous blast came out of it which almost destroyed my eardrum, which he knew perfectly well would happen,” Mr. Maazel said. “Total monster.” (from the New York Times).

    • John Borstlap says:

      Monstruosities often produce more of them: when a teenager, S experienced the heavy bombardments of the allies and was forced to help in a make-shift lazaret where half-dead bodies were brought-in, he had to give first-aid help which was very difficult because of the half-decomposed state they were in. And this while bombs could fall upon the location any moment. His manic-depressive mother was murdered by the nazis and his father was, forced to fight as a soldier, killed in the last year of the war. After such experiences it is understandable that any emotional / psychological development into a more or less normal human being is halted and the realm of ‘pure sound’ will then appear to be a paradise where emotional trauma does not exist. Hence the unrelatedness of S’s works to human existence and his interest in juvenile ‘cosmology’. Of course they attract people with either comparable escapist wishes or without any musical understanding, resulting in the same enthusiasm.

      • Julian Reynolds says:

        ==attract people with either comparable escapist wishes

        Yes, well said. Like all that stuff about him coming from Sirius.

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