Stockhausen Memorial Concert

Our second visit to the Cornerstone Festival tonight for the Stockhausen Memorial Concert.  Karlheinz Stockhausen died on 5th December last year, and this concert marked the first anniversary of his death with a programme that consisted of  Klaverstucke IX (1961), Zyklus  for solo percusslon (1959), Gesang der Jungelinge (1956)

The musicians were:

Sarah Nicolls (piano)
Joby Burgess (percussion)
Matthew Fairclough (sound diffusion)

Programme notes by Stephen Pratt:

Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928-2007
The great composer and musical innovator Karlheinz Stockhausen died on sth December last year.  Stockhausen’s
achievements greatly overshadow the controversies that critics who know little of his work have purveyed; for some, he was the arch infant terrible who never grew up, the standard-bearer of all things despicable in the modernist musical agenda. His interest in the extra-terrestrial just served to justify the prejudice.

If being a member of the avant-garde means that one is at the forefront of a movement, then at many stages of his career Stockhausen was certainly that. As a young composer he was at the heart ofthe group that formed around Messiaen at Darmstadt in the early 195os, developing an extended musical language from the legacy of Webern’s work.  His rigorous approach to compositional method and technique, his exploration of the spatial organisation of sound, and the extension of performing techniques not only marked him out as one of the most gified of his generation, but the significance of his work upon the future path of European modernism cannot be under-estimated.  At the same time, and almost single-handedly, he put electronic music on the map; few would argue that Gesang der Jungelinge, which we shall hear tonight, is the first great piece by any composer in this medium.

Stockhausen’s work never stood still: by the 1960s he was experimenting with new forms of notation, culminating in the texts for improvisation of Aus den sieben Tagen of 1968.  At the same time, he still recognised the power of the tonally-derived chord, as his remarkable vocal work Stimmung testified; and in Mantra (for two pianos and electronics, 1970) he returned to fully-notated music, with a remarkable fusion of electronic transformation and ‘formula’ composition.  By the mid 1970s he had embarked upon the opera cycle Licht, planning an opera
for each day ofthe week. The final day, Sonntag, was completed in 2003. The c0mp0siti0nal technique was again
generated by fundamental building blocks, formulas; whilst these function somewhat differently in the operas, it is not
difficult to equate this approach to technique to that which he had embarked on in the 19sos. Indeed, with Stockhausen’s music, it is the clarity of the initial thought and the seemingly boundless imagination which he brings to the development of that starting point that gives it its special qualities.

There was an extraordinary, late burst of creativity afier the c0mpletion of Licht when the composer began a set of 24 pieces connected to the hours ofthe day, under the general title Klang. It may be that that Stockhausen felt liberated by the completion of Licht and that many divergent paths were opened up for exploration. Performances have not caught up with the speed Stockhausen was writing in the final years and this work is far from known and remains to be assessed.

Stockhausen never came to Liverpool Hope, but Liverpool Hope did go to Stockhausen. Robin Hartwell has been hugely engaged with the composer’s music since the l96os, and attended many of the composer’s talks and concerts in London and elsewhere. More recently, he has been a regular attender at Stockhausen’s summer school in Kuerten. Two years ago, Helen Thomas sent an article about a section from Licht to the composer for his comments – as recently as August, 2007, he wrote back with the comment that Helen’s work was ‘beautiful, and true’. For my part, I met Stockhausen a couple of times, the last ofwhich was an interview for Radio 3. He was kind and generous in his time with me, and the planned 10 minutes ran to over 40 as he sang sections of Mantra and talked about humour in his work. So, to celebrate Stockhausen’s work in a concert here at Liverpool Hope on this date seems entirely appropriate.

The final piece played tonight, Gesang der Jungelinge, is reportedly Paul McCartney’s favorite Stockhausen work. He was the first Beatle to discover Stockhausen’s music and introduced John Lennon to Stockhausen in 1966. Stockhausen’s Hymnen was Lennon’s inspiration for Revolution#9 on the White Album. Stockhausen appears, fifth from the left in the back row, on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The photo used by The Beatles is the one shown above.

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