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Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen

(1928 - 2007)

German composer of modern music, electronic music and operas. He was initially influenced by the music of Anton Webern, and by serialism (a method of composing non-tonal music). He studied under Olivier Messiaen in 1952, and his early works, like Spiel and Kreuzspiel, show the influence of both these masters. He was one of the first composers to write electronic music, having first studied phonetics and information/communication theory at Bonn University.

Kontakte is a compostion which includes a tape playback of electronic sounds which zip and swirl about via loudspeakers placed around the audience. The Klavierstücke (Piano pieces) start out using strict serial principles (Klavierstücke I – IV), but later become expansive (VI), exquisite (VII), and even dramatic (IX and X). Zyklus, for solo percussion, is written so that the performance can start on any page, and it may be read upside down, or from right to left, or not, as the performer chooses. Refrain is somewhat meditative with its rarefied, ringing chords of bell-like sonorities, and occasional tutti vocalizations by the three instrumentalists.

The piece Mantra is written for two pianos, the sounds from which are modulated in real time by ring modulators. If you are not accustomed to dissonance, Stimmung might be a good place to begin. It is for 6 unaccompanied singers, with texts based on the names of gods and deities throughout world history, as well as erotic(!) poems by the composer. The basic musical material for the entire 70 min. piece is a B-natural 9th chord! Stimmung means "attuning", but also "mood", "disposition", as in "good mood" (guter Stimmung).

Stockhausen has written over 200 individual works for a variety of musical media. Since 1977, Stockhausen has been in the process of writing LICHT, a massive series of seven operas, each named after a day of the week. Five of them are completed as of this date (Feb. 1996):

Donnerstag (Thursday), completed in 1980,
Samstag (Saturday), completed in 1984,
Montag (Monday), completed in 1988,
Dienstag (Tuesday), completed in 1991, and
Freitag (Friday), completed in 1995

Only the first two operas have been released as recordings. The series is expected to be completed by the year 2005.

Stockhausen is a conceptual composer – his texts and his musical designs reflect occidental and oriental musical concepts, as well as eastern and western spiritual truths. Every composition is a complete rethinking of the term "music", incorporating European and non-European tradition, the latest musical technolgy, and a wide range of musical cultures.

A young Karlheinz Stockhausen can be spotted on the Beatles' famous Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. ~John Atwell

Stockhausen's signature

Recommended Recordings

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Piano Pieces

Klavierstücke I - VIII (Piano Pieces I - VIII)/Koch Schwann CD 310016H1
Bernhard Wambach (piano)
Klavierstücke IX - XI (Piano Pieces IX - XI)/Koch Schwann CD 310009H1
Bernhard Wambach (piano)
Klavierstücke XII - XIV (Piano Pieces IX - XI)/Koch Schwann CD 310021H1
Bernhard Wambach (piano)

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Electronic Music

Kontakte für elektronische Klänge, Klavier und Schlagzeug (Contacts for electronic sounds, piano & percussion) /Koch Schwann CD 310 020 H1
Bernhard Wambach, Piano - Mircea Ardeleanu, Percussion
Mantra/New Albion NA 025
Yvar Mikashoff and Rosalind Bevan, Pianos - Ole Ørsted, Electronics


Donnerstag aus LICHT (Thursday from LIGHT)/Deutsche Grammophon 423379-2 (4 CDs)
WDR Choir, Hilversum Radio Choir & Orch., Ensemble Intercontemporain (Peter Eötvös, Cond.) - Karlheinz Stockhausen, Dir.
Samstag aus LICHT (Saturday from LIGHT)/Deutsche Grammophon 423596-2 (4 CDs)
Kolberg Percussion Ensemble, University of Michigan Symphonic Band (H. Robert Reynolds, Cond.), Cologne Händel Collegium (Dieter Gutknecht, Cond.) - Karlheinz Stockhausen, Dir.

Other Pieces

Refrain für drei Spieler (Refrain for three instrumentalists)/Koch Schwann CD 310020H1
Bernhard Wambach, Piano - Mircea Ardeleanu, Percussion - Fred Rensch, Celesta
Core Repertoire - Start Here! Stimmung ("Attuning")/Hyperion CDA66115
Singcircle, Dir: Gregory Rose
Zyklus für einen Schlagzeuger (Cycle for solo percussionist)[two different versions]/Koch Schwann CD 310020H1
Mircea Ardeleanu, Percussion