Karlheinz Stockhausen

Friday 7 December 2007

We weren’t expecting this: Stockhausen died on Wednesday. Having completed his brobdingnagian opera cycle Licht (but not having heard the last two of the seven operas performed in entirety), he had commenced Klang, a cycle of 24 works, one for each hour of the day. He figured he had another five years of work in him at least, and time to finish it. A friend of mine has either just finished another study course with him, or else was booked in for one next year.
Pierre Boulez and Stockhausen were the two most prominent figures in Europe’s post-war musical avant-garde, but while Boulez and others settled into the musical establishment, Stockhausen passed through with his sights set on a bigger, cosmic prize. He built up his own private empire to realise goals that seemed impossibly ambitious, intimidatingly grandiose, childishly impractical. Since he started work on Licht, we probably can’t yet fully assess the achievement of the last 30 years of his career.
I first read the news at Sequenza21, which has reader comments and some prime Stockhausen video. The Rest Is Noise has more links, including to audio of his landmark 1956 electronic composition, Gesang der Jünglinge.
Update: Greg Sandow expands on the idea I touched on above, that for such a central figure, Stockhausen was strangely isolated from the music world he had so strongly influenced. ANABlog has full audio of Gesang der Jünglinge, with a brief discussion of the piece.