Stockhausen and Career Moves

Thursday 6 November 2008

There are a few simple parallels in the deaths of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Both died unexpectedly soon before their 80th birthdays, each leaving a legacy of posthumous premieres for a series of readymade memorials. Both also left behind a substantial number of critics who doubted that neither their reputations nor much of their music would survive for long without the personalities of their creators to sustain interest.
The proliferation of recordings and performances of Cage’s music since his death seems to have put his myth to rest. It remains to be seen whether Stockhausen can also elude the same, undeserved fate. The celebrations-cum-commemorations may or may not have helped to preserve and regenerate Cage’s reputation, but they will surely play a role in reviving Stockhausen’s.
Stockhausen is still usually regarded as The Leader Of The European Avant-Garde Who Lost It Some Time In The Seventies. As one preview of the Klang series of concerts at Southbank puts it: “The point of these festivals is to see what can be rescued from the absurdity in his later work.” Only two sections of his monumental Licht cycle of operas are being performed, but most of the music in the series comes from the last years of Stockhausen’s life.
  1. Yes, Ben H., Death is often a good career move for a composer.

    I think, however, that the bigger story-in-common behind Cage & Stockhausen is that that traditional institutional structure did not work well for either. For Cage, this meant his role with the Cunningham Company, and for Stockhausen, as each of his institutional affiliations collapsed (Darmstadt, WDR, Universal Edition, the Cologne Musikhochschule), he had to replace all with a cottage industry specializing in Stockhausen.

  2. Yes, and Stockhausen's rep has suffered for having once been inside the institutions, and then exiled from them.