Trans Repetition (Part One)

Sunday 9 November 2008

So why did my lovely companion F love Trans after the first performance on Saturday night, and hate it after the second performance? Saturday’s concert, the first in the Southbank Centre’s series of gigs dedicated to Karlheinz Stockhausen, was a study of repetitions: two performances each of Harmonien and Trans, with an interval between.
The two versions of Harmonien, part of Stockhausen’s last, incomplete Klang cycle, were for bass clarinet and flute respectively, performed by their dedicatees and Stockhausen companions Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer. With their perculiar costumes and occasional twirling movements back and forth across the stage, they affirmed that for the last forty years of his life, theatre was an essential element of Stockhausen’s music. This has been a recurring theme throughout the series of concerts for the past week.
Another, less known theme that has become apparent over the week has been Stockhausen’s talent for melodic invention and development of his material – the actual ‘music’ part of the music. The transparent beauty and lyricism of many of Stockhausen’s later works have been overshadowed by his reputation for eccentricity and conceptual excesses. However, his earlier, more highly regarded works are no less hostage to reputation for their conceptual boldness – whether they be Gruppen, Gesang der J√ľnglinge, Mantra, or Trans.
(Is it my ignorance or is the discussion of the recent performances of Trans as ‘Classic Stockhausen’ a recent development? Is the dividing line between old, good Stockhausen and bad, new Stockhausen slowly creeping forward?)
F, herself a musician, was impressed with the performances of Harmonien. “You can’t write that down,” she observed, “you have to know the notes.” She also loved the Royal College of Music Orchestra’s performance of Trans. The performance and staging were excellent, with a strong sense of foreboding in the eerie red-violet lighting, the unseen winds and brass erupting from the darkness behind the string section which acted like automata, held in some sort of trance.
(Concluded in Part Two)