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Stockhausen (Part 2)


In an attempt to win tonight's star prize, the naugahyde lounge suite, Karlheinz answers more questions on his life and career.

In the second part of this exclusive interview, Jill Purce discovers the future directions of Stockhausen's music, and discusses his current work, Licht

JP: In which direction is your music going now?

KS: I am composing a very big piece which is called Licht. It lasts seven nights, with seven parts for the seven days of the week from Monday to Sunday — the Moon's day, Mars' day, Mercury's day, Thor's day, Fria's day, Saturn's day and the Sun's day. The first big scene composed is from Tuesday Night and is called Jahreslauf, The Course of the Years. This, which lasts about one hour, was performed in Japan last year.

The second scene is a scene from Thursday and will be performed this year in Donaueschingen; it's for trumpet and orchestra and is called Michael's Trip Around The World. And then for 1979 I will compose another scene which will be performed in Israel, and in Tel Aviv, for three dancers, three instrumentalists and three singers. This is Michael's Youth, and Years of Apprenticeship.

JP: Can you say something about the scenario of Licht?

KS: Well, there are three main spirits who occur in many different forms. One is Michael, the archangel; one is Eve, or the spirit of Eve, who has always tried in many different forms to make a better race on this planet and on other planets; the third is Lucifer. These three are the main spirits and they are represented by three singers. Each one has a voice, a body and an instrument. Michael is a tenor, Lucifer is a bass and Eve is a soprano. The instruments are trumpet, trombone and basset-horn. And there are three dancers. These are the nine main soloists. And then whenever I need crowds, I take choirs, ballet and orchestra as multiplication.

JP: Is there an unfolding story over the seven days?

KS: No, there are lots of events.

Thursday is Michael's day. There's a reference to many incarnations of the Michael spirit in the person of Christ or in all the dragon killers, in St George, Siegfried and all these beings. He is the spirit who comes to kill the dragon, the dragon being a form of Satan, or Lucifer. Thursday is in four parts; the first, because Michael is incarnated, is his childhood and education as a human being. The second section is his trip around the Earth and the third part is his reception in the Celestial Capital. The last, the fourth part, is a shadow-play, a dream, of what has happened before. I don't know yet exactly how this part will be; the others I see more clearly.

Monday is Eve's day; Tuesday is the battle between Lucifer and Michael; Wednesday is the day of reconciliation of all three, and of peace, showing the possibility of collaboration; Thursday is Michael's day; Friday is the day of the encounter of Eve and Lucifer; Saturday is Lucifer's day, the day of light; and Sunday is the day of Eve and Michael. You can start anywhere.

Monday is Christmas, Eve gives birth to the new beings, first in a fairly modern, ugly form, a kind of 'pop-star concept' of birth, with enormous cardboard women, who open their legs and babies come out. You see this at some art exhibitions - you can walk inside. It has many forms, this modern concept of giving birth. But then it's all redone because Lucifer himself is angry about this vulgar form.

Every scene can be performed individually, and every weekday can be performed by itself; I doubt if anyone in the next twenty years will find the means to perform the whole week.

JP: How many scenes will each evening have?

KS: Several. Each evening lasts, on average, two hours. All the durations are fixed already. I have already composed the form-scheme for the entire week, the three melodies. Now I have to give flesh to it, and fill it with individual scenes.

JP: Are there whole melodies like in your piece Tierkries (Zodiac), melodies that can be memorised?

KS: Yes, three main melodies which make one melody. I call this 'multiformal' composition; it's a totally new development. Up until now I've worked with one formula through an entire piece, as in Mantra, Inori, Harlekin, Herbstmusik, in everything, always one formula. Now it's a triple formula, three melodies are superimposed to make one melody, and you feel the predominance of whichever is on top. The three are very carefully composed together to make common pulses and common accents, to have meeting points, to have a progression of harmonic tension, different degrees and so on. This three-fold formula is the formula of the whole week and it's built in seven sections which represent the seven weekdays.

Stockhausen checks the quadrophonic sound at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts before a recent concert.

JP: How long is this melody with its three melodies superimposed?

KS: It is one minute long, in its original form. Each individual melody has the characteristic of the spirit. Eve is both rising and falling, Michael is descending, Lucifer has a sharp and most dissonant interval in the beginning, and Michael finishes with a completely suspended tritone. Michael is mainly concerned with colour, Eve with melody and subtle glissandi, and Lucifer with rhythm, irregular rhythm and intricacies. In his part, I develop the rhythm of 11 and nine for the first time; an unusually complicated rhythm.

JP: When you say Michael is colour, you mean the timbre?

KS: Yes, he is the trumpet, changed mutes and so on. Eve is soprano, so there are lots of vowels, vowel changes. Lucifer has lots of noises, consonants. Eve has the right mixture of everything, and a much rounder melody, which goes up and down.

JP: How long will it take to compose Licht?

KS: I count on fifteen years minimum. I won't compose anything else; every idea I have, I'll put into this piece like a piece of mosaic.

JP: Could you tell me about Jahreslauf, The Course Of The Years?

KS: The Course of the Years is a scene from Tuesday night. It is a piece for four dancers. The Course of the Years is a play, like a chess game, between Lucifer and Michael the Archangel. Lucifer, whose name is 'the Light Carrier', is a fallen Archangel who wanted self-determination and so he split away from Nebanon, this local universe, away from the general administration of which Michael is the head. This story is very well-known, and has been mentioned in many old spiritual texts, including the Bible.

JP: Is Nebanon the Milky Way Galaxy?

KS: No, it's bigger. Our galaxy is one part of the local universe.

In The Course of the Years, Lucifer is gambling. He tells Michael that he will try and stop time. Time is represented by four dancers: one dances the millenia, one the centuries, one the decades and one the years. They run or dance accordingly, at different speeds. There are large numbers about nine metres long on the floor of the stage raised towards the back. In 1977, at the world premiere in Tokyo, on October 31st, these were the one-nine-seven-seven painted with luminous paint so you could see them even in the dark. Each dancer moves along these numbers and turns at one side. The dancer for number one moves only once in an hour, the nine moves nine times during the same time and then the first seven moves nine times seven, 63 times, and the last dancer moves 441 times over the last number seven of the years, nine times seven times seven. In fact, this number is slightly less because there are several solos, when the individual dancers stand still, but the speeds are always related to these four layers of time.

This means the dancer of the years dances over the last number seven in approximately four seconds, so the next one goes over his number seven only once in 28 seconds and then the next one has about nine times as long for one course. While, for example, the dancer of the decades goes seven times over his number seven, the dancer of the centuries goes only once over his number nine, and so on. So the speeds are very different; a polyphony of different tempi; it is very disciplined and clear.

The four dancers are related to groups of musicians who sit behind them. The millenia moves only once throughout the whole piece, but the other three dancers, of the centuries, the decades and the years, have percussion instruments as timers. All the Japanese instruments are substituted in the West by instruments which can make a similar sound (shown in brackets).

Millenia: Sho (3 harmoniums)
Centuries: Ryutekiifb piccolos)
Shoko (high metal percussion blocks)
Decades: Hichiriki (3 oboes)
Kako (high bongo)
Years: Koto and Biwa (electric guitar)
Taiko (bass drum)

These musicians have rhythms and tempi according to the differences of time layers described by the movements of the dancers.

Stockhausen composing Mantra (1970)

The whole thing is a theatre piece, a musical drama performed in costume. Tuesday is Mars' day and represents the conflict between Lucifer and Michael as an intellectual battle. There are four temptations which try and stop the course of the years. They come from the Devil's side, the right side as seen from the public. A big devil bends into the stage with his face and horns, and then the first of the four temptations, a group of three people in tails, comes and tries to congratulate the dancers in order to stop the course of the years, already, after only a quarter of an hour. When the Devil comes on the dancers and players freeze; the music stops altogether. Only a sustained chord, the high ringing sound of the Sho or harmoniums, can be heard during all these temptations. When the dancers refuse to take flowers and to accept the congratulations, the three become furious. Then from the other side come the angels' encouragements. The big face of a blonde angel bends into the scene from the left and a tiny little girl comes running in and tries to encourage the public to applaud the dancers. When the public really begins to applaud, the dancers continue, and the musicians go on playing.

The second temptation is a cook, standing behind a trolley filled with very good-smelling food. The dancers and musicians stop again. While the dancers are bending over the bowls of food, the angel comes in and a lion jumps on to the stage and bites the four dancers in the bottom, chasing them away from the food, so they will continue the course of the years. The devil has disappeared — he always draws back when the angel has another idea.

The third temptation, a monkey, comes on the stage in a motor car with its car horns tuned to the music and in four pitches, a tritone and major 7th and so on. Everybody becomes terribly interested in his car; he swerves and tries to make the dancers fall, he drives straight towards the dancers and makes them jump into the air. Then he stops right in front and shines his headlights into the public, and shows them that you can lift the seat and start and stop the car; he demonstrates the brakes and all the little gimmicks of a modern vehicle. Meanwhile the dancers become terribly interested — even the referee who announced the whole piece at the very beginning becomes interested — so the course of the years is stopped again, this time by the car and the monkey.

And then the little angel runs in again from the angels' side, waving an enormous 100000 yen note — or a £10000 note, waving it like a great flag, and promising that if they continue the dance of the years they can have it. So the musicians decide to continue and hit the drums; the monkey is very disturbed and drives off with the car. You can still hear him a quarter of an hour later driving around in his car all over the opera house, honking like mad.

The fourth temptation is a naked woman who comes in on a chariot. She looks like a sculpture, not a living being. There is a radio standing next to her on the table playing night-club music. Again the dancers become terribly involved and stop dancing; the percussion players start playing something like an abstract tango and the dancers start moving their shoulders and heads and go very moody for a minute. Then the angel comes in and destroys this temptation with a terrible lightning flash which starts in a very old-fashioned way, thunder and lightning and so on. They get terribly frightened, the naked woman rolls back to the devil's side and a real clothed woman jumps from behind her. You see that only the head of the naked cardboard woman had been real. She is rolled back on again without a head and the real woman is terribly frightened and doesn't know which side to run to; finally she runs to the angels' side.

So, after four temptations, the devil was not able to stop the course of the years. It's a little optimistic, don't you think? But that's how it is! At the end, after that event, it becomes pitch dark and all you see are the numbers of the years, phosphorescent on the floor. The dancers move along extremely slowly, almost without sound, for two minutes. Then a little light appears right above the stage. It's a 2000watt bulb, and in 22 stages it increases in brightness, until at the very end, when the music makes a crescendo, it is completely bright. The light is synchronised with the shoko, the high, brilliant, metal block percussion instrument, so that as the stages comes bright again, the dancers become animated once more. At the very end, the four dancers run towards the public, running through a piece of white tape which is held by a referee and his assistant. And all of a sudden it strikes you that it is a course of the Olympic Games. It had been announced at the beginning like that, with the names of the four main players, and the four dancers who would make the course of the years.

At the very end they are presented with their names, Millenia, Centuries, Decades and Years, and a prize is given to the best dancer and the best musician. That changes from performance to performance; sometimes the promoter of the performance if he is there, is asked who he thought was the best dancer that evening — if not, they ask the musical director or one of the staff — and then the prize is given. The prize is the note which was brought in by the angel earlier in the performance and had been hung to the right of the stage opposite the flag of the years which had been hanging on the left since the beginning of the performance.

So the best dancer and musician receive this money with the instruction that they should use it for the further development of their talent. Then all the musicians and dancers leave in a procession, and you hear them as they go further and further away and finally disappear. This is a very nice moment in the piece. The procession takes away the flag of the old year from the left and replaces it with the flag of the new year; in Japan for example it was the new flag of 1997-8. The referee then announces that the next course of the year will take place, with the Winner - or winners, if they were both good of this course of the year, and that next year even more talented runners and musicians will appear. They announce a very exciting next course of the year. The referee says that the public can be sure that the temptations of the devil, as well us the rewards of the angel, will be even more exciting next year than they were this. At that moment the lion comes in unseen behind the referee and bites his behind; the referee runs off and the lion is left on the stage smiling.

JP: The piece itself sounds quite Chinese or even Japanese.

KS: The Japanese thought it was terrible, they said it was a decadent Western idea to do this. They didn't know how to make an angel, because they don't have them. They thought it was decadent to bring something like a car on to their Gogaku stage. The devil was a form of fool, and they'd never seen anything like that. Mixing their Gogaku, with its thousand-year-old costume and holy style of movement, together with these modern elements, they thought that was very sacrilegious. But no. I was talking about the critics, the public liked it very much.

The public laughed a lot; they don't usually because they are ashamed of laughing in the opera house, at a public performance. There were two performances and they were both full. It was a very nice reaction. It was unusual; normally the artists are not supposed to come back after the performance, but the referee - who was a very famous Noh player, one of the most famous in japan — liked the piece and he called them back and they took a bow — the dancers as well as the musicians. So it was a real break in the National Theatre; they had never had anything other than traditional Japanese theatre and certainly not Western music never.

JP: How would it be done over here?

KS: By the opera with their dancers and a chamber orchestra with 12 musicians, three flutes, three oboes, three harmonium players and three percussion players. It is completely notated, I was invited to do it in London with the London Sinfonietta - a concert performance, not a stage performance — but I heard recently that there are difficulties again so I don't know if it's going to take place. Chrysalis, the record company who wanted to do it in London or Japan, say they are having problems.

JP: What are you composing at the moment?

KS: I am now composing Michael's Journey Round the World, Michael's Reise. I have done the drawings for the sphere of the earth which is in this section. Scaffolding makes it possible to have people appearing behind or inside a polyester sphere as Michael is making a trip around the world. During his journey a window is opened seven times in different places.

JP: So will you see him actually moving, will he travel around? Will he be inside the sphere?

KS: Oh definitely; it is a big sphere, nine metres across, and he sticks his head out and blows out of the windows. At the beginning he walks into the sphere by a staircase and says goodbye to everybody, and plays his farewell tune — which is Michael's tune — and disappears, and then the earth starts rotating. The musicians are all in tails and sit in a circle around the sphere like penguins at the South Pole and make more or less stupid comments on what Michael is playing. Seven times the sphere opens up, the first time in Germany during an extremely abstract part of the musical formula, in its original form; then in New York, here it's quite jazzy; then in Japan, and then in Bali, in India, and finally in Africa. Then Michael hears a signal from afar and gets terribly nervous; he stops the movement and gives a sign to go backwards. The earth goes backwards until he reaches the Middle East, about Jerusalem. You see, the earth is a painted turning globe, Michael is going Eastwards like the Earth, and whenever these countries come up, they always appear in front of the public and the window opens. The steering goes backwards, until Michael hears the signal a second time, when he stops it altogether; then he comes out and becomes terribly sad because he cannot find out where the signal is coming from. Finally Eve arrives playing a basset horn and teaches him her melody. As they dance away, the lights go off and you hear terrible screams. These are cries of death, because Michael is, first of all, a kind of Christ. It's Thursday, Maundy Thursday, the evening when everybody dies; Thursday is the day of sacrifice. You hear terrible screams from outside in the dark, and then it ends with a duet between Michael and Eve.

concluded next month


Read the next part in this series:
Stockhausen (Part 3)

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Sound International - Copyright: Link House Publications


Sound International - Nov 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman




Composer (Music)

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Holger Czukay



Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing) | Part 3

Interview by Jill Purce

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