Karlheinz Stockhausen (22 August 1928, Mödrath, Rhine Province – 5 December 2007) was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important (Barrett 1988, 45; Harvey 1975b, 705; Hopkins 1972, 33; Klein 1968, 117) but also controversial (Power 1990, 30) composers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Another critic calls him “one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music” (Hewett 2007). He is known for his ground-breaking work in electronic music, aleatory (controlled chance) in serial composition, and musical spatialization.
He was educated at the Hochschule für Musik Köln and the University of Cologne, and later studied with Olivier Messiaen in Paris, and with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn.
One of the leading figures of the Darmstadt School, his compositions and theories were and remain widely influential, not only on composers of art music, but also on jazz and popular-music artists. His works, composed over a period of nearly sixty years, eschew traditional forms. In addition to electronic music—both with and without live performers—they range from miniatures for musical boxes through works for solo instruments, songs, chamber music, choral and orchestral music, to a cycle of seven full-length operas. His theoretical and other writings comprise ten large volumes. He received numerous prizes and distinctions for his compositions, recordings, and for the scores produced by his publishing company.
Some of his notable compositions include the series of nineteen Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces), Kontra-Punkte for ten instruments, the electronic/musique-concrète Gesang der Jünglinge, Gruppen for three orchestras, the percussion solo Zyklus, Kontakte, the cantata Momente, the live-electronic Mikrophonie I, Hymnen, Stimmung for six vocalists, Aus den sieben Tagen, Mantra for two pianos and electronics, Tierkreis, Inori for soloists and orchestra, and the gigantic opera cycle Licht.
He died of sudden heart failure at the age of 79, on 5 December 2007 at his home in Kürten, Germany.
From 1947 to 1951, Stockhausen studied music pedagogy and piano at the Hochschule für Musik Köln (Cologne Conservatory of Music) and musicology, philosophy, and Germanics at the University of Cologne. He had the usual training in harmony and counterpoint, the latter with Hermann Schroeder, but he did not develop a real interest in composition until 1950. He was admitted at the end of that year to the class of Swiss composer Frank Martin, who had just begun a seven-year tenure in Cologne (Kurtz 1992, 28). At the Darmstädter Ferienkurse in 1951, Stockhausen met Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts, who had just completed studies with Olivier Messiaen (analysis) and Darius Milhaud (composition) in Paris, and Stockhausen resolved to do likewise (Kurtz 1992, 34–36). He arrived in Paris on 8 January 1952 and began attending Messiaen’s courses in aesthetics and analysis, as well as Milhaud’s composition classes. He continued with Messiaen for a year, but he was disappointed with Milhaud and abandoned his lessons after a few weeks (Kurtz 1992, 45–48). In March 1953, he left Paris to take up a position as assistant to Herbert Eimert at the newly established Electronic Music Studio of Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) (from 1 January 1955, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, or WDR) in Cologne (Kurtz 1992, 56–57). In 1962, he succeeded Eimert as director of the studio (Morawska-Büngeler 1988, 19). From 1954 to 1956, he studied phonetics, acoustics, and information theory with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn (Kurtz 1992, 68–72). Together with Eimert, Stockhausen edited the influential journal Die Reihe from 1955 to 1962 (Grant 2001, 1–2).
“Space music” and Expo 70
Since the mid-1950s, Stockhausen had been developing concepts of spatialization in his works, not only in electronic music, such as the 5-channel Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56) and Telemusik (1966), and 4-channel Kontakte (1958–60) and Hymnen (1966–67). Instrumental/vocal works like Gruppen for three orchestras (1955–57) and Carré for four choirs and orchestras (1959–60) also exhibit this trait (Stockhausen Texte 2:71–72, 49–50, 102–103; Stockhausen 1989, 105–108; Cott 1973, 200–201). In lectures such as “Music in Space” from 1958 (Stockhausen Texte 1:152–75), he called for new kinds of concert halls to be built, “suited to the requirements of spatial music”. His idea was a spherical space which is fitted all around with loudspeakers. In the middle of this spherical space a sound-permeable, transparent platform would be suspended for the listeners. They could hear music composed for such standardized spaces coming from above, from below and from all points of the compass. (Stockhausen Texte 1:153)
In 1968, the West German government invited Stockhausen to collaborate on the German Pavilion at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka and to create a joint multimedia project for it with artist Otto Piene. Other collaborators on the project included the pavilion’s architect, Fritz Bornemann, Fritz Winckel, director of the Electronic Music Studio at the Technical University of Berlin, and engineer Max Mengeringhausen. The pavilion theme was “gardens of music”, in keeping with which Bornemann intended “planting” the exhibition halls beneath a broad lawn, with a connected auditorium “sprouting” above ground. Initially, Bornemann conceived this auditorium in the form of an amphitheatre, with a central orchestra podium and surrounding audience space. In the summer of 1968, Stockhausen met with Bornemann and persuaded him to change this conception to a spherical space with the audience in the center, surrounded by loudspeaker groups in seven rings at different “latitudes” around the interior walls of the sphere (Kurtz 1992, 166; Föllmer 1996).
Although Stockhausen and Piene’s planned multimedia project, titled Hinab-Hinauf, was developed in detail (Stockhausen, Texte 3:155–74), the World Fair committee rejected their concept as too extravagant and instead asked Stockhausen to present daily five-hour programs of his music (Kurtz 1992, 178). Stockhausen’s works were performed for 5½ hours every day over a period of 183 days to a total audience of about a million listeners (Wörner 1973, 256). According to Stockhausen’s biographer, Michael Kurtz, “Many visitors felt the spherical auditorium to be an oasis of calm amidst the general hubbub, and after a while it became one of the main attractions of Expo 1970” (Kurtz 1992, 179).
From the mid-1950s onward, Stockhausen designed (and in some cases had had printed) his own musical scores for his publisher, Universal Edition, which often involved unconventional devices. The score for his piece Refrain, for instance, includes a rotatable (refrain) on a transparent plastic strip. Early in the 1970s, he ended his agreement with Universal Edition and began publishing his own scores under the Stockhausen-Verlag imprint (Kurtz 1992, 184). This arrangement allowed him to extend his notational innovations (for example, dynamics in Weltparlament [the first scene of Mittwoch aus Licht] are coded in colour) and resulted in eight German Music Publishers Society Awards between 1992 (Luzifers Tanz) and 2005 (Hoch-Zeiten, from Sonntag aus Licht) (Stockhausen-Verlag 2008, 12–13). The score of Momente, published just before the composer’s death in 2007, won this prize for the ninth time (Deutscher Musikeditionspreis 2009).
In the early 1990s, Stockhausen reacquired the licenses to most of the recordings of his music he had made to that point, and started his own record company to make this music permanently available on Compact Disc (Maconie 2005, 477–78).
Stockhausen died of sudden heart failure on the morning of 5 December 2007 in Kürten, North Rhine-Westphalia (Bäumer 2007). He had just the night before finished a work recently commissioned for performance by the Mozart Orchestra of Bologna (Bäumer 2007).