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Adorján F Offline

Posts: 28

Mon Jul 27, 2015 3:20 pm
Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

A certain Uwe Ebbinghaus, deskman at the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine", wrote a long article on the case of Gertrud Stockhausen who was killed according to the Nazi euthanasia program. The student Lisa Quernes made an investigation on that topic which was reported already in 2013 (Deutschlandfunk). It is not quite clear why Ebbinghaus came up with the story now. He is quoting Suzanne Stephens and other members of the family; so it seems (?) that his article is approved by them. A possibly new facet of the story is that Stockhausen´s father Simon could have been a child abuser. This was referred to by the family of Gertrud Stockhausen.
We all know about the fact of the murder. However, Ebbinghaus uses this for quite unsavory assaults on Stockhausen´s work. Ebbinghaus states that the killing of the mother character in DONNERSTAG by an injection is an extenuation or a trifle. Unbelievable. I don´t know what he wants: to build a gas chamber on the stage? Documentary realism? Is a lethal injection not horrible enough?
He cryptically suggests that mentioning the accusation of child abuse in the libretto of DONNERSTAG could mean that Stockhausen was abused himself because he could not know this accusation otherwise since the archives of the euthanasia program were closed. He turns this insinuation, however, to a criticism: because Stockhausen named one of his sons Simon, he could be somehow guilty himself.
He tops this by accusing Stockhausen of approving eugenic or racial hygienic thinking; first, because, for LICHT, he uses the Urantia book which contains on very few of its 1000 pages statements on racial purity, and secondly, because the ending of FREITAG can only be interpreted as a purifying killing of distorted composite beings (says Ebbinghaus).
So Ebbinghaus manages to make a victim into an offender. The article seems to me a typical German yearning for guilt and a leftist dialectic routine. So far, so bad. Stockhausen stays to be an anathema to the German cultural mainstream.
The important question is: Does this all mean something for the work?

ipar1306 Offline

Posts: 236

Tue Jul 28, 2015 10:43 am
#2 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

Wow! There is so much in that, Adorjan, that I am sure many here will wish to comment on, and many will be as infuriated by by some of those claims in the article as you are. But one point that I did want to comment on was the depiction of the mother's death in DONNERSTAG. I find it incredible that someone could interpret that as 'a trifle'. It is, for me, one of the most chilling moments in all of LICHT, indeed in all of opera. It seems to capture so well the utter sadness of her death but also the utter indifference to such deaths at the time. The world is just going on around her while she is being killed. No one even notices. But we do, because we hear that infinitely tragic droning note she sings throughout the first part of the scene just fizzle out and vanish in a final whimper just full of tragic pathos. It is, I believe, a tremendously poignant and powerful scene and it seems Ebbinghaus has missed its point entirely.

Adorján F Offline

Posts: 28

Tue Jul 28, 2015 1:21 pm
#3 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

The exact title of the article is "Wenn Du nicht brav bist, kommst Du nach Hadamar in den Ofen." It is a pity that it cannot be read in the internet because it is liable to pay. Maybe someone else finds a link.


Fri Jul 31, 2015 10:37 am
#4 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply
Ulrich Offline

Posts: 199

Sat Aug 01, 2015 5:43 pm
#5 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

Yes, Adorján - I feel as you do: Another example of a resentful behavior against Stockhausen. How much time has to pass, till this mode stops?!
But, in one detail I think the author is right: The last scene of FREITAG aus LICHT indeed is an act of purification through the fire-element; I always have the association of purgatory. And nothing else Ebbinghaus writes.

Joe Offline

Posts: 104

Tue Aug 04, 2015 1:26 am
#6 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

Frisius kind of dismissed my work on Licht's narrative because, in his view, the narrative of the operas is "so bad". But I countered that, like Mt. Everest, "it's there", and Stockhausen wasn't writing symphonies for 30 years of his life. He was writing operas with heavy narrative content, and it must be addressed.

From that standpoint, I think the article in FAZ is actually very important, regardless of the author's conclusions. It's good for Stockhausen to have the narrative of Licht analyzed objectively. Unfortunately, this particular subject has been picked over quite a bit in the German press, and the only new thing here is Lisa's excellent research, which sheds a great deal of light on the historical context of Kindheit.

The Vater of Kindheit is clearly capable of abuse, but his primary fault is self-absorption. The fact that Stockhausen himself could be an abusive personality is news to precisely no one. His work is strong enough to stand against such shortcomings, and by most accounts, the full measure of his personality tended to balance out on the plus side of the ledger.

But this goes towards so much of the complexity of dealing with Stockhausen, who constantly requires us to walk and chew gum at the same time.

On the one hand, Ian is right that Mutter's death is quite tragic and awful, but on the other, Ebbinghaus is just as correct to say that Stockhausen treats it as a trifle. The dominant musical action at that moment is Michael's libidinous obsession with Mondeva's body, and his Luciferian tallying of her digits. Stockhausen deliberately does not paint Mutter's death in broad strokes, because, as he said so many times, death is merely a transition into another form. That's precisely what happens at that moment in the opera. Michael finally deduces Mondeva's name, just after Mutter is murdered. The pronunciation of "Mondeva" completes the character's transition from the human Mutter to the hybrid Mondeva.

In Vision, we will finally see her as the angel Eva, and this scale (human-hybrid-angel) is integral to the drama of Freitag. The bastard pairs must be destroyed as penance, and the imagery is clearly that of a holocaust. Because of the gradual accumulation of absurdist imagery, Stockhausen thoroughly masks what is going on. As with much of Licht, I think there is room for multiple interpretations of the scene, but an honest accounting cannot ignore the racial overtones of the entire opera (especially considering the blackface donned by Ludon and his children). Yet, Stockhausen was not setting the Urantia Book, which is why the Sound Scene couples aren't depicted as segregated by race, but rather by types of matter, from animals to inanimate objects.

If those couples were black and white, like the denizens of the Real Scenes, Stockhausen would bludgeon the point in a way that is totally out of keeping with the rest of his narrative. Therefore, simply viewing the climax of Freitag as a mere racial commentary is a mistake.

ipar1306 Offline

Posts: 236

Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:44 am
#7 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

I can't really agree that the narrative of LICHT is "bad", although it is obviously unconventional and I accept that the narrative emerged out of what was originally and essentially primarily musical material (albeit musical material charged, from the beginning, with elements of drama and character). In other words, Stockhausen might not have had a 'story' in mind for LICHT in the way that Wagner did for the 'Ring', but because the music is so essentially bound up with the archetypal characters of Michael, Eva and Luzifer, as embodied in the superformula, it was inevitable, surely, that a narrative - indeed many layers of narrative - would emerge as the operas were composed. I think Joe's dissertation demonstrates one such narrative, and that it is certainly not a "bad" narrative, very convincingly. There are many others and I am loving my own journey of discovery into this.

On the issue of the death of Mutter, I actually liken it, in some respects, to the final scene of Alban Berg's Wozzeck, insofar as the seeming overt trivialisation of the death (Michael playfully counting Mondeva's fingers and toes while his mother dies; the children seeing Marie's dead body as a mere curiosity while the play)in fact underscores its tragedy. And so, for me, it is precisely this apparent trivialisation that makes it so poignant, so tragic and, I suspect for Stockhausen, so reminiscent of the ways in which these killings were trivialised during the Nazi period.

As I think I have mentioned before, I am less convinced that the closing imagery of FREITAG is "clearly that of a holocaust", although I can see that that is certainly a valid way of looking at it. I see it more as a purification than a destruction, although I also admit that sometimes, especially in religious and mythological symbolism, the two are very closely connected. But, in any event, fire as a symbol of purification is a very ancient one - even though I can accept that the images of fire in its more recent and horrifying 'purifying' context may well have been in Stockhausen's mind as well.

Lacan, obviously, will provide yet another take on it all!

Joe Offline

Posts: 104

Tue Aug 04, 2015 11:29 pm
#8 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

You may recall that I invoke Wozzeck in the opening of Kindheit as child Michael plays between his absent parents (they are frozen in place). To build on your point about the trivialization of death, we know this was an important theme for Stockhausen that we see on fullest display in Freitag. He witnessed people having sex among the dying and the dead at the military hospital in Bedburg, which is also where he had to retrieve body parts out of trees after bombings. He said that "war washes away the connection of man to the divine; people become very physical living so close to death."

So, it's certainly in keeping with that perspective that Michael is hyperventilating over Mondeva's digits while his Mutter and Vater are dying. Still, we must remember that he is unaware that this is happening. The audience is seeing it all in one tableau, but they are three separate scenes being shown at the same time. It's Stockhausen, not Michael, who "trivializes" Mutter's death by putting Michael's foreplay front and center. That's an authorial choice.

For me, something doesn't quite ring true about the word "trivialize", because that implies that Mutter's death is portrayed as unimportant, which it clearly is not. It's really a continuation of what we've seen in Kindheit: this tripartite division of the narrative where major events are piled on top of each other. I suppose everything in the first scene could seem trivial because the characters are so often singing on top of each other. But I don't think the simultaneity of the narrative is meant to trivialize these events. Rather, I think it signals their importance, and the fact that Stockhausen will revisit them later on in greater detail.

With so much of Licht, there is room for many interpretations, and I wouldn't say the word "trivialize" is wrong, just that it doesn't seem the best fit. For me, when I say that the imagery in Chor-Spirale is "clearly that of a holocaust", I still see plenty of room for alternate interpretations within that statement. The reason I would write that particular phrase so definitively is that the visual conceit is unavoidable. You cannot look at that scene and pretend like the Bastard Pairs aren't being sacrificed in a giant ascending pillar of flame as atonement for the sins of the Sound Scene Couples. That's in the text. So, in my view, we have to, at least, acknowledge the 800-lb gorilla in the room.

Your interpretation of the scene as a purification could certainly be valid. But who is being purified? The Bastard Pairs? The Sound Scene Couples? As you mentioned, the entire point of a holocaust is to purify the penitent. There is room for both views, but I don't think it's possible to say that we are not seeing a sacrifice of the Bastard Pairs. The imagery is too on the nose to pretend it is something else.

In Michaels Reise, Carlus Padrissa was very obsessed with Michael and the Star Maiden having sex as they ascend during the "Himmelfahrt" section of the piece. He actually asked Marco if he would be comfortable simulating masturbation to drive the point home. He wanted to put the two performers in a position that made it very clear that their union was sexual. Now, in Mondeva, the sexual dynamic is clear. It is part of the piece. However, in Michaels Reise, it is not so obvious, or even necessary (Michael and Eve aren't even supposed to be onstage!). You could make a very effective narrative arc there, where the sexual content of Mondeva is libidinous and adolescent, whereas in Michaels Reise it is mature and quasi-sacred (and now we're encroaching on Prince's terrain). The final solution in that production of Michaels Reise threaded a fine line quite well, I thought.

It's a great example of interpretive space in Licht. You can explicitly inject sex into the "Himmelfahrt" and still make it work. But what you can't do is ignore the prima facie reality of that part of the scene, which is that Michael and Eve as the Star Maiden are ascending to Heaven. If you choose to depict something else there, you will have a lot of work to do in order to get around what is in the score. So too with Freitag, in my view. We certainly see opera directors pull this trick all the time, and often, quite effectively. Right now, it's a bit in vogue to take anything remotely sexual, especially an implied rape, and depict it onstage as graphically as possible. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm all for radical interpretations, especially when it comes to Stockhausen. But a good director should be able to justify the decision to depart from the text, in my view.

ipar1306 Offline

Posts: 236

Wed Aug 05, 2015 8:20 am
#9 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

Yes, well the thought that Mutter's death is 'trivialised' is not really one that I would ascribe to - it seemed more to be that that was what Ebblinghaus was suggesting in the article that started this thread. But, insofar as it can appear to be trivialised, or treated as a trifle, its tragedy is, I think, reinforced. So I guess we're probably essentially agreeing on that issue. As I say, I personally find that particular scene extremely disturbing - but then I guess that's the way of the world even aside from the particular traumas that Stockhausen faced in his life: death is always happening alongside the million and one other things that life entails. Even as I type this someone, somewhere, is dying unnecessarily and cruelly. But I'm digressing.

Once again, I think we essentially agree on the issue of the end of FREITAG, other than that the holocaust imagery does not spring as immediately to mind for me as it does for you. But I would certainly agree that it is a plausible, and indeed likely, connection that Stockhausen had in mind when he wrote the scene. Mind you, I wouldn't necessarily say that my interpretation is one of 'purification', but rather that I think it likely that Stockhausen also had that in mind for the scene too. I haven't worked out my interpretation yet! But remember, when you inject the Lacanian perspective into it, another whole set of possibilities emerge. In that analysis, the Bastard Pairs become the consequence of the a human personality where identity has given way to the darker aspects of the (usually tamed) inner core of being. It's probably going to be an interpretation that will have certain taboo but deeply repressed sexual context to it, given that sexuality is so prominent both in the Sound Scenes and in Lacan - but I really haven't gotten into even considering that in any detail yet. So really all I'm saying at this stage is that I don't have any interpretation in mind for that scene - but, as we both seem to agree, a number of possibilities can be plausibly applied to it and certainly some, ore than others, are likely to have been consciously in Stockhausen's mind as he wrote it. But as we've noted many times, the opportunities for understanding LICHT by no means end there.

The issues of sexuality in MICHAELs REISE and even of the ascent to heaven, opens up another whole stream of possibilities. I agree, the sexual union of Michael and the Star Maiden seems like it could be pretty plausibly presented. But as for the 'prima facie reality' that they are ascending to heaven, I guess that's true - but then it comes down to what you think Heaven represents. It doesn't have to just be heaven in the traditional religious sense (even though, again, that's probably what Stockhausen had in mind). I mean, some people think of heaven as a piece of chocolate cake! (I'm being facetious there, obviously - but my point is that these prima facie realities are only that: prima facie. Dig beneath their surfaces, and a whole lot of new possibilities for understanding them can begin to emerge) By the way, did Marco agree to simulate masturbation for the scene?

But I totally agree - radical interpretations, need to be able to be justified. They have to make sense and be convincing and plausible: although always in Stockhausen, I think, that will be a vexed, and complex thing!

Ulrich Offline

Posts: 199

Wed Aug 05, 2015 11:55 am
#10 RE: Stockhausen and euthanasia reply

Joe, you often say that there are many different ways to understand LICHT - and I always feel that I have to listen carefully to that statement, because (maybe as a dogmatic theologian) I always tend to thinking that there is just one truth (that must not necessarily be congruous with what I think...). But, as you also say: There are certain ways to definitely miss the point. That was the case in Carlus Padrissa's first approach to MISSION and HIMMELFAHRT in MICHAELs REISE. Originally he even guessed, there should be red light in that scene - for me that crossed the "red line". But it took days of discussions to get the blue light and to change sex into eros and to open the mind for a more spiritual understanding of the scene. Without the clear standpoint of Marco Blaauw that would not have been possible.
For me the death of the mother and father in the first act of DONNERSTAG is by no means trivialised - in the contrary, it is terribly tragic. For the young Michael does not realize, what happens to his parents, when he has his first encounter with love- thus the scene shows the tragic complexity of life, where life and death, black and white, good and evil belong to the fulness of existence in every moment. When the father dies, there is a moment of suspense for Michael and Mondeva - but it is impossible for them to realize what happens.
And to the last scene of FREITAG: My definite conviction is: To connect that with holocaust is simply wrong. 1. Nobody should do that, because by that he is in one line with many people especially in the German cultural life, who treat Stockhausen as a scapegoat and try with every means to hinder his reception. And, more important, 2. that connection with holocaust shows that one cannot understand the central religious concept of a final judgement. Not: anything goes, but: a certain order exists and has to be respected. There is temptation, fall, sin and evil, and that has to be judged and corrected. And that has nothing to do with the unbelievable crime of holocaust, but on the contrary is necessary. Therefore the last image of FREITAG for me is more that of purgatory.

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I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus. A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes! Thomas Ulrich
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