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ipar1306 Offline

Posts: 236

Tue Aug 04, 2015 5:17 am
Movement and gestures in Stockhausen's music reply

While I have always been conscious of the importance of movement and physical gesture in many of Stockhausen's pieces, and of the often quite detailed instructions Stockhausen includes in his scores in this regard, I became even more aware of its significance through seeing so many of his works performed and taught during the Kürten courses this year. It made me even more aware of how integral movement often is, whether it be to underscore formal aspects of the music (such as with IN FREUNDSCHAFT), or to complement the character of the music (such as in DER KLEINE HARLEKIN), or to add to the narrative of the music (as in MICHAELs REISE), or even to simply create another artistic dimension for conveying the music, as is almost always the case, it seems to me.

But I am particularly interested in performers' experiences of this aspect of Stockhausen's works. Movement and gesture is not, I assume, part of the classical music training and yet it is something performers have to learn, integral with the music itself, in these pieces, and often with as much precision as the notes themselves. How difficult is that? Or does it in fact enhance the learning of the technical musical aspects of the piece? I know some singers say that learning vocal music is made easier because there are words, as well as notes, that help prompt memory - but I wonder if these extra elements in Stockhausen's music are challenging or enabling for performers (or both, or neither). Just curious about different perspectives and experiences.

Joe Offline

Posts: 104

Tue Aug 04, 2015 10:27 pm
#2 RE: Movement and gestures in Stockhausen's music reply

The gestural language of Licht is a ripe target for investigation. I know Gunter Peters is working on a paper about some of this, but it's a very large subject that could take up an entire book. There's a wonderful dissertation by Winston Stone about onstage performers that kind of establishes a thread of precedents for what Stockhausen was doing post-Harlekin, when he decided everything would be commedia dell'arte from that point forward.

I feel it's a bit revisionist to say that Stockhausen was always headed in this direction, but you see hints of it early on with gestures like the pianist beginning Kontakte at the gong. Certainly, his touring ensemble played with the theatricality of gesture. Marco Blaauw is fond of citing Mauricio Kagel who once admonished him that the audience interprets every gesture as theatre. Bruce Springsteen said something similar when he remarked that everything you do onstage becomes part of the show, whether that's picking up a guitar or wiping your brow.

In certain pieces, the gestures are very organic and simple to learn: for instance, Piccolo, which we saw on a Participants Concert, or Oberlippentanz, where the biggest gestures are entrances and exits. In other pieces, they are quite counterintuitive, like In Freundschaft. Perhaps the gestures in that piece make more sense on other instruments, but on the trumpet, they feel forced, arbitrary, and clumsy. It's very difficult to make them flow in a way that marries with the very difficult music.

There's a similar moment in Harmonien, which is another unwieldy arranged piece for trumpet. The music is so difficult, and for most of it, you just stand and deliver it. Then, about 2/3 of the way through, you have to do these dopey clockwise and then counterclockwise turns on a very awkward lick which is made more so by the rotations you are required to do. Now, rotation is a perfectly obvious gesture for Klang, and it's a prevalent conceit in so much of Stockhausen's music. The trick is to use that knowledge to get inside that gesture and live with it to make it feel organic, despite the fact that it feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Licht-Bilder is a case where the movements are so thoroughly interwoven with the music that you had better learn them all at once or you've dug yourself into a bit of a hole. My sense of the piece is that the movements there are similarly artificial. They kind of express a hidden logic that makes sense in theory but is very hard to realize organically. Frisius and I talked about this a bit, because Stockhausen was really looking towards Kathakali and similar disciplines as an inspiration for this type of performing. But there, the performers train for decades to do all of that organically, making every gesture seem like part of the music. It's so rare that Western classical musicians can pull that off.

We actually saw a fairly good demonstration of something in that vein with Marco's performance of Aries. None of that is in the score. None of it. When I first studied the piece with him in 2009, he had added a very simple walk from the left side to the right side of the stage during the prolonged A. It wasn't in the score, but it had developed over the years in performance with Stockhausen, who liked it. So, it was now part of the "official" version of the piece.

What we saw in the final concert, was a highly stylized series of movements that fit with Marco's overall conception of the piece, which was shaped over many years of working with Stockhausen. I think it was very effective. Perhaps it was a bit over-determined, but it seemed to compliment the piece. And to your point, everything Marco did was very simple to do within the overall technique of the piece. No goofy, off-balance rotations at awkward moments, for instance. I think this is where Stockhausen got the best results most of the time, when he worked hand-in-hand with a performer to realize practical gestures that compliment the music. The other extreme is Examen which is invented from whole cloth, and is so completely unnatural for a dancer that he never tried it again.

ipar1306 Offline

Posts: 236

Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:42 am
#3 RE: Movement and gestures in Stockhausen's music reply

Thanks for this Joe. This answered exactly much of what I was curious about, particularly in terms of the challenges for musicians in learning this aspect of Stockhausen's pieces. Your point about 'theatricality' is also interesting, and it brings to mind a comment Suzanne Stephens made this year during one of the classes where IN FREUNDSCHAFT was being taught. She said there that many performers overdo the gestures because they mistake IN FREUNDSCHAFT as a theatre piece, which, other than the bassoon version, it isn't. But then other pieces clearly are meant to be more 'theatrical' and therefore, she said, offer the interpreter more latitude and opportunity to inject their own personality into the piece. I imagine that knowing where to draw that line, both within and between pieces, must often be a challenge for performers for whom these issues rarely arise in other work they do. Mind you,. I think it's equally (well, maybe not quite equally!) a challenge for audiences, for whom so many of Stockhausen's works provide new opportunities for thinking about how music is conveyed and expressed.

I had wondered about the gestures in the performance of ARIES. I haven't seen the score of the piece, although I do have the score of SIRIUS and couldn't recall those gestures being included there. When SIRIUS was performed here last year, there were many gestures included by all four performers and I remember discussing this briefly with Tristram at the time and my recollection is that he said that, although they weren't indicated in the score, Stockhausen had later indicated that he wanted them to be part of the performance and what they should be. But I'm relying on a vague memory of a short conversation there, so I must ask him again. But it seems to perhaps accord with what you say about Marco's conception of ARIES, formed through his years of working with Stockhausen.

Then comes to mind another question - the use of gesture for more practical reasons. I'm thinking here particularly of SAMSTAGs GRUSS, where the performers move from standing upright to bowing low throughout the piece. The preface to the score says that this is used to help ensure synchronous playing, as it is supposed to be performed without a conductor. But it looks mightily impressive in its own right too. When that piece was performed here a few months ago it was actually performed with a conductor, but the players still followed the directions for the gestures. It was clearly not needed as a means of keeping everyone playing together, but it certainly somehow still seemed right for the piece, in a way that I can't quite define. So I suspect it is often the case that gesture and movement ends up having an impact on an audiences perception of the music beyond what might have originated as a fairly simple or singular purpose on Stockhausen's part. Maybe.

Joe Offline

Posts: 104

Thu Aug 06, 2015 3:49 am
#4 RE: Movement and gestures in Stockhausen's music reply

Yes, I can't imagine Sirius being played as a straigh-ahead oratorio. No decent singer or soloist would just stand and deliver those parts. There's too much going on in the music, but Stockhausen doesn't indicate much about how the soloists should behave. So, you're in much the same position as a singer of the Winterreise. You can let the music and the text speak for themselves (of which they are more than capable), or you can demonstrate some engagement with the text by emoting. Either version poses dangers for a performer. We've all seen mediocre singers/instrumentalists try to overcome their deficiencies with extravagant facial gestures and arm movements.

The movements in Samstags Gruss foreshadow (or pre-echo, if you rather) the ups and downs of the wind ensemble as the "face" in Luzifers Tanz. But that note about them maintaining coordination through body gestures is a great example of a misleading Stockhausen demand. (Sidenote: It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the counting in Helikopter is a similar gesture, if the point is to coordinate the ensemble.)

It would take any brass ensemble, even a student one, just about no time to coordinate that piece. It is very simple piece to put together, especially by Stockhausen's standards. It's all in 4 at 53.5 bpm. The biggest obstacle to rhythmic accuracy are the hemiolas and glissandi, which tend to be relegated to one instrument at a time.

Whereas, the notated gestures actually make the proceedings much more difficult. Stockhausen often asks for an up or a down on counterintuitive beats, like an upbeat on 3, where almost every brass player on the planet would either be showing a downbeat or (more likely) an ictus on the right as a conductor would. He also has players cuing in places where it makes more musical sense for another player to take over, like a horn player cuing during his rest while a trombonist makes a clear entrance. So, an ensemble that follows his movements will have a lot more work to do than one which works out their own according to prevailing traditions.

But if you're doing the piece, you may as well learn the gestures as Stockhausen wrote them, right? I wonder if a close analysis would reveal some links between them and the ones in Luzifers Tanz. My hunch is that they are more pragmatic than that, like so many other directions in Stockhausen's music.

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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