Reading, as I have just been doing, some commentaries in the book GEDENKSCHRIFT für STOCKHAUSEN about the pieces of music that won people over to Stockhausen, I was interested in the way a few people described pieces that hit them like a thunderbolt, and won them over to Stockhausen in a kind of Road-to-Damascus type conversion. So I just thought I would ask here if others have had similar experiences - really for no reason other than I am curious.
For me personally, I had for a very long time admired Stockhausen alongside other great 20th century composers, but I think it was probably listening to, and really getting to know, HYMNEN that created for me something of a light-switched-in moment where I began to grasp the enormity of his creativity and the breadth of his vision both musically and (for want of a better word) spiritually.
From that point there was no turning back for me, bringing me to where I am now at: looking for ways to spend more or even most of my remaining life in Kürten, immersed in the archives and the music of this man who, for me, brings together everything else I had ever looked for, and had until now found only in bits here and there, in music.
Thinking of a move to Kürten, eh? From one small town to another... :)
There haven't been moments of conversion for me, so much as perpetual discoveries. The seminal one for me was discovering Eingang und Formel in the stacks at the University of Cincinnati. Until then, Stockhausen was just an important composer of serial and electronic music to me. I had no idea that he had written for trumpet. At the first courses I went to, Oberlippentanz was the next big revelation on the trumpet front, but the work that really set me back on my heels was Mantra.
Many of those kinds of mind-expanding experiences have happened at Kürten concerts, but they also occurred in the solitary environment of the music library: finding pieces like Kontra-Punkte or Herbstmusik on the shelf, sitting down at a table to read the score, and then finding several hours have passed after being immersed in this new sound world. For me, Stockhausen is the composer most capable of luring me down the rabbit hole.
Thanks Joe! That's exactly the sort of story I was interested in hearing.
As for moving to Kürten, it is really only a wild dream at the moment - but I am certainly very keen to spend at least six months to a year there, as part of my PhD study, perhaps in 2017, depending on where a few things here at home are at then. For me, it would be moving to a big town - Kürten is about ten times the size of St Leonards!!
In the early 90's I had just moved to NYC and was working with John Zorn's crowd (or to be honest, more like friends of Zorn's crowd, tho John and I would soon develop our own relationship). Through this association I was inundated with New Music of all stripes. I used to tape the WKCR Transfigured Night program before going to bed, as well as setting a timer to record the afternoon New Music program while I was at work. So I was eating up probably 8 or 9 hours of random broadcasts of noise/contemp. class./free jazz/improv a week, besides listening to records with friends. Anyways, listening back to one of these overnight broadcasts, the piece Kontakte came on and I thought it was pretty cool (it was the Wergo). It really stood out among the Messaien, Ligeti, Wuorinen, Carter, etc... A few short weeks later they did an all-Stockhausen program and that instantly gave me a wonderful overview of his catalog. I can recall Mantra, Trans, Kontra-Punkte, Zeitmasze, some Klavierstucke I think (this is a long time ago, but I definitely recall thinking Trans was totally bonkers! I mean seriously, that loom sound was fucking crazy). I think the first piece I really "took apart" and analyzed was Kontra-punkte, since the way that sounded was exactly the kind of compositional direction I was heading myself (only about 40 years too late). Then I heard whispers of this massive piece called Hymnen which was a double LP and had only 1 song. So one night I requested it on Transfigured Night and I basically stayed up until 5 am so that I could tape the whole thing. I really owe it to those guys for doing that, but by that time I was calling them up every week and requesting all sorts of out of print records for me to tape off the air, and of course they were KS freaks.
Anyways, it's been 25 years since I've been bitten. I have had long stretches of being completely bored by him though, starting from when I first heard the material from Licht. I mean, at that time, NOBODY in NY liked that stuff. Not one of my friends could stand that stuff. And frankly the few friends I still have from that period still don't get why I like it so much now (tho I've tried!). Anyways, KS and me are kind of an on-again, off-again love affair, and usually my interest dies down as soon as I start a new composition project for myself. That's probably for the best, come to think of it.
Another interesting journey there Ed - interesting to read that HYMNEN played such a significant part in your appreciation of Stockhausen's works also.
It is interesting that LICHT initially turned you away from his music. I think this may be the case for a lot of people who first come to know Stockhausen through his earlier electronic works. I think until we really begin to understand the enormity of what Stockhausen does in his music, we mistakenly see LICHT (and that period generally) as a step backwards including, as it does, a much more prominent role for conventional instruments and voices. The novelty of sound that strikes us so immediately in his earlier works initially seems absent from LICHT (or at least less prominent). But then when you get into what is actually happening in the music, as you obviously later did, you see not only does LICHT incorporate so much of his early work, but builds on it in the most imaginative and innovative way. I have never known a composer who, as much as Stockhausen, yields more and more riches, the deeper you dig.
For me it was Trans. We had a lecturer at school (I guess I was 15 or 16) who was given the the job of covering all of the 20th century in two or three sessions. But he played us lots of bits of things. Among them was the beginning of Trans, and obviously it was unlike anything I'd heard before, and I had no idea what it was or what it was about, but I knew I needed to find out.
Interestingly said lecturer, though he loved the piece, only had the LP recording (which he'd copied to cassette for the session), and had never seen the score. Later, when eventually exciting packages of scores started arriving from the Stockhausen-Verlag addresses to me, and by some mysterious coincidence my bank balance kept lurching downwards frighteningly, I made a point of getting a copy of the score and the CD for him to repay him for having set me on that path.
Besides that, and a bit later, I played a big piece by Schnittke in a competition once which was full of clusters; the adjudicator at the end asked if knew Stockhausen's Klavierstück X, and that I should look at it at the time if I didn't. I didn't, of course, but filed away the mental note. Eventually when I looked at the score and had a listen to a recording I filed it away again, in the 'interesting, amazing, but not actually playable by humans' pile. But as a pianist I knew I needed to look at his other piano music. A little later I found in Edinburgh there's a classical CD shop (this was at a time when such places actually existed, if you can imagine it - though I'm happy to say it's still here) where they actually had a whole load of the Stockhausen Edition CDs, at a huge markup to the already very high prices - but at this time there was no easy PayPal ordering etc for us mortals - so I bought, naturally, the 3-disc set of the Piano Pieces. I rapidly realised that while I might respect/admire/and so on the earlier pieces (and find them very exciting when played well), that there was something about XII, XIII, XIV that got me a little bit inappropriately excited... (As an immature moron, as opposed to the slightly maturer moron I am now, it was obvious that XIII was the best one, being the longest and craziest.)
That was my part-initiation into Licht. The next bit, which properly sealed my fate, was reading a lot about the operas, and discussions thereof, particularly a newsgroup thread about which is the 'best one to start with' (a common and enduring question, I suppose). I decided that I really liked the sound of Freitag; I'm not sure why, but the idea of this slow-burn electronic layer with everything else going on on top really seemed appealing. So my very first order from the Stockhausen-Verlag was the Freitag recording. And that was that; the rest of Licht, and full-blown addiction, followed in time; and eventually I actually started learning these piano pieces I had loved so much. Freitag retains a very special place in my heart.
Those are great stories Simon - thanks so much for sharing them here, especially the story about you buying the CD and score of TRANS for the lecturer who introduced you to the music. There can be few things lovelier, or better, than sharing the gift of music - and there are just so many ways to do it, as your story shows.
And now of course you are doing it in another way - by learning and playing these pieces yourself. Your mastery of Klavierstück XII was, for many, such a highlight of Kürten this year - paralleled only by our collective anticipation of your mastery of XIII in 2017.
I myself had ups and downs with KS. It began with my music-career as a pupil: First Hindemith, then Schönberg, finally Stockhausen. More and more radical because of opposition to the music lessons in school and to the general spirit of the Germany in the Fifties - Adenauer and his conservative followers. What impressed me most, was GESANG, for sure; I heard that and piano pieces in the radio (late night programme). I really did not understand what was going on in the music, was simply fascinated and could not really say why. This interest got another level in the week before my studies in theology at Hamburg university started: I attended the world premiere of CARRÈ in Hamburg, and that was an unforgettable event. I still see Stockhausen conducting; a person one with the spirit of music, unbelievable. After that at several occasions I heard Stockhausen works in "Das neue werk", concerts of avantgarde-music organized by the Hamburg radio station. Then, when I started to work in a worker's parish in Berlin, that interest more and more faded away. My work was very demanding, and there grew a resistance to music that was too demanding itself. Therefore I still have compassion to everybody who turns away from modern music because it is not spontaneously accessible. It was another thing with classical tradition, for instance Verdi or Wagner. What again made a difference was a Stockhausen festival in Berlin I think in 1992. I heard several fascinating works (remember especially MIKROPHONIE I), but even more important was, that by chance I met Christoph von Blumröder, asked him, if he could recommend a book on KS, and he told me that his book was just finished. In this way finally it was a book that brought me back... Then I myself began to organise concerts, first STIMMUNG with Schnebel`s "Maulwerker", then KONTAKTE and piano-pieces to celebrate his 70th birthday and then it kept me busy, more and more...
They are still active and a wonderful team! In 2 weeks in Berlin there will be a concert with the Maulwerkers and another concert with Michael Pattmann and Benjamin Kobler performing KONTAKTE, as they did it impressively in Kürten - both concerts at the same time. So you have to choose, and now I think I will attend the Maulwerker!
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!