In his last contribution to the thread of Basel 2016 (in page 5) Adorján mentioned the meaning of Stockhausen's libretti and suggested, that their poor quality might be responsible for the fact that directors do not respect the content of an opera. He cites Boulez, who suggested to St., that he should hire a professional writer for his libretti; otherwise the quality would be poor. For me that is an important item for the interpretation of the LICHT-cycle, and therefore I here want to open a new thread. What I think is: Boulez misunderstands the aesthetic of Stockhausen and the character of his operas. Normally (in tradition up to now) the libretto is first; it provides the frame for the opera and then the music fills that, illustrates the words, creates certain moods according to the text etc. Even when the story of an opera would have been totally forgotten without the music and in this way the music is far more important, the libretto is first and in this way plays a very important role. That is totally different from Stockhausen. Sure, also here there is a certain concept of what should be expressed. But then the music is absolutely first; everything is derived from the music, the protagonists and also the words of the libretto. That is due to Stockhausen's ontology: Everything in reality is vibration, and music is the layer in which this vibration of reality in a direct way becomes audible and accessible.Therefore the formulas are the protagonists and express reality; they are the most important. And, as Stockhausen often said: The words come after the creation of the music. Often they have no semantic meaning, but express just a musical structure, for instance the process from dark (vocals) to light. They are rudimentary, often senseless, have a musical sound. Therefore Stockhausen feels so near to modern writers like Helmut Heissenbüttel, whom he used in MIKROPHONIE II. For me especially amazing is the libretto of FREITAG. The real scenes of this opera have a very different content, but basically the words the singers sing, are the same in all these scenes; what differentiates the words is just the music and its structure. That is the general state of affairs. Certainly there are exceptions in LICHT, for instance the last scene of SAMSTAG with the classical text by St. Francis, and many parts of the libretto of DONNERSTAG: in KINDHEIT and especially in VISION, for me the only part of the cycle, where the content of the words is far more important than the music. But also in MONDEVA the words mainly are secondary, because they describe the structure of the music. So for St. it was simply impossible to follow the advice of Boulez. The jugdement: Poor quality of the libretto, just misunderstands the function of the words in the opera.
Thomas, thank you for this new topic. The question of the libretto of LICHT is important. I think there is a problem even if one accepts that the music was first and the words came only afterwards. Even in that case, the words could be more poetic. You are completely right about FREITAG where a strange poetic quality of the texts is reached. I remember very well that back in the Seventies it was the poetic quality of certain titles of Stockhausen pieces which incited me to hear his music: e. g. „Setz die Segel zur Sonne”, „Aus den sieben Tagen“, „Am Himmel wandere ich“, and so on. What is different in LICHT? I believe that Stockhausen wanted to write in a very „objective“ way in parts of LICHT and this is the reason why I would appreciate the publication of early writings of him to compare. How can I explain what I mean? There are certain parts in LICHT, but also very similarly in KLANG like ORVONTON, where Stockhausen only states something like a bureaucrat. It is not the ceremonial demeanor and religious meaning of the texts but the completely noncommitted neutral way of expression (or better non-expression) that can exasperate someone who knows how Stockhausen could write and how even a text which follows the music could be written. Statement follows statement. It is simply not beautiful and therefore the opposite of what Stockhausen wanted: beauty. I understand, however, that Stockhausen did not want operas where the public can identify with the hero in the classical way and therefore used a different way of writing but I also understand a director who says (like Steier did) that the texts are sometimes terrible. Of course, one can claim that it is a new quality of libretto writing. This claim however would need much investigation to prove it: the publication of the complete libretto of LICHT in one volume, the step-by-step comparison of the music and the text, the comparison and classification of the different styles (just let me call it that way), and so on, that means a thorough philological analysis.
I agree; one has to look what are the facts in any single scene of LICHT. And I am also no fan of the, as you put it, "bureaucratic" texts in KLANG -maybe they are too much inspired by the bureaucratic Urantia Book. But I think, basis is the insight into the musical character of the texts, and therefore a pure philological analysis cannot be appropriate, and a publication of just the texts of LICHT without any music would be simply terrible. And: With this concept in mind it is clear, that only the composer could write the libretti; they are in a way part of the music of the work.
Another interesting discussion - thank you for initiating it Thomas. I do agree that Stockhausen's libretti are of a very different nature than those of other composers and that they must be experienced as musical, more than as literary, expressions. This is probably more evident in the other operas of LICHT, more so than in DONNERSTAG where the libretto is perhaps more of a narrative nature than anywhere else. But even in DONNERSTAG, it grows out of the music and I have found it fascinating to observe Stockhausen's processes for doing this as I study his sketches in the archives. Almost always, narrative and libretto arise within the parameters of the music, although there are a few places in where lines, here and there, seem to have been conceived independently of the music - but they seem to be very much the exception. For me, personally, when we listen to the libretti as musical poetry, their beauty (often a strange and unusual beauty, I admit) can be staggering. The rhythmically broken words of MICHAEL in EXAMEN is, for me, a great example of this. But I also agree with Adorjan that to study and analyse this connection, and the ways in which the words can be understood as a new type of language, and how they relate to the music more precisely, would be utterly fascinating.
I think there is an important difference between the libretti of LICHT and KLANG. As Leopoldo Siano shows in his thesis about KLANG, the work on the hours 14 to 21 seem to have been dictated by Stockhausen's impression that he didn't have much time any more. So regarding the libretti of KLANG I think we have to consider this special circumstance, too. And I don't think that he was in that kind of hurry writing the libretti for LICHT.
Thomas, thank you for raising this interesting topic! When reading the reviews about earlier LICHT prodictions, and now on the DONNERSTAG production in Basel, it is noticable that some oft he reviwers point out the alleged infantility oft he lobretto, which would not make sense. Now, as Thomas has pointed out, the words (as well as everything else) in LICHT are developped from the music, and I think this ist he basis for the persistent misunderstandings by critics and parts oft he audience: there is no such thing as an epic or dramatic narrative in the classical meaning in LICHT. Evyerbody who is opening their ears will find out that the words do make sense on a different, i.e. on the musical level, but if you are expecting a plot with a classical developments of characters, it is unavoidable that you get lost.
Please allow me to draw a comparison to the cinema: the vast majority of films have a plot with a concrete story line. And development of characters. This is so to say the foundation of mainstream cinema. In underground cinema, the expectation oft he audience to see such a plot is being subtended. Filmmakers like Kenneth Anger and Peter Greenaway (just to mention two names) make films which require the viewer to give up his expectations and open their eyes for a different way of „development“ on screen which does not have a classical plot. I do not want to overwork the comparison, as the contents/ messages of such films are certainly verydifferent from the LICHT operas, but there is a certain closeness in the make. E.g. Kenneth Anger’s films are structured by a very sophisticated system of symbols, colours, forms and cinematographic means. You will not find something like a tradtional plot, but when you open your eyes, you might find meanings on a different level.
Now, with LICHT, I think the attitude oft he viever/ listener needs tob e quite similar: do not expect any of your previous opera experiences to be confirmed, and you will be rewarded by new insights. I think what Stockhausen wanted to achieve was nothing less than a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. Where Wagner enhanced the importance oft he drama (only), Stockhausen took a step further by melting music (in its traditional meaning), words, visual aesthetics and scents (in DÜFTE_ZEICHEN) in a single form of art, which he again called music.
Now, as a stage director, you have basically two different ways of handling this: (a) following strictly Stockhausen’s instructions, which essentially leads to NOT telling a story in the traditional meaning or (b) telling a story and by doing so, neglecting the specifics of Stockhausen’s MUSICAL LANGUAGE. Obviously, in Basel, Lydia Steier decided to follow the second option, and I have to admit that I was surprised to see that the opera still worked – quite different from Stockhausen’s intention, but it worked in its own way. To me, this only proves how strong the music actually is.
Why is that? I think it is because in DONNERSTAG, there are more remains of classic storytelling than in other operas of LICHT. For example, KINDHEIT does have something like a plot, even if the words often go adrift from it. But there is a dramatic development which a classical opera viewer can follow. Fort he other operas of LICHT, this is different, I think. My perception is that if you hear the operas in their chronological order of composition, you will recognize that Stockhausen step by step freed them from the necessity of telling a classical chronological story.IN SONNTAG finally, it is difficult to find any kind of dramatic plot, as all drama has become part oft he music itself as a kind of inner drama, whereas the outer drama on stage has completely changed into a symbolic ritual.
So what about the above mentioned critics who claim that the LICHT libretti would be „poor“? I think this judgement shows more about the reviewer than it shows about the opera. In LICHT, it does not make sense to review music and text as seperate components oft he opera, you have to see them as one single menas of artistic, of musical expression. If you do not acknowledge this, then you have not understood the specifics of Stockhausen’s music. And, I am a bit sad to say that: Regietheater (director’s theater) stagings will not help reviewers and audience to understand these specifics.
I very much agree to Sven's contribution. Surely from the point of storytelling DONNERSTAG is the most traditional work of the cycle. Already the next opera, SAMSTAG, is totally different. There is no story at all, but every scene has its own theme, and no scene relates to another, though they all unfold themes connected with Lucifer and the theme of death. And quite different again in FREITAG: In the "Realszenen" you again have the unfolding of a linear story - but that is not mirrored in the texts of the libretto. These texts here consist in keywords, and they are almost the same in every scene. But you see the story in the music and in what happens on stage. I myself wonder what in this case (as to the unfolding of the story) is more important: the music or the action on stage. So you could get the idea: The "Realszenen" function like a silent movie, accompanied by a music - track. Maybe an idea for staging the work?
Sorry but I think there is a misunderstanding here. I started writing about this topic because of a remark by Lydia Steier which reminded me of the lament of Boulez. I understand very well what Sven and Thomas wrote about the connection of words and music in LICHT. We all know that Stockhausen put music first but we should not fall into a trap and cease to think independently by only repeating what he said. We should ask ourselves: Is this true, does it function? I understand also that there sometimes is no story at all in LICHT but that does not help us in the given problem of the texts we hear sung during the operas. Please let me repeat the problems: 1) Why does Stockhausen use words nevertheless when they are (supposedly or actually) so absolutely secondary, as was stated by him and is stated here? Are they "only" "music" like the scents, the gestures et cetera? 2) Texts have their rules, too. What are the rules of Stockhausen´s texts? What is their quality? I mention his plan to invent a new language in WELT-PARLAMENT. This, as most in LICHT, was not yet examined, and the "language" can be examined together with the music AND also alone, as text. I do not agree with Thomas who wrote that it would be a catastrophe to publish the texts without music: Stockhausen did it himself by publishing the texts of FREITAG (!!!!) independently. I try to give preliminary answers. In my opinion, Stockhausen was a poet, too. He wrote fictional texts in his youth which remind me of Ernst Wiechert, a now sadly forgotten writer of novels. He wrote poems and other texts in his middle period after GRUPPEN; these can be looked at without pointing to the music (e. g. STIMMUNG). Then he started LICHT and suddenly we are called upon NOT to look at these texts as texts? These texts transport a meaning even if they are put together by chance operations which Stockhausen learned from Meyer-Eppler, and even if they are instigated by the music. I repeat that the texts can be examined because they have the same author like "Humayun" and "Texte aus STIMMUNG", of course by reading the scores parallely but also in comparison with the earlier texts. This would be extremely interesting for instance because Stockhausen thought in degrees, e. g. degrees of comprehensibility. It could be shown whether and how the treatment of language was serial in that sense.
ad 1): I am not sure if we have the same understanding. You ask if the words„ "only" "music" like the scents, the gestures et cetera? This seems to imply that you do differentiate between music (in the „traditional“ meaning) and another „music“ which would consist of all other elements like words, gestures, scents etc. Of course you are free to see it that way, but my understanding is that it was Stockhausen’s intention to integrate those „other“ elements into the music in a way that you do not have „the music“ on the one hand side and „the other elements collectively called (by chance?) by the same term „music“. Instead, his vision, according to my understanding, was to create one (single and undividable) new musical language, and the elements oft hat music would be the notes, the words, the gestures etc. in equal parts.
I think that if we try to see it through Stockhausen’s eyes, this might be the best way to understand the meaning of the words, not as a libretto in the traditional meaning, but as one amongst several, ultimately undistinguishable parts of the music.
ad 2): I see a special quality in the LICHT words (I am striving a bit against using the term „libretto“ fort he above mentioned reasons) in their music-like openness. Stockhausen uses a lot of „incomplete“ phrases, somestimes only single words, sometimes merely words, but rather phonetic arrangements, which again might remind the listener of other words she/he knows from other contexts. From my perspective, there is no point in trying to understand such phrases in a way we try to understand everyday language. One should not try to identify a certain grammar which resembles e.g. German or English grammar.
For me, the LICHT language works best when I try NOT to understand something specific at all, because then (and only then), I allow my subcounsciousness to establish connections by menas of associations/ connotations. Just to give one example: the name „Luzeva“ coonotates to Luzifer, but also to Eva, which is quite obvious at first glance. But then there is more to it: „Lu“ reminds of Luna/Lune, i.e. Moon, or to Luft/ air. And every listener might have further personal connotations when listening tot he word and its phonetics. So this short name condenses not one or two, but a multitude of potential meanings, which enables and encourages the listener to interprete and draw further conclusions.
Putting this into a wider context, if you adduce not only the words, but also the scents, colours etc. into such approach, you will see that Stockhausen invented nothing less than a quasi qabalistic system of symbols and their respective correspondences. E.g. in the hermetic qabalah, when you say moon, then at the same time you think of/ you mean dark blue, silver (as material or colour), the scent of jasmin, the quality of dissolution/ letting go etc. Now, obviously Stockhausen did not copy 1:1 any known qabalistic system, but it is striking how he invented an own musical system (in the meaning set out above) which is structred by a very qabalistic-like structure which is based on the same way of associative thinking.
One thing that I am finding interesting during my time here in Kürten studying in the Archives is that it doesn't seem to me quite so simple as saying that the music always came first. At least it did not always come totally first in the temporal sense. Often quite a lot of text was written before the music was written in any detail, beyond the broad structure shaped by the Superformula. But then often - very often, in fact - there would be considerable changes to the libretto, it seems because of the needs of the music, as Stockhausen proceeded to compose. So, while the music was not always written first, it was obviously to a very large extent the major priority, the more significant driver.
As for whether the text can stand and be appreciated independently of the music, I think that is quite a different question and my simple answer is that it can, but it is severely compromised, or at least is very much less interesting, independently of the music. We know that many parts of LICHT are also available in formats where there are no singers, no libretto, just the music. I think even these are at their most interesting when heard with the text, rather than without it (even pieces where there is very little singing in the opera, such as LUZIFERs TRAUM), but I think this difference is even starker in the case of considering the texts without the music.
Even so, I for one love to read the texts of some of the operas purely as musical poetry. I think they are clearly musical poetry, in the sense that they are full of interesting rhythms and vocal timbres. They are conceived musically, at least as much as they are conceived in a literary sense. This doesn't mean that their relationship wth the other aspects of the music is totally bound, but it does mean that it will be in that context that they make the most sense, and where the connections will be the richest. I very much agree with Adorjan that it would be a wonderful and fascinating thing to explore those connections in real detail.
I personally think, too, that Stockhausen was a much more imaginative poet than, say, Wagner - even though for Wagner the text had greater primacy than it did for Stockhausen. But, even so, the best way to experience either the text or the music is, of course, together - but I think we could all agree on that!
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!