Given all of the discussions that have been taking place here over the past few weeks in the wake of the Basel production of DONNERSTAG aus LICHT, I thought it might be useful to start a new thread on the broader issues that that discussion has evoked - that is, the question of Werktreue and what it means in relation to the music of Stockhausen.
'Werktreue' is, of course, a very fraught and complex term in many, many ways, especially in musical works which, for a whole variety of reasons, have a whole heap of factors that influence how the work, as composed by the composer, can be understood. Most typically, this is because of the passage of time, and how that effects our relationship to, and experience of, a piece of music that might have been written in a vastly different time and under vastly different social and artistic circumstances than the ones in which we hear it today. We never, as listeners and audiences and students, experience a work exactly as the composer created it. Every note could be played exactly as it would have been played when the composer composed it, the instruments and the technology and the performance space could be exactly what the composer used, and the performance instructions could be researched and followed to the letter of what they meant when the composer wrote them down, and still our experience would be different from the original. We listen in a different time, from the perspective of different experiences, with different ears that have heard different musical traditions.
This all makes questions of Werktreue very difficult to pin down and answer unequivocally, especially in works of, say, the classical and baroque era where the dislocation between our world and the world of the composer is so stark. But how do those questions relate to music such as that of Stockhausen, where there is not such a huge gap between the context and time of the work's creation and that of our experience of it? Does that mean that questions of Werktreue are easier to answer, or more difficult? Does the closeness in time, and the detail of Stockhausen's directions in the score, give us a real or a false sense of clarity and certainty about what the work is all about? How do we apply concepts of Werktreue to a work such as LICHT which is so deeply imbued with layers of meaning, many of which reached beyond that of which even Stockhausen himself was consciously aware? How do we be 'true' to a work that has so much to it? Is it as simple as doing what's in the score and neither adding nor taking anything away? Is that even possible? And if it is possible, is it desirable?
My own views on this issue are evolving, the more I listen to what people say - both in this forum and elsewhere. I would love to hear more thoughts on the issue.
Looking forward to anyone's and everyone's thoughts!
That is a very complex theme with many layers, indeed. Therefore just some ideas: I agree, there cannot be a mechanical reproduction of a score into a performance. Everything changes, and I am sure that even Stockhausen himself would at the end of his life have another attitude to LICHT after all his experiences with KLANG. I think it was Thomas Mann, who once said: When a novel is finished, it starts a life of its own, and even the creator does not have a priveledge of understanding. But, nevertheless, I feel that there is a fundamental difference between a composer and a stage director. The latter is not totally free, but depends on the work, and therefore is not a creator of its own. But to be dependent in a field that deals with the arts, is not easy. In this profession therefore I think a strong ethical foundation is necessary. As Walter Zimmermann put it: Essential is humility, and this virtue is not very popular... What came to my mind as a central guideline for interpretation is the following: To look for the problems of a work and then try to solve them. Every important work has a lot of problems - therefore it is important and stays to be important. Therefore at first you have to go as deeply as possible into such a work and ask yourself: What is the kernel here? As an example: When we look at DONNERSTAG aus LICHT, for me one of the main issues is the person of Michael. On the one hand an individual person with his personal story like every earthly being - but on the other hand a cosmic power, an eternal energy, that incarnates in a certain time, but is far more than that. What is the relationship of these two aspects - is it possible to show them both, possibly in every moment of the story? That for me is an essential problem and a big challenge for a stage director who has to activate all his abilities to find a solution that works on stage. That would unite the two aspects of such a work: First to go deeply into the score, and then to activate the own creativity. And the more central the problem is that the stage director tackles, the more important that will be what we see on stage. In that respect Basel failed, for the problem that this interpretation tackled, was not important, but irrelevant (sure, for me...).
Thank you for this Thomas. I had not thought of it as a question of solving problems before - but that is certainly a very interesting way of thinking about it. I think Stockhausen often thought of himself as seeking to solve new compositional problems in all of his works and of course, as we know from Hegel, each solution to one problem becomes a new thesis for a new problem and so what you say makes a lot of sense to me.
I think, too, with Stockhausen, the issue of loyalty to his work is a very wide-reaching one. We are very blessed to have so much information at our fingertips about what was important to him in each of his compositions, and in his music more generally. It all gives us such a huge and broad sense of what he was aiming to do, and what he wanted us to learn. I think any performer of Stockhausen's work - whether it be a musician, a stage director, a sound producer, a designer, anyone really - has so much to learn and to gain from delving into the huge wealth and richness of material that Stockhausen has left us, as well as, of course, the wealth of knowledge still with us in the people who lived and worked with him so closely.
I have been finding, the more I read and the more I talk with people, the more things I discover to be important in understanding how Werktreue applies to Stockhausen's work. This can seem very daunting in some ways - there are so many things to consider: the problems raised by an individual work, as you say Thomas; the spiritual dimensions and the many ways in which Stockhausen understood these to be manifested both in the cosmos and in ourselves as human beings; his passion for creating music that would inspire humans to connect with something bigger than their prosaic lives; his determination to create music that would further the growth of music beyond his own. I think all of these, and so much more, are important to think about when trying to be loyal to Stockhausen's work - plus, of course, all the details that are there in each of the scores.
It is impossible, I think, to imagine an approach that captures all of these equally. But I think Stockhausen would want us to seek our own answers to the many possibilities he laid out for us, and to seek our own ways of growing the many seeds he planted. In that sense, I think that creativity and innovation is part of Werktreue to Stockhausen. But that does not mean that anything goes, of course ... and therein lies the challenge and the conundrum: being happy to be surprised by the plant that grows, no matter how different it might be to what we expected, while still be somehow assured that it comes from the seed that was so carefully planted and that we respect so much.
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!