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Ulrich Offline

Posts: 200
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Thu Aug 17, 2017 10:58 pm
Religion on stage reply

It was often stated: Stockhausen treated religious belief not only as a private matter. His religious conviction for him was a source of artistic inspiration and therefore the theme of religion is not a hidden background, but openly shown in many of his works. INORI is a main example with its gestures of prayer, and the opera cycle is religious in nearly all of its layers. That seems to by a main reason of the resistence against his work that at least the German opera houses show. For me that was a strong suspicion; now I read an articel on this subject, that raised this suspicion to certainty:
It is a text in German by author Dirk Pilz on, were he resumes the treatment of religion on German stages in the last years or decades that is characterised by arrogance and stupidity. Thus it is not only Stockhausen that suffers from this, but it is a general habit. It is clear that also in the production of DONNERSTAG in Basel last year you can detect this - a case of intellectual conformism, that even is proud, because this attitude seems to be up to date and modern...

ipar1306 Offline

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Fri Aug 18, 2017 1:18 pm
#2 RE: Religion on stage reply

Thank you very much Thomas for posting about this, and for the link to the article. I will read it carefully, but this will take me some time as my German is slow, and i will need to translate some of it into English (I have just tried to do this by the automatic translator on Google Chrome, but the translation is often clumsy and misleading).

But this is a topic that is very dear to me and I very much like to think about it and understand it better. I am not a religious person, but I am deeply interested in theology and in what we learn about ourselves, and about the possibility of the Beyond, from it.

I find it strange that there is such resistance to the religious and spiritual elements in Stockhausen's music when there seems to be no such resistance to these elements in the music of, for example, Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe it has something to do with the role of a theatre director. Even an atheist can respond very deeply to the music of the Bach B minor Mass or to his St Matthew Passion, for example, because the music speaks to something deep and profound that we all share, regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack of them. This, for every listener, is a deeply personal and private thing. But for a theatre director it is a public thing and so the question becomes more difficult: "how do I bring this spiritual content to stage in a way that will be meaningful even to the person who is an atheist?".

I believe the universal depth, and profound beauty, of Stockhausen's music is something that resonates on many levels - the spiritual, the cosmic, the mathematical, the deeply human. All of these I think were different versions of the same thing for Stockhausen. I agree very much with what you have often said, Thomas, that the stage director must work hard to bring these many levels of universality onto the stage, rather than limit them by making their interpretation too individual. We might differ, however, on whether or not a particular staging (such as Basel, for example) did or did not do this.

As Rudolf Otto has written, and even as a non-religious person, I agree with him, that the 'idea of the holy' is within all of us. The religious person will describe it in terms of holiness and God, the atheist will describe it in different words - such as a sense of profound wonder and awe at life, or at nature, or at the beauty of mathematics and the cosmos. This uniquely, and deeply, human experience is something Stockhausen captured in his music and I believe it is always vital to seek to project it in any performance of his works, whether by a musician or by a theatre director. I just believe that, because we humans experience this in so many different and personal ways, there will be many solutions for presenting it in performance. Sometimes those solutions might seem to miss the point to some of its audience, while to others it will seem to be right on point. It is always difficult because the stage is so public, but our connection with music is so private.

So I guess ultimately I am saying that I think stage directors should never be afraid to show spiritual themes on stage, because they may often miss the essence of a work when they do so; but also we as audiences must always be open to the very many different and unexpected ways that this might happen. If we, as humans, are the atoms of God, as Stockhausen sometimes said, then maybe even just a study of the atom is itself a spiritual and religious thing. But always, even presenting just the atom on stage, is a difficult and fraught thing, because it, like God or the cosmos or the numbers of Pythagoras, symbolises to so many different people so many different sides of the same universal reality. And for one person, the atom closes down that reality, reduces it to the tiniest smallness, while to another it contains the essence of everything huge and magnificent.

Thank you again, Thomas, for this post.


Ulrich Offline

Posts: 200
Points: 200

Sun Aug 20, 2017 11:25 pm
#3 RE: Religion on stage reply

I agree very much with your statement, Ian, that a religious concern can show itself in many ways, even in such that seem to be irreligious on the surface - when there is, as Paul Tillich has put it, an "ultimate concern". But, what we encounter on German stages since decades, is quite another thing:prejudice and pure stupidity. Thus since decades in many productions when a priest appears on stage the action of raping takes place (especially sad in a production of Massenets "Werther"; the theme of poetic love vanished totally, because the stage team seemed so enthusiastic about this automatic connection between priest and raping, that very very often priests had to appear, in order to repeat this effect). Or when the story deals with nuns, you can bet you will see costumes with bare breasts etc - in Poulencs opera, in Puccinis Suor Angelica) - some especially sad examples. The facts often are very superficial - not any attempt, to present a religious work to an audience, that has no idea of religion. But the artists on stage themselves have no idea, and they feel well about that because religion is a product of superstition, oppresses people, is a product of repressive times and thinking. Therefore a composer like Stockhausen, who deals with these themes, cannot be looked at other than strange or even ridiculous - the more when it is an artist, who acts more like an avangardist than all other modern composers.

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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