For most people, the opera Monday From Light marks the moment when Stockhausen fell off the radar, as from this point onwards releases were only available by mail-order from Stockhausen's own independent label in Germany. It's a pity, since it's one of the most beautiful and hilarious entries in the LICHT opera cycle, and is devoted to "woman". Anyways, here's my report on "EVE's Day" of Light.
Kathinka once explained to me that "Rhodondendron!" is an exclamation of dismay used by Dutch schoolgirls, in much the same way as Americans might say, "Oh, fudge!" or something similar, substituting for a word that might earn them a mouth-washing with soap had they actually used it.
By the way, just adding here to Ed's initial reference to the humour in MONTAG. I was fascinated by a comment that Stockhausen made in his interview with Jerry, published in Perspectives of New Music 32:2 (1985), 24-39, where he said (in the context of Lucifer and SAMSTAG): 'humor is always connected with something that frightens you, and yet you laugh, because laughing is a liberation in this context'. It is a remark that I always keep in mind when I encounter humour in Stockhausen's music, particularly the humour in LICHT associated with Lucifer. Almost always there is an element of terror lying somewhere beneath it too. It is, of course,very much aligned with what Freud had said about humour.
The choices KS made regarding the content of the Sound Scenes are really funny to me, almost in a Monty Python kind of way. The sounds of lumber being cut, toilet flushes, airplane crashes (followed by an orgasm) - these and some other non-sequiturs really crack me up.
I was just rewatching Lichtwerke which has much of MONTAG on film. 1 - Why is there not a full video production of the entire opera? 2 - Why is this not being mounted right now? I'm not even a director yet I can see so many possibilities with today's technology...
- Ed Chang - Stockhausen - Sounds in Space: Analysis, explanation and personal impressions of the works of the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. - http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/
Joining together the observation about humour usually containing something frightening with the comical sound-scenes in Montag, I remember one sound-scene in particular from the seminars and performance of Der Kinderfänger in Kürten back in 2002, which is when the jet-fighter suddenly swoops in low overhead from the back of the hall toward the front. This has nothing like the same effect when heard on the CD recording. Not all of Stockhausen's spatialisations work as well as that one, but it was definitely time to retire discreetly and change underwear, and it caught me by surprise every time! It was that year, too, that Nick and Alain first performed the concert version of Luzifers Zorn, a performance that had everyone rolling in the aisles. Such low humour! Disgraceful! You wouldn't want something like that done in a dignified place like an opera house! Just imagine, people might laugh!
A great story Jerry and you are right - we cannot possibly have people laughing in an opera house. The indignity and crassness of it all!
I guess the never-forget moment of humour connecting with terror (literally in this case!) was in Nicholas and Alain's performance at last year's courses, where Nicholas called out 'Allahu Akhbar', and then mimed an explosion, as he climbed into the coffin at the end: something, I note, that he didn't choose (or dare?) to do at the rehearsal earlier in the day! An impulsive decision from Lucifer to remind us of greatest work of art, I assume.
Dear Ian, don't be unfair towards classical opera tradition. I remember many nights leaving the temple of a classical opera house very very amused, after a performance of a baroque opera or Rossini, Verdi's Falstaff; if the directors team is full of phantasy, there may be slapstick moments in many classical masterworks. But Luzifers Zorn is a very special thing, there you are right. What comes to my mind in that respect is the opposite thing: Are there moments in LICHT, where you are simply emotionally overwhelmed, in tears, maybe as in a very good performance of Tristan or Beethoven's Fidelio for instance? When I think of what comes to my mind from LICHT, I have the impression: There is always a kind of distance, maybe caused by the big construction of the whole thing - or is it something didactic that often plays a role in Stockhausen's works, or the religious frame so that nothing definitely tragic will happen, because everything finally is in good hands, in a good order - or what is it? Even in the terror of war in DIENSTAG there is an order finally, and it ends in laughter. Also PIETA is very beautiful and in a way moving - but there is always the impression: Everything is in a good, in a perfect order.
I think perhaps both Ian and myself need to remember to embellish our posts with emoticons (, ,, etc.) whenever we are speaking ironically. When I expressed mock outrage at the idea of operas being actually entertaining, I was thinking first and foremost of some of the reviews of the Birmingham production of Mittwoch, which found praise for most of the opera, while deploring the Helicopter Quartet and, especially, the antics of DJ Nihal, describing both as exhibiting the "crassness of the modern television age" (Stephen Pritchard, in the Observer), or finding Michaelion as 40 minutes of "vacuous chill-out wittering", despite "passages of dazzling virtuosity for brass instruments" (Rupert Christiansen, in The Telegraph). Plainly, it was the low humour in both of these scenes that were "at fault", though by no means did all the reviewers take this position, and the audience certainly did not. A good many of them probably enjoyed DJ Nihal's presentation best of all, and the Helicopter Quartet drew a huge amount of attention simply because of what it involved. I think this is called "showmanship". Michaelion also has its share of low humour (Luzikamel defecating seven planets, the gargling ambassador, etc.), and a certain amount occurs in the first two scenes as well. I didn't notice any objections coming from the audience during the performance, only sniffs of indignation from a few (and I emphasize the word few) critics afterward.
To return to the topic of this thread, I remember reading the reviews of the La Scala production of Montag, many of which dwelt on the bathroom humour in the "Knaben-Geschrei" scene in act 1, and on the penetration of the Eve statue by the enlarged grand piano in "Befruchtung mit Klavierstück" in act 2. Tastes will vary, of course, and perhaps the Italian critics found Stockhausen's humour a little coarse in these scenes, but their disdain of these details tended to obscure their view of the rest of the opera, including "Luzifers Zorn" (except of course for the flushing toilet in that one sound scene). Regrettably, I was not in Milan for these performances, so I cannot say what the audience reaction was to these and the many other examples of low humour in Montag, but I was at the performances of Luzifers Zorn in Kürten, both in 2002 and last year, and all I noticed about the audiences is that they were laughing out loud, and laughing very hard, indeed. A generous portion of the credit here is due to Nick Isherwood and Alain Louafi, whose rubber-faced mugging is a wonder to behold (Rowan Atkinson, eat your heart out!). One more reason to lament having only a CD audio recording of this opera to listen to. This is not to say that Stockhausen has a monopoly on this sort of thing. I remember a production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, in which the barbershop scene involved so much slapstick application of shaving cream that the production was literally brought to a stop when a bassoonist hoisted an umbrella up out of the orchestra pit, and the singers were laughing so hard they could not even breathe, let alone sing. However, such moments are usually credited to (or blamed on) the stage director, rather than the composer, and the offended critics can always close their eyes for a few minutes until the hubbub around them dies down, and the real performance resumes again. It is harder to ignore these moments when they are not only written into the score, but also supplied in "sound scenes". Then the only remedy is to stage the opera in a lunatic asylum.
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!