The saving grave of LICHT imo, is the fact that you can approach it from so many angles. So if in the end, posterity isn't kind to the whole, due to its libretti, impracticality of realization etc., than perhaps it can be be appreciated outside of that context with all of its self-sufficient pieces, 100s of them. I often wonder if Stockhausen was thinking that too .. that if in the end, all this work and time he invested is greatly neglected longterm than perhaps (at least) pieces of it will survive into the future. For me, the later operas are stronger than the earlier ones as a whole - but all of them do contain incredible masterpieces.
James, I trust that the word "grave" is just a typo, and not a Freudian slip!
For the sake of discussion, I would like to assume that, when you say you find "the later operas are stronger than the earlier ones as a whole," you are referring specifically to the libretti. Would you care to expand on this, with specific references (for example) to the second and second-last operas to be composed, SAMSTAG and MITTWOCH? Both of these operas have whole scenes with practically no text at all, of course (KATHINKAs GESANG, ORCHESTER-FINALISTEN, HELICOPTER STRING QUARTET). How would you compare (1) the literary merits and (2) the operatic effectiveness of the libretti of the remaining scenes? (If you find these two operas less interesting to compare, then by all means choose two others. For example, I immediately think of the two scenes of the third act of DONNERSTAG—"Festival" and "Vision"—in comparison to the third and final scenes of SONNTAG—"Licht-Bilder" and "Hoch-Zeiten," as having interesting similarities and differences.)
As long as I have got you pinned down, can we not compare those librettos? To follow up my own suggestion, I find one significant and very obvious difference between the choral scenes in SAMSTAG (LUZIFERs ABSCHIED) and MITTWOCH (WELT-PARLAMENT and MICHAELION), in that the former uses an Italian translation of Saint Francis of Assisi's "Salutatio Virtutum", while the latter two are entirely of Stockhausen's own making, and involve multi-lingual aspects (including "invented" language). Of course LUZIFERs ABSCHIED was composed on a commission for a celebration of the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis, but is it also possible that Stockhausen was at this point less sure of his own literary skills than he became later? Another question in my mind is why the Italian language? There is some evidence that Stockhausen mistakenly thought this was Saint Francis's original text (it was actually written in Latin, of course), and the commission was for a performance in Assisi. Furthermore, the staged premiere of the entire opera took place in Milan, and I remember speaking with some audience members there who had difficulty following the German text of scenes 1 and 3, but of course found Saint Francis's text not only intelligible but familiar. Did Stockhausen mean the text of this scene to be particularly plain to the audience, compared to the choral scenes in MITTWOCH? If so, does this mean it ought to be translated into a different language when performed in a country where Italian is not spoken? On the other hand, what does comprehensibility mean in a multilingual scene like WELT-PARLAMENT or in more extreme cases such as (in SONNTAG) ENGEL-PROZESSIONEN or HOCH-ZEITEN? Turning to the question of literary merit, when we are hearing texts in five or seven different languages, how much value is there in the quality of the poetry, as opposed to the phonetic content?
Should we use at all the term "libretto" for the LICHT-operas? In some cases obviously it is appropriate (for instance DONNERSTAG Act 1 and 3) - but when I think of SAMSTAG: Where is the libretto? There is just this text by St. Francis. Often the texts point to the making or the appearance of the music (LUZIFERs TANZ) or to the folk on stage and their meaning(ENGEL-PROZESSIONEN) - that is not a classical libretto-text. And the texts of the HOCH-ZEITEN for choir in 5 languages: for me it transfers more a concept of the ONE world we live in and the exchange of cultures in the exchange of languages; I guess the texts have no special meaning (apart from the fact that they refer to love and religion in general), and they are not connected specifically to what is going on in the music. Therefore I would say: There is no traditional libretto; it would have been useless if Stockhausen asked a poet or a novelist (as f.i. Thomas von Steinaecker, who loves his work) to write a text. LICHT is a drama of the three formulas, and therefore no one but he himself could "compose" and choose the words that were necessary or appropriate.
First remark: I can find the following on the website of the Stockhausen-Verlag (Bücher/books): Karlheinz Stockhausen: Libretti der Opern. Second remark: Even if it is a drama of three formulas, Stockhausen decided to use certain words and sentences. He made a choice. He said that other choices would have been possible to the same music. This brings us to the question of the quality of his choices. Third remark: A writer with literary merits could have been able to understand the drama of the three formulas. There is no principle obstacle for another person to write a libretto for LICHT. Of course, it would have been more complicated. That is surely one of the reasons why Stockhausen decided not to go this way.
Jerry .. to be honest with you, I don't even pay attention to the words of most music. Regarding LICHT, I don't even understand the words 99% of the time. I've looked at the texts of them from time to time and my eyes glaze over, or I'm just not that interested. For me, LICHT works very well as music at home. In fact, much more fascinating to listen-to than most "opera" I've heard. And that is my primary focus .. the music, and how it sounds. Perhaps if they were staged more live, (or perhaps released on video format) i'd be able to gauge them as unfolding theater works better, and take notice to what is being said more closely. But the words seem secondary (or lower) to the music as you said earlier. But if folks here want to compare and contrast the libretti of the various opera scenes etc. I'd love to read that. I would also be very interested in checking out Joe's dissertation.
One I can understand as I'm listening to it is SIRIUS (the album) as it is in my mother tongue (english). What do folks think about the text of this one? Personally, I find it kind-of playful, childish and silly .. yet the music of the actual piece, the polyphony, is extraordinary. Some folks take umbridge with the sound of the electronics in this one too, but that is a different matter.
I think it is important to examine Licht objectively. Because Stockhausen uses the term 'opera', we should examine it as such. When we compare its libretto to other operas, we immediately see the obvious. As Thomas says, it is rarely a traditional libretto.
As we know, when Stockhausen moves in and out of comprehensibility, that is an important signal. When an opera has a fairly linear, comprehensible text like Montag or Freitag, that stands apart from the taciturn Samstag. Kindheit shows the two extremes at work simultaneously. Read apart, the three vocal parts contain quite a heartbreaking depiction of Stockhausen's childhood. But Stockhausen layers all three parts on top of each other (plus UC) and at such a rapid clip, that the text becomes far less comprehensible than it would in a more traditional opera, which would have enough material in Kindheit alone for an entire act, if not the whole work. Within Freitag, there is a whole other layer of incomprehensible text in the sound scenes that sits next to the fairly straightforward text of the real scenes. That juxtaposition is very meaningful, especially when the two layers are joined during Elufa.
To properly analyze the libretto, it is important to treat it as if it were any other opera libretto. Then, Stockhausen's idiosyncrasies become easier to evaluate. This is part of why it is so frustrating to have libretti that gloss over repeated words and phonetic passages.
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!