Compared to a lot of people on this forum I'm a bit of a newcomer to Stockhausen - I'm 18 years old and I only really discovered how amazing his music is a couple of months ago. I'd been aware of his music for a while and there were a few of his pieces that had been instant hits such as the HELIKOPTER-STREICHQUARTETT but I had never really thought of exploring his music that much until someone on a forum suggested that I try MANTRA, which was what really started it for me. Since then I've listened to a lot of Stockhausen's music and am loving it, but there is still one major gap in my listening appreciation which is that Stockhausen's works from 1975 onwards haven't really done much for me yet, which is a shame since I've read a lot of ecstatic reviews about the LICHT cycle especially. Where are you guys at in your journey? What was your experience discovering Stockhausen's music? Do you have any advice for a newcomer like me with listening to Stockhausen's later works?
That is such an interesting question! My journey in Stockhausen's music has also been relatively new compared to many others - I began to first listen to his music with real passionate seriousness only eight years ago - but it has become a very intense passion for me, and really now the major focus not only of my absorption in music, but of my life, really. Other than in these times of isolation and quarantine, I tend to travel from my home here in Australia to Europe for whatever Stockhausen I can (concerts, operas, study) at least once a year and sometimes twice. So even though it is a new journey for me too, it's a very earnest one. I don't know where you live, but if you are possibly able to get to the Stockhausen Courses that are held every two years in Kürten, I think you will find that a great way to feed your enthusiasm. It's a wonderful environment, and amazing concerts every night. The next courses are due in 2021, usually at the end of July.
As for appreciating Stockhausen's later music, that's a very big question to answer but, in short, I think one of the things that is important with any Stockhausen is to keep in mind that he was always trying to explore new ideas in everything he wrote. So every piece of music has to be approached as something new, without being too heavily shaped by expectations from what you have heard elsewhere, even from other works of Stockhausen. I think there are three main aspects to this: First, his music almost always has an element of connection with universal themes, and almost always in a very positive, uplifting sort of way. For him this is always very religious, but I personally believe it can be understood in very human ways too, as in notions of shared humanity, and the shared human quest for meaning, and so on (but others disagree with me on this). So there will always be that. Second,always there will be some over-arching musical plan too - some scheme or system of organising the music, within which Stockhausen gives a cohesive structure to the piece. Third, he then creates and composes within that structure with amazing spontaneity and vitality, often breaking his own rules and and everything sounding so organic. And then in each piece, and in each stage of his compositional life, the ways in which he does these three things will differ a lot, and looking for his approach to any of them can always be so fascinating. Everyone will be a little different in which of these they find the most interesting: the ways in which he connects with universal spiritual and human themes in the music; the schemes and system he adopts for giving the piece its sense of structure; the individual ideas that he creates and that blossom in the piece.
In the case of LICHT, the first of these is, as I hear it, through the characters of Michael, Eve, and Lucifer, who all represent different but deeply connected aspects of universal truth. Many see these as spiritual themes, which is how Stockhausen conceived them too. But I see them as different aspects of being human - different threads of being that weave and tangle through us all. But in either case, LICHT is about this constant journey of these three archetypal energies, each of which has its role to play in the totality and, in LICHT, you are always both invited and challenged to look at them in different ways, and always there is something marvellous and surprising to discover about each of them.
In terms of its overall structure,there is of course the use of the Superformula - the single page of music that provides the essential DNA of the whole 29 hours of LICHT: three strands of music, one for each of Michael, Eve, and Lucifer. The relationships between the pitches, the note durations, the tempi, the dynamics, the timbres, within those three formulas, the Superformula, provide the overall structure of the whole of LICHT and, at different levels, also for the music within each opera, each Act, each Scene, each page of music. It can be endlessly fascinating: whether you choose to study the scores in depth, or simply want to listen without the scores, you begin noticing, more and more often, how Michael's formula, or Eve's, or Lucifer's, appear at different times, in different ways, in different fragments and combinations. The more you listen, the more those formulas, and therefore the energies of Michael, Eve, and Lucifer that they represent, become your friends.
Then, finally, there is the individual creativity of each scene. Once you get used to the overall sound-world of LICHT (and you will!!) you begin to be totally taken by the different individual worlds that Stockhausen creates within it - from the quartet and helicopters of the HELIKOPTER-STREICHQUARTETT, which grabbed you initially, to the eerie percussion and flute of KATHINKAs GESANG als LUZIFERs REQUIEM, to the cosmic electronics of INVASION-EXPLOSION, to the intimate vocal polyphony of KINDHEIT. Evey scene is something new and different! And yet all of it is built out of the same basic musical building blocks - the Superformula.
So ultimately my advice is just to keep listening. There is so much there, and when we allow ourselves to be open to it, and train ourselves not to expect to hear what we have heard before in HYMNEN or MANTRA, we will find some astonishing things. It is the constant newness of Stockhausen that is both the perpetual challenge and reward that he provides to us.
For me, LICHT has been one of the most fulfilling musical journeys I have ever had, and still I find, even after doing a PhD on it, that it surprises me and thrills me!
The personal experience in discovering the music of Stockhausen that is a very personal theme indeed, and every single person will have her or his own remembrances and other things that are helpful. When I think of my own story: Long ago, as a school-boy being attracted to Stockhausen was more out of a spirit of contradiction: When even Adorno, the Pope of modernism, spoke of the young Stockhausen as a naughty lad There was something fascinating in for instance GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE, but I had no idea what that could be. What helped was listening over and over again. And then, much later, trying to perform a score. I am no musician, but I liked to sing: Schubert, Carl Loewe, Fauré, and I got lessons in singing, and finally my teacher and I came to TIERKREIS. I trained for months these 12 melodies I am sure my intonation was horrible, but nevertheless I really got into it, and after some time each of the melodies became, as we say in German, an Ohrwurm, a catchy tune. Not a strenuous, a stressing avantgarde, but very characteristic music of joy. The other work I began to practise were the movements of INORI in the Kürten courses with Alain Louafi even when you are unable to learn more than the first few pages of the score, your personal benefit is enormous. And everybody can do that! The experience of the Kürten courses is also very helpful and important. 10 days from morning to night just the sound of Stockhausen you really get into it! And you realise the overwhelming richness of his music, so many different traces and styles, unbelievable. As Ian said: When you have the time to participate in these courses, you should do that! For me live-performances are absolutely essential. And when you have the opportunity to be in the audience when an opera is staged that can be a mind-changing event. But: The performance has to be as daring as the music is. In this way I was lucky to see FREITAG in Leipzig, unforgettable. And then I was privileged to collaborate with the Spanish stage-team La Fura in MICHAELs REISE, also a daring enterprise I could listen nearly a hundred times to that work in the rehearsals and performances, and then, when you know a work nearly by heart, you can understand how rich the music is and how many layers of meaning and beauty are there to discover. But still I feel: There are works, that do not open to me for a deeper understanding. For me that is the case with MANTRA. I know and I feel: It is a very very important work. Intellectually I know what happens in the score but I cannot hear that, even though I attended many performances with different pianists over and over again. But, what comes to my mind, is what Johannes Fritsch once said, when he presented TELEMUSIK long ago in Berlin: That is not my first presentation. I listened to that piece more than 150 times. Now there begins to evolve an idea, what really happens in this piece and what it is about. So, sometimes patience and endurance. But also, and not seldom: spontaneous enthusiasm!
Soni, thank you for your hint. No, I do not know this interpretation. But, my problem is not a problem of interpretation, more a problem of understanding. MANTRA has a very lucid construction, unfolds from the one formula, that is present in every moment. But I do not realize that, when I listen to the work. So for me MANTRA is much more difficult than LICHT. Here the formulas are also present in every moment, but I can hear this and that motive, moving and changing, and that makes sense in most cases immediately. But, I must admit, not always. LICHT-BILDER from SONNTAG for me has something of a rather dry exercise. When you come to LICHT, my advice is: Please don't start with this scene ...
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!