I just read the preview to the new season (2014/15) of Berlin State Opera, and there a Stockhausen-evening is announced. And what do they present? One of the big operas? Berlin has 3 big opera houses, financed with public money, but up to now not a single work of his was produced there. But now!! But not on the big stage - in a small experimental room: ORIGINALE. A hommage to the fluxus-movement (in this way it is announced). For me bizarre. And that brings me to the old question, why his big works are not presented by those institutions who could. You need not risk bankrupt, when you plan it properly. Is it still the religious theme? I cannot believe that, for we also had Messiaen's work on St. Francis here, also not very easy to realize. But it is not only concerning the big operas; I also cannot understand, why for instance KLAVIERSTÜCK IX never is presented in a recital, for me a very accessible and beautiful work, and perhaps not so difficult as KLAVIERSTÜCK X - but that, if played with passion, could generate an enormous effect on every audience nowadays...
...especially if you think about the fact that billions of Euros are being thrown out of the window (5,1 bn € until the end of this year!!!) for an airport whose opening is postponed from year to year which is for me one of the biggest scandals in German politics. The money for BER would be sufficient for several performances of LICHT, KLANG, SIRIUS and, and, and...
I don't want to go into very many particular details on a public forum about booking Stockhausen, but I'd be happy to discuss with people privately (for example, the film "Noah" has direct impact on the musikFabrik booking if you are curious). Here in NYC, there is only so much Stockhausen that the market will bear. Even for a large arts institution, there are limited dollars, and they know very well what their market will support. The main arts campus in NYC is Lincoln Center, and when the "contemporary" opera company tried to relocate to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), they lost most of their donor base. Lincoln Center has a very parochial audience of Manhattanites who would never travel to Brooklyn for a show. The distance between Lincoln Center and BAM is about the same as it is from Berlin Oper to Komische Oper Berlin. On a cosmic scale, the distance is nothing, but for producers who know their demographics, this distance can be insurmountable.
I'm sure that the Berlin State Opera knows what they can sell tickets to and what they cannot. Their decisions are not divorced from these realities.
For the sake of us non-Germans, what airport are you talking about, Christian?
@Joe: Berlin is getting a new airport to replace the both old ones Tegel and Schönefeld. This new airport (with the abbreviation BER) is one of Germany's biggest scandals, besides Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie. In both cases the costs are exploding into dimensions Stockhausen would call "transreal". In the Berlin case the opening is being postponded again and again because the construction doesn't work - in the real sense of the word. Politicians are fighting with or even fireing the architects, though the politicians are the main responsables for they have constantly demanded changing the plans. And the European neighbours are astounded that the "perfect" Germas seem to be unable to build an airport... Not so wrong, their impression...
In Kurtz' book, he has that wonderful passage about young Stockhausen traveling around to see all the "originals" in the area, quirky local characters that populate small towns everywhere. I've assumed that the title Originale partially refers to these characters from his childhood, but I don't remember seeing that explicitly printed anywhere. The score is dedicated to Bauermeister and the Cologne "originals", which I assume to mean the other performers of the piece.
Joe, I think the title ORIGINALE does not necessarily imply eccentric personalities. If I am reading Mary Bauermeister correctly (pp. 64–66ff of "Ich hänge im Triolengitter"), it means "authentic" people, doing what they ordinarily do in everyday life. If those people are in fact eccentrics, that is one thing, but a newspaper vendor selling newspapers only becomes "strange" when doing this on a stage in front of an audience. It is an effect similar to hanging up an empty picture frame on a wall, which suddenly transforms the smudges, flaking paint, and cracks in the plaster into "a picture". John Cage's 4'33'' does exactly the same thing for the sounds that happen to be occurring around us all the time. Bertolt Brecht coined the term Verfremdungseffekt (variously translated as "distancing effect", "alienation effect", or "estrangement effect" for a similar technique in the theatre, where the audience is prevented from indulging in the usual illusion that they are seeing the characters, and are suddenly forced to recognize that there are merely actors standing before them. It is one form of what is called "breaking the fourth wall". Stockhausen of course uses this device repeatedly throughout LICHT, in a range of degrees of subtlety. in the HELICOPTER STRING QUARTET, for example, the players are nothing other than a string quartet, and the pilots fly helicopters, which is their ordinary job. It is the unusual juxtaposition of two perfectly ordinary activities that transforms them into something marvellous or absurd.
That makes sense, Jerry. I think the idea of eccentricity stems from one of the most memorable aspects of the piece, which is Nam June Paik's theatrics. Kurtz did report that one of Stockhausen's children played with blocks during the performance, which goes towards the quotidian interpretation that you describe.
There are so many Brechtian elements to Stockhausen's theater, but it's a dangerous label to apply in mixed company. Another one is Theater of the Absurd, which is also a viable label for much of Licht. The problem with applying these labels is not unlike the problem of ascribing Sirius to Lorber or Freitag to the UB. Brecht and Beckett may well have been in the back of Stockhausen's mind when he conceived these things, but he does not speak much about these things. Where he's quick to point to dreams and everyday occurrences that inspire one of his scenarios, he rarely points to other dramatists, in keeping with his preference to not ape other people's work.
Joe: When you cite Nam June Paik, you are going straight to the core of the perception difficulties people are bound to have with ORIGINALE. It is one thing to see the fashion model modeling clothes, the hat-check girl waiting for someone to come check a hat, or even the animal handler putting his beast on show. In the case of the "composer", when that composer is Paik, the audience member who does not know what Paik does "ordinarily" is bound to think that jumping fully clothed into a tub of soapy water is not exactly conventional behaviour for a composer. (Of course, we know that most composers do this sort of thing routinely, in order to demonstrate they are not bus conductors, physicians, or airline pilots, but how is the poor audience member supposed to know this?) A problem for new productions of ORIGINALE is not to try reproducing Paik by having an actor play him, because this is directly contrary to the spirit of the piece. Actors appear as actors in ORIGINALE, not as characters: they read passages from Shakespeare, do improv, mime, etc., in ways that make it plain they are merely demonstrating what an actor does.
It would be at once too general and overly specific to label Stockhausen's theatre as Brechtian, though the element of Verfremdung is decidedly present, as I have said. So are many other connections to elements commonly found in the theatre of the past. You mention the theatre of the absurd—certainly an influence—but you also cautiously say "does not speak much" rather than "never speaks," for of course he did speak from time to time of Beckett, at least, with a tone showing that he genuinely admired his work.
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!