During the last 10 days the cultural Berlin was busy with movies, due to the Berlin film festival. And so I managed, while queuing for tickets and performances, to read the book "Die Autonomie des Klangs" that Gunnar Hindrichs (Prof. for philosophy in Bale) wrote on the philosophy of music. For me surprisingly in his second-last chapter about the meaning of music he mentions the medieval theory of the fourfold meaning of the holy scriptures: the basic meaning is the literal meaning (sensus literalis), above them are three other layers: sensus allegoricus, tropologicus and anagogicus. It is derived from the 3 theological virtues: faith, love and hope. Now the thesis of the author is, that great music is to be interpreted according to these layers. At first we have to see, what the score contains as relationships, then (allegoricus) what the inner principle of the piece is like, third what action or, more general, what way of life a piece of music is leading us to, and finally what hope it gives to us. For me that is a surprising idea, but when I think of the LICHT-cycle, there is really evidence to that theory. This cycle is all-embracing, and you do not understand it, if you just are looking for the musical parameters of the score - though that is the basis of interpretation. But the music itself (not only what is to be seen on stage or could be read in the libretto) has these layers of teaching us a universal truth about the structure of the universe and will lead us to a certain way of living, and that can be seen in the music itself and its structure. So this theory of Hindrichs can be a helpful hint and can prevent us from a narrow analysis.
Thank you so much for this post Thomas. These sorts of issues are fascinating to me and they are an important part of what I am hoping to focus on in my exploration of LICHT, which I am only just commencing as my PhD research here in Australia. The ways in which different theories of symbolism and meaning can be applied to a work as rich and complex as LICHT are, I think, almost endless. I had not thought of the Hindrichs angle, but I totally agree that it would provide an illuminating perspective on LICHT.
I have been initially exploring some of the ideas of Roland Barthes, and how these might apply to LICHT. Barthes, of course, argued that modern myths are created through symbols that have their meaning by virtue of their contemporary cultural and political significance. Barthes, therefore, would have seen in LICHT not layers of meaning about universal truths, but rather reflections of the values that held sway in late twentieth century Europe. Of course, this is not what Stockhausen sought to do, nor what he would claim to have done, but it is an interesting perspective nonetheless and it is always instructive, I believe, to think about the ways in which the values of cultures contemporary to an artist (composer, writer, or whatever) creep into their work, however subtly or insidiously.
I am not for a moment suggesting in this that Barthes is the correct way to approach LICHT or to find meaning within it, but rather just to say that there are so many angles from which to approach and understand it. Symbols always symbolise so many things!
A few years ago, Antonin Scalia published a book about the canons of interpretation, which I briefly considered as a method for interpreting Licht. I was thinking along the lines of Kurosawa's Rashomon, that two (or more) people will have vastly different interpretations of any given event. The trick lies in convincing anyone to accept a particular interpretation for a given work.
With Licht, the other metaphor that comes to mind is that of the sculptor who is confronted with a block of marble. The axiom holds that the sculptor's job is to simply carve away what does not belong. I'd suggest that Licht poses a similar problem to the analyst. Within the monolith that Stockhausen constructed, there are a myriad of interpretations lying in wait. It's up to us as analysts to carve them out.
All our conversations show: There will be many ways to interpret LICHT. Generally speaking I also think, that Barthes is true: Stockhausen's mythology, though based on very old stuff, has to be interpreted from the experiences of our own time, and maybe we as the first interpreters of these works have the invaluable advantage of been still very near to the world Stockhausen lived in and so it is easier for us to know what he wanted to communicate. I also like the picture of the sculptor creating his own sculpture out of the numerous scores. But: There should not be countless interpretations. Even the old tradition of the fourfold meaning of the scriptures points to that. For the primary sensus is the sensus literalis: What is the text in itself saying? So I have to put aside my own favourite issues and listen with open senses. Not everything is legitimate... But above all: For me the most important aspect is to show that these works are simply important, exciting, also that it is fun, to listen to the operas etc - so that people are encouraged to put it on stage, to perform it. I simply cannot understand why the LICHT-operas are not performed as frequently as, say, Lachenmann's opera, that maybe is even more demanding. But that is quite another subject!!
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!