HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension) for organ/synthesizer, soprano and tenor vocal soloists 2004, 2005 [37 min.]
This is another case where my first time listening to an unfamiliar Stockhausen piece was a bit under-whelming, largely due to the synthesizer textures. I recall that at first they seemed somewhat "thin", but over several listens, I began to get use to them and was able to somewhat appreciate the overtone structures in the individual timbres. But more importantly, I began to hear the work as a dialogue between the 2 hands of the keyboardist, working through a 24-note melody-theme. The compositional ideas described above are very fascinating (especially being that HIMMELFAHRT was Stockhausen's first post-LICHT work), but at the end of the day, the tempo scales and families of rhythmic densities are actually not as meaningful to me as the moment-to-moment interaction between the left and right hand parts.
The synth tones, percussion and vocal elements also add to this almost "fusion jazz improvisation" feel - though of course there are no jazz chords or melodies to be found here. Perhaps another reason that jazz comes to mind is that the melodic figures in HIMMELFAHRT are consistently fleet-footed throughout, which is especially apparent after the sometimes thick, dense (but epic) architectural constructions in LICHT. Also, since the KLANG pitch row can be thought of as as a kind of expanding/consumed "jazz head", it's interesting to compare the perception of a theme as it's "tail" grows, versus the same theme as it's "head" gets progressively consumed (this refers to the expanding and truncating nature of the theme repetitions). It highlights (for me at least) how much more important the head is than the tail (no pun intended!).
A CD with organ is a desideratum. Hearing the piece at Milano in the dome was truely OVER-whelming. Stockhausen, however, did not like the "dirty" organ tones with their uncontrollable overtones. This aspect of prefering "clean", sometimes a bit "sterile" sounds seems to me a little problem in Stockhausen. Fortunately, the instrumentation instruction reads: ...for organ (or synthesizer). Therefore, Stockhausen allowed the organ and, hopefully, there will be a player doing the recording.
I'm hoping I will get a chance to see the film recording of the performance that you saw Adorjan, though of course it will be just a shadow of the real experience. I'm jealous that you got the experience, that's for sure....
Come to think of it, why not a realization with sampled church organ sounds? Anyone know why Stockhausen did not try this route?
Dear uatu, I must confess that the long reverberation in the duomo blurred the sound but this is nearly always the case in organ music. But the storm of sounds which was raised by the player, combined with the dynamics of an organ, had nothing to do with the very restrained jingling of a synthesizer. I heard Stockhausen in the Catholic tradition of Bruckner et al. Therefore, I hope that somebody will make the recording; and be the only reason that a conventional or traditional instrument could sell better than a synthesizer.
Thanks for posting the link, Uatu. It is indeed interesting to hear the organ version again (I have only previously heard it in the video recording of the Milan performance, which was played at the Stockhausen courses in 2006). The acoustic here seems much less problematic (a bit of an understatement, considering that the Milan cathedral has 18 seconds reverberation!), though the basic problem that caused Stockhausen to turn to the synthesizer is just as plain: the timbres available on an organ are, from Stockhausen's point of view, very limited and tend to clump around three basic sounds (reeds, flutes, and mixtures). In Stockhausen's words (from the 2006 course booklet):
ZitatThough I worked together with the organist Alessandro La Ciacera, I was not content with the required 24 organ Klangfarben (timbres) which he had prepared and changed [right up] until the last minute. The organ mixtures were constantly full of octaves, fifths, major thirds etc., so that I could not clearly hear the pitches, melodic lines and chords of the two parts for the left and right hand. At the beginning of the rehearsals in Milano, La Ciacera had 4 organs available and used them either simultaneously or alternatingly. But because of the necessity to amplify the organ so that it could be heard in this large cathedral to about 80 metres away from the organ, I was not able to separate the timbres of all four sets of pipes. Therefore we decided to use only two organs. ... In addition to this special problem, the unbalanced partials of each Klangfarben-"mixture" did not produce predominant fundamentals with harmonics. This is generally typical for organ timbres.
I believe Stockhausen mentioned in his seminar that this problem with audibility is the reason he specified that the organist's hands should be projected on a large screen, to help the audience follow the two lines. This is certainly helpful in this video of the American premiere, which also separates the sound of the two lines much more clearly than what I remember from the Milan film. I think this timbral issue also answers the question of why Stockhausen did not try using sampled organ sounds.
Keyboard music (even organ music) is traditionally regarded as "monochromatic", and this conception no doubt applies to some of Stockhausen's piano pieces (not all of them, of course). Mantra is an especially clear example where Stockhausen seeks to transcend this monochromatic character of the piano through the use of electronics. In the case of Himmelfahrt, he clearly wanted a range of timbres to match in scale the variety of tempos, pitches, and rhythms in the composition. Performers (and listeners) are not accustomed to this kind of demand, and will not expect to have to deal with it. I'm sure that most listeners to this video will not notice any problem with it. I do, and I am sure Stockhausen would have done, also.
I just listened to this with no video (I actually hands playing keys kind of distracting these days).
Yeah you are right on about the monochromatic tendency here, but it is very nice to hear this and then immediately play the synth version to fill out a listening session. One thing that I can't help thinking though is that if the CD had opened with a pipe organ version (and then followed up with the synth version), I probably would have gotten into this piece faster. As it was, I initially felt the synth timbres to be kind of cold, or pardon my ignorance, "off the shelf". That of course, was just based on first impressions. The pipe organ version I think would make it easier for those less devoted to "buy into" the work. After a few traversals of the work I'm much more fond of the synth timbres, but the truth is, I did have to work at it.
Another thing worth mentioning (and this is just me perhaps being "provincial") is that the pipe organ version is both more scary and more funny than the synth version. I mean, it just hits me as Captain Nemo playing keys at a black mass. The synth version has a much more..fusion jazz kind of vibe (which I love as well). This is largely due to the timbres employed, and despite the fact that the melodic material has nothing to do with either of those images, it's the timbres that make first impressions, especially since we're talking essentially serial deployment of pitches, tempos, etc...(ie - non-idiomatic).
You mentioned the 24 timbres Jerry. Do you know anything about how those timbres were organized? I mean, what were KS' instructions to the original organist and Antonio? I haven't seen any literature about that aspect.
I can see what you mean about the organ version taking on certain horror-movie overtones (if you will pardon the expression, since I do not mean timbres, of course), but I have to immediately add that the effect in the film of the Milan performance was very different, because of the majestic quality of the space (which I have experieced, though not for the premiere of Himmelfahrt). I also understand your association of the synthesizer version more with fusion jazz, though it did not particularly strike me like that until you mentioned it.
I can only imagine the struggles with the organ timbres. Stockhausen of course had a certain amount of experience with the organ as a student, though as far as I know he never played the instrument in public. He should have been familiar with its timbral possibilities in at least a general way, but clearly he imagined far more flexibility than the four instruments in the Milan cathedral ultimately provided.
I understand the timbres for the synthesizer version much better, though it has been some time since Stockhausen's seminar on the subject, and Antonio's later studio seminar, both of which I attended at the courses. I will have to see if I can find my notes, and also look up the section of the 2006 course booklet where Stockhausen discusses the two series of 24 timbres. If memory serves, they are each developed as a scale proceeding from dark to bright, but each series must retain a separate identity. Not an easy task to carry out!
A few days ago I listened to the sample timbres on the CD and it sounds like different combinations of overtone mixtures, but I don't remember it being audibly organized in any obvious order...maybe the overtones are structured according to a KLANG series? Just a guess.
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!