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Ulrich Offline



Posts: 151

Sun Feb 16, 2014 4:21 pm
MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Robin, could you please explain, why this theme is central in MITTWOCH? For me on the contrary communication (connected with Mercury) and understanding are central, quite opposite to absence!?

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:04 pm
#2 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

The mobile phone (of Mercury) is obviously an instrument of lack of contact, even though people nowadays use the phone to talk to each other in the same room: how tragic is that? In Mittwochs-Grüss and Abschied the central characters have vanished, all you hear is echoes. These echoes include echoes of Momente, about KS's separation from Mary B. In between, as my review indicates, the choir of Welt-Parlament loses a leader (he never comes back: what happens to him?), a string quartet leaves the room and flies away, and in Michaelion an Operator lost in space tries to reincarnate Michael, Eva, and Luzifer (MEL) and only succeeds in conjuring up a false memory, a camel (KAMEL) - the name incidentally of a popular dance in the 1920s. Here shortwave radio takes the place of the cellphone. Absence here actually means "loss of a leader", which leads to a second theme, "election of a new leader", a subtheme of both Welt-Parlament and Michaelion. One has to reflect on the meaning of these themes for a young person in post-1945 Germany, as for the same person in old age facing up to leaving this earth.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:53 pm
#3 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Hi Robin. A complex reply, much of which I find plausible, but a few things puzzle me. For example, "the choir of Welt-Parlament loses a leader (he never comes back: what happens to him?)" This is of course perfectly true of the version of this scene staged in Birmingham, but not necessarily the case for the scene composed by Stockhausen. In the score of Welt-Parlament, the return or not of the President is optional. Second, "a string quartet leaves the room and flies away" Now, since you have waxed eloquent on the Helicopter Quartet on at least three occasions (<http://www.jimstonebraker.com/maconie-helikopter.html>;, <http://web.archive.org/web/2006111811121...ikopter2.pdf>;, and the presentation you made at the Birmingham conference in the days immediately preceding the premiere of Mittwoch), it astonishes me that you do not recall that the helicopters bring the musicians back to earth again at the end, and they even return to the hall to participate in a moderated discussion with the audience. I am also curious to know what makes you conclude that the Operator (Luca) is (1) "lost in space", (2) "tries to reincarnate Michael, Eve, and Lucifer", and (3) rather than emerging from the camel disguise (which is how I recall the scene), "only succeeds in conjuring up a false memory" of that camel. While appreciating your jest about the short-wave radio fulfilling the mobile phone's function of obstructing communication among people who are actually in the same room, I fear your message here has also placed stumbling blocks in the way of my following your train of thought. Please enlighten me.

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Sun Feb 16, 2014 10:32 pm
#4 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Likewise the orchestra strike in Samstag need not happen. The old lady off the street does not need to interrupt the show in Donnerstag. The audience cannot know for sure that the helicopter quartet will return. Perhaps the players don't intend to come back, perhaps there will be an accident. Perhaps an orchestra member will fall off his/her swing in Orchester-Finalisten. This is all related to the theme of suspense. It does not help to be complacent. This time, maybe, they will come back. But the Shuttle astronauts in 1985 did not come back, they kept transmitting until the last minute. Remember 9/11 and KS's amazement: they flew into the building deliberately! I could never ask someone to do that. It is easy for a person with a score to say, ha ha, it says in the score they will return, so there is no problem. But when it is actually happening in real time, you can never know that for sure. The purpose of the welcome on the return of the quartet is to assure the audience that this thing really happened. After all, the films of the flight could be pre-recorded, you have to trust them. The Camel is a contrivance: "a camel is a horse created by a committee", in the same tongue-in-cheek manner as "Love is defined by a committee" the message of Welt-Parlament. The camel dances and then splits to reveal the Operator, like a heroic fighter pilot emerging from the cockpit of his plane after returning to base. Once again, Stockhausen's meaning is that in the absence of the real person, we are dependent on transmissions and memories of other people, who do not always get it right. Michaelion is a Bilder-Rätsel (rebus, or picture puzzle)in the 19th c. German tradition, a message in code. Let's not forget that we are talking about what he means in the composer's absence.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Sun Feb 16, 2014 11:01 pm
#5 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

I think you are now being deliberately obtuse, Robin. "The audience cannot know for sure that the helicopter quartet will return": Yes, well, I'm sure we can all remember concerts of Mozart string quartets where this was also a fear. "The orchestra strike in Samstag need not happen": In the same sense, the final cadence in the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony might not occur. "Perhaps an orchestra member will fall off his/her swing in Orchester-Finalisten": only in Graham Vick's production, I think, since those swings were not Stockhausen's idea. My point is, if we are trying to evaluate Stockhausen's "themes," whether of absence or something else, we really cannot take into account either the possibility of an accident (e.g., imagine the Mittwoch's Gruss with a power cut two minutes after it begins--well a similar thing happened one night at La Scala during a performance of Samstag in 1984), or a particular choice made by a stage director (the high chairs in Welt-Parlament, for example, are not specified in the score, and the next time Mittwoch is produced, the director may decide to locate the choir in a moat around the audience, immersed up to their necks in water). Of course you are right about the element of (literal) suspense in Mittwoch, this is incontrovertible. But when Stockhausen says in the score of Luzifers Tanz that, in an operatic performance of Samstag, the strike is meant to take place, then that too is incontrovertible; in a concert performance, it need not happen, so that is different, of course. "Stockhausen's meaning is that in the absence of the real person, we are dependent on transmissions and memories of other people, who do not always get it right." Really? Why do you think so? Who is this absent "real person"? The Operator? He seems real enough to me (well, as a stage character, anyway). In the mobile telephone analogy you invoked earlier, it would seem that we are "dependent on transmissions and memories of other people" even when they are physically present in the room, so what difference does their presence or absence make?

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Mon Feb 17, 2014 12:06 am
#6 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Obtuse? Dear me. I seem to recall that KS specified that ideally the soloists of O-F should appear to be floating above the earth in some way, like the visiting aliens of Hymnen. "Musicians swinging in chairs over the audience" is another expression direct from the Kamel's mouth. So to say "those chairs were not K's idea" is incorrect: he first asked in orchestra players would agree to be swing above the audience on chairs back in the 1950s - he says those very words in a film excerpt early in the tv move Tuning In, on YouTube. It is also a way of saying that he wants the sounds of real musicians to be heard to move about in mid-air like electronic sounds, or angel musicians in renaissance art. That angels in art are "sound effects" is also arguable. I have to disagree with Jerry on the possibility of accident as a necessary ingredient in Stockhausen's drama. Even if the strike is specified in advance, to a naive audience it should come as a tremendous shock, not as an anti-climax. Illusion and magic were a formative aspect of the composer's life. As piano accompanist to the magician Adrion, he spoke of pleasure in discovering the power of improvised music to distract the audience at key moments. Magic involves deliberate concealment and suspension of disbelief. Also we need to remember that German Radio during the 1939-45 war, when KS was an impressionable youth at school, was an instrument of propaganda, broadcasting Frontberichte (Front Line Reports) that were concocted in the studio, on tape, to mislead the German people into thinking the war was being won. During this time the State also made a movie of Raspe's exploits of Baron Munchausen, the extravagant storyteller.

Jerry Offline



Posts: 145

Mon Feb 17, 2014 1:56 am
#7 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

"Deliberately obtuse" is apparently an Americanism, which means feigning ignorance. Of course I agree with everything you say, except for the parts which are wrong ;-) For example, "KS specified that ideally the soloists of O-F should appear to be floating above the earth in some way." This is perfectly true, and of course he gave no specific instructions for just how this should be accomplished in the theatre. (Obviously, he wanted them to levitate, by using anti-gravity devices, but forgot to write this into the score instructions.) "like the visiting aliens of Hymnen". Oh, yes? Tell me more about these foreign national anthems. You are once again perfectly right to chastise me for saying the chairs were not Stockhausen's idea. As you point out, he did have that idea once. He just did not remember to say in the score of Orchester-Finalisten that the musicians should use this device. I can only conclude therefore that it was Graham Vick's idea to use them in O-F, even if he cribbed the idea from Stockhausen's sketch books (did he? I don't know). "I have to disagree with Jerry on the possibility of accident as a necessary ingredient in Stockhausen's drama." No, I'm sorry, not only do you not have to disagree with me, but in saying what you do you are putting words into my mouth. What I said was: if an accident happens that thwarts the express intention of the score, then we cannot assume that the result is what Stockhausen intended. "Even if the strike is specified in advance, to a naive audience it should come as a tremendous shock, not as an anti-climax." Once again, this is perfectly true. It is an example of what theatre does: present a situation that may (and most certainly should) contain surprises for the audience. When the surprises are for the author, instead, we have what is often termed an "operatic disaster."
Magic is most definitely part of Stockhausen's theatrical intentions, but I might return to an example I mentioned before to make the difference clear: In an operatic production of Luzifers Traum, the pianist and singer are supposed to "float eerily on different levels. Slowly and independently of each other they sometimes change position and direction (including diagonal, horizontal and upside down positions) and size (ranging from tiny to gigantic). Distorting projections, coordinated with slow rotations of the piano podium and the unnoticeable [sic] lifting, sinking, and turning of the podia of LUCIFER and piano can serve to create the fantastic apparitions." No question about it, there are meant to be magical theatrical effects here, and Adrion is an obvious source of inspiration. The fact that, at the Milan premiere, nothing of the sort took place (reminding me of Douglas Adams's description of the Vogon spaceship that "hung in the air in exactly the way a brick doesn't") could be regarded either as a disappointing failure to fulfill Stockhausen's intentions, or a divine intervention that proved what he said in the score preface was wrong. I am inclined to the former view myself, being a skeptic on divine intervention.
In this same scene, on the second or third evening's presentation, Stockhausen had to interrupt the performance after a minute or two when it became evident that Matthias Höller's (Lucifer) microphone wasn't transmitting. A replacement microphone was quickly substituted (though it turned out there had been a mistake with the mixing board), and the show went on. Now, was this accident "meant to happen"? Does it show that Stockhausen really wanted Lucifer to be incoherent, even inaudible? After all, he didn't like Lucifer very much, did he? In this case, why didn't he learn his lesson and make sure the microphone failed to work at all of the subsequent performances? No, I'm sorry, I don't accept the idea that it was Stockhausen's intention that unforeseeable catastrophes should happen during performances of his operas in order to present his true view of the things. But do please go on, and try to convince me I am wrong.
Oh, and to get back to the thread, how does all this relate to a supposed "theme of absence"?

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Mon Feb 17, 2014 2:18 am
#8 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Far be it from me to put words in Jerry's mouth!

paul-miller Offline



Posts: 10

Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:07 pm
#9 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

Reading this spirited exchange has been both enlightening and amusing. I wonder what the element of time plays in MITTWOCH. In particular, does Grohmann's diagram (on p. 54 of her MITTWOCH book) that illustrates the connections among "Visualisierung, Verräumlichung and Ritualisierung" leave out another very important item -- perhaps expressed (in my limited German) as "Verzeitlichung"? Ulrich's emphasis on time as one of the fundamental elements of Stockhausen's serial thinking would perhaps suggest that accounting for temporality within the operas is not just optional, but necessary.

Robin Maconie Offline



Posts: 67

Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:38 pm
#10 RE: MITTWOCH and the "Theme of Absence" reply

To Paul-Miller: Jerry objects I imagine on aesthetic grounds to the idea of the "deliberate accident" or incursion of "real-time reality" into the drama, even though the "insert" has been a feature of KS's music ever since Zeitmasse as Jerry well knows. The so-called "cadenzas" were late additions to the score plan and designed to add spice to an otherwise ingenious but flavourless study. The reality check idea is Cageian in inspiration, but behind Stockhausen's time games is a philosophy of time and a terminology (moment, punct, rect) associated with Alfred North Whitehead and relating to the freezing of time in a photograph, the sequencing of time in the movies, and the varispeed continuity of time in a record groove. There is a chapter on Whitehead in my book Avant Garde 215 - 244. In MITTWOCH the motif of "suspense" also refers to suspended time, and one of the happy ironies of the opera is that the longest moment of suspense is also in fact the most real experience of time passing: the helicopter excursion.

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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! Thomas Ulrich
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