Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) - EMusician

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)

In his lifetime, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen created hundreds of performable works in myriad musical genres, from serialism, point music, and
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Karlheinz Stockhausen
Photo credit: Hyou Vielz

In his lifetime, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen created hundreds of performable works in myriad musical genres, from serialism, point music, and electronic music to aleatoric music, opera, and live electronics — you name it, he did it. Known for their rhythmic complexity, precise structure, and abstract nature, Stockhausen's works challenged us to reconsider the way we think about and perceive music, art, and sound.

Stockhausen helped pioneer electronic music while working at the Cologne studio from 1947 to 1951. He employed serialist techniques for his first electronic pieces, Studie I (1953) and Studie II (1954), which were created with only electronic sound sources: a sine wave generator, a white noise generator, a Bode Melochord, a Monochord, and a modified Trautonium. His experiments in electronic sound prompted other musical luminaries of the time to explore the possibilities for music created by nontraditional instruments.

Not long after Studie I and II, Stockhausen composed many more influential works at the Cologne studio, including Gersang der Junglinge (Song of the Youths, 1955-1956), which blended sung tones with electronically produced sounds; Kontakte (1960) for tape, piano, and percussion, which was based on moment form (where each moment consists of its own structure and stands independent from the music's overall structure); Mikrophonie I (1964) for live processing and tam-tam; and Telemusik (1966), a piece that contained sounds processed with what Stockhausen called inter-modulation (in which characteristics of one sound are used to transform characteristics of other sounds).

Many compositions and years later, Stockhausen embarked upon the music drama cycle called Light (1977-2004), regularly premiering individual scenes and acts from the opera until its completion. The subjects of most of his later works reflected his spiritual connection to the universe, in which his music became the voice for the drama being played out in the cosmos, as well as an outlet for his personal relationship with the world.

The composer passed away on December 5, 2007, and will be remembered for his vast contributions to contemporary music. Learn more about him at www.stockhausen.org.