Farewell my Karlheinz

December 11, 2007

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I was really sad to learn of the passing of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

From 1972 to 1976, he was my hero. I wanted to go to Germany and study with this god of contemporary music. I studied his scores with a Talmudic fervor. I loved his constant ability to reinvent the way music could be made. I could never really understand what he did with pitches, and after a certain point, I decided that it didn’t really matter.

I bought every LP that Deutsche Gramophone ever put out of his music. I remember fondly opening the plastic cover, and carefully extracting the vinyl, smelling that wonderful plastic smell, and putting it on the turntable, holding my breath, waiting to hear the latest from my German hero.

And then, he seemed to get weird.

In the late 60s he put out some poem compositions called From the Seven Days, sounding positively biblical. These were little Yoko Ono style poems telling you what to do. “Play a note in the rhythm of your self, meld it with the rhythm of the universe…” or something like that. Wow. Far out. Deutsche Gramophone issued a multi-album set of the Stockhausen group “realizing” these scores, for the rest of the world to appreciate. What started happening is that colleges around the world started “performing” these pieces, not having the chops to perform his other pyrotechnical notated music. As Karlheinz toured the world to hear these realizations, he was in horror to hear what he heard. He immediately sent out an edict that no one was to perform his music without his permission. So there. Wow…

By 1978, I was starting to come out as a tonal composer and had less and less interest in following KS’s career. At Tanglewood that summer, Gunther told us that Stockhausen had been “propped up” by the German government to ensure German supremacy in contemporary music. Everything he ever excreted (to used Paul Reale’s term) was published by Universal and recorded on DG. Now, you can get all that stuff on Stockhausen’s website for lots of money.

You changed the world Karlheinz, and you changed me. And for that, I thank you and we will miss you. Farewell Brother Karlheinz!

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