Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen dies aged 79posted 2007-12-07 17:05:43 by dmcnelis
Karlheinz Stockhausen, a controversial giant of 20th century musical modernism whose works were seldom embraced by mainstream concert audiences, has died at the age of 79, it was announced today.
Endlessly prolific, whether in fashion or out of it, he composed 362 works, including the world's longest opera, Licht, a sequence of seven pieces - one for every day of the week. The whole piece lasts 29 hours.
News of his death was released by the clarinettist Suzanne Stephens and flautist Kathinka Pasveer, two "companions" who had been associated with him for than 30 years and performed many of his works.
"In friendship and gratitude for everything that he has given to us personally and to humanity through his love and his music, we bid farewell to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who lived to bring celestial music to humans, and human music to the celestial beings, so that man may listen to God and God may hear His children," they said in a statement.
"On December 5, he ascended with joy through heaven's door in order to continue to compose in paradise with cosmic pulses in eternal harmony." They added that they would continue to protect Stockhausen's music. Their farewell was appropriate for a composer who never courted popularity or convention and in his later years continued to plough a lonely furrow.
Born in 1928 in a village near Cologne, he trained first with the Swiss composer Frank Martin before making one of the key decisions of his life: he headed to Paris in 1952 to study with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud.
Works hailed by enthusiasts (including the Beatles, who included him on the cover of the Sergeant Pepper album) as masterpieces included Gruppen (1955-57). The work is written for 109 players divided into three groups laid out before and to either side of the audience.
Stimmung, his extended 70-minute piece for six voices, "completely refashioned the very idea of what a vocal ensemble might do and be", according to Paul Hillier, whose new recording was released last month.
Reviewing the disc, the Guardian music critic Andrew Clements described the work as "a vast elaboration of a single six-note chord based on the overtones of the note B flat" and added: "Stimmung is one of the masterpieces of the last half century. Like all the greatest music it is unclassifiable - part meditation, part gigantic motet, part phonetic game - and totally resistant to imitation."
Stockhausen embraced the new world of electronics. In a studio at the Paris Technical College, he laboured to produce "a structure, to be realised in an étude, that was already worked into the micro-dimension of a single sound, so that in every moment, however small, the overall principle of my idea would be present".
He also developed his own take on serialism and declared in the early 1970s that "serial thinking is something that's come into our consciousness and will be there forever; it's relativity and nothing else . . . it's a spiritual and democratic attitude toward the world". The world moved on but Stockhausen refused to have anything to do with minimalists and post-modernists. And they chose to have nothing to do with him.