"A large orchestra of 80 musicians is divided into 4 groups having nearly the same instrumentation. Each orchestra group contains a mixed choir of 8 to 12 singers. Voices and instruments are combined into a unified sound-mix."
In a live performance, the listener would be surrounded by these 4 groups (left, right, behind, in front), in the stereo version on CD the 4 groups are located left, ca. 1/3 to the left, ca. 1/3 to the right, right. The 4 groups give the work its name, CARRÉ.
The work is rather remote in sound from GRUPPEN (combined on the same CD), especially in its rhythmic life. The orchestral groups often play alone, but the subjective weight of the choral part is great. The music enchants the listener with a strange soundworld.
The choral singing uses an unfamiliar gestural language; in many cases a kind of speechsong expressing single words or syllables (from actual languages or invented) is employed, often resulting in only short gestures. But frequently the choirs also sing sustained notes, without words or syllables, notes/sounds which can subtly modulate in phonetic expression as well. There are quite a few moments where only either men's or women's voices sing. The composer:
"The phonetically conceived text was composed according to purely musical qualities. Only here and there do names of children, women, friends emerge."
The orchestral groups mostly play more or less brief sound gestures, emerging from each other, yet also more sustained sounds are heard. When short gestures occur from orchestral groups they often trigger or respond to musical gestures from the choir groups; in the reverse situation, short gestures from the choir(s) may set off or react to orchestral sounds.
Some passages show an accumulation of glissandi in the orchestral playing, which add to the atmosphere of strange beauty and complement in an attractive manner the character of gradual phonetic changes (with or without glissandi) in many of the gestures heard from the choirs throughout the work.
Much of the time the music is rather quiet, giving enough space for subtle, gentle interactions and slow transformations of sound. However, there are quite a few climactic passages; towards the end those passages increase in frequency. Climaxes can be huge. In the first big climax a few minutes into the work choirs arise above high-pitched oscillations from strings which vibrate with inner life, and above sustained tones in the orchestra. An impressive wall of sound is created which towers in front of the listener. About two thirds into the work a climax features waves of responses throughout the different choirs, together with the orchestral groups creating extremely dense textures, with a roller coaster ride in terms of location of voices – they are moving everywhere.
It takes calmness and attention to experience the responses of the choirs and the groups of the orchestra to each other consciously, and the slowly moving, relative quietness of a considerable part of the music strongly invites the listener to do so. The music is best apprehended with a meditative listening style, which also leaves one more open to the perception of the wealth and variety of sounds.
Stockhausen himself wrote (quoted from the CD booklet):
"This work does not tell a story. Each moment can stand alone. It is necessary to take time if one wishes to absorb this music; most of the changes take place very gently INSIDE the sound. I wish that this music could impart some inner peace, expanse, and concentration; an awareness that we have a lot of time, if we take it – that it is better to collect oneself than to be beside oneself, because whatever happens needs someone to whom it can happen – someone must intercept it."
It is great to listen to the abundant imagination which the composer exhibits in creating and shaping sound; the entire work seems something like a musical fantasy. And to me it is one in perfection of form. In traditional musical fantasies, melodies or motives occur which have to be repeated somehow, even if just in a varied manner, in order to be satisfying musical material. This repetition limits the freedom of musical form, a desired freedom strived for in all musical fantasies. However, since this music is simply sound events following each other, there is no material which asks for repetition in any way, and therefore the freedom of form can be immense.
CARRÉ is available coupled on one CD with GRUPPEN (discussed here as well) from Stockhausen-Verlag (CD 5). The CD booklet is extensive and features many great historical pictures surrounding composition and early performances of these works.
© Albrecht Moritz 2000, text edited 2005