Stockhausen

HIMMELFAHRT (ASCENSION), 2004/05


for organ or synthesizer, soprano and tenor, with a duration of about 37 min.

This is the first hour of the cycle KLANG, the 24 hours of the day. In the keyboard part, which dominates the work, the two hands of the player almost always play in different, independent tempi of a chromatic tempo scale. These change frequently during the work and form two tempo-melodies which stretch across the entire work, and which are related to the pitch melody of the series. At certain moments the keyboard player also strikes bamboo chimes, rin or sound plates. At select places soprano and tenor sing words and phrases, associated with the theme of ascension. The music is composed as 24 moments that follow each other usually without breaks. Tempi are moderate to fast, and rarely slow.

*****

The composer writes in the program note for the world premiere of HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension) in 2005 in the Milan Cathedral:

"Already for a long time, I had known that after I had finished composing LICHT (LIGHT), The 7 Days of the Week, I would compose the new work KLANG (SOUND), The 24 Hours of the Day. But Don Luigi Garbini's spontaneous request, "Could we have the world premiere of ORA PRIMA (FIRST HOUR)?" gave flight to my fantasy. Already imagining a world premiere in the great cathedral I could hear the sound of an organ. I did not want anything visible, just a musical prayer with eyes closed, as I prefer concerts to be. I thought that the organ and the two singers would be way up in the choir. When I then found out that the manuals of the organ were behind the altar, and that therefore the two singers would have to stand there in order to be synchronous with the organist, I still agreed.

"Stefania Morellato, collaborator of Don Luigi, wrote that the world premiere was to be on 5-5-05, Ascension Day. That gave my work another boost upwards. My text for woman-soprano and man-tenor expresses my own feelings: I pray to Saint Michael, that I may someday ascend – like Jesus did – into Heaven which, like music, is invisible.

In the 3rd act of DONNERSTAG aus LICHT (THURSDAY from LIGHT), which had its world premiere in 1981 at La Scala in Milan, Michael returns to his heavenly residence where Eve has prepared a FESTIVAL for him. In a shadow play Michael hears and sees 7 stations of his life on Earth, and everything is upside-down: the BELOW is like the ABOVE.

"Something similar happened to me as I was composing ORA PRIMA. I composed the polyphonic structure for organ (or synthesizer) in such a way that the left and right hands of the player always play in different tempi. The tempi are measured metronomically. There are 24 different tempi of a chromatic time-scale. These tempi also determine the timbre registration: the slower the tempi, the more complex and rich in overtones are the timbres; the faster the tempi, the more transparent the timbres. The temporal head-stands for the two hands – actually impossible for us humans today – and the fixed relationship between tempo and Klangfarbe (sound colour) was composed by me into music in the spirit of the Ascension: inconceivable – unheard-of – invisible."

This essay describes listening impressions from the version of the work with synthesizer, which I first heard during the Stockhausen summer courses Kürten 2006 where it was premiered, and which is available on CD 83 from Stockhausen-Verlag.

For those interested, a booklet on the composition of HIMMELFAHRT, prepared by the composer for the courses 2006, can be obtained from Stockhausen-Verlag; I will refer to it in a few cases.

There will be only one score for both versions, with organ or synthesizer, with all the dynamic markings that the composer worked out together with Antonio Pérez Abellán on the synthesizer; during the composition seminars 2006 Stockhausen indicated that an organ player may come close to the required dynamic result with a good sound projectionist.

How can a performer achieve the playing of the different simultaneous tempi? Stockhausen suggests (composition booklet, p. 7):

"For both hands the different simultaneous tempi are notated in space notation approximately to scale. It is recommended to study one hand with metronomic control and add the attacks of the other hand according to their position on the paper. This may change from line to line or section to section."

An extraordinary polyphony

From the onset this lively, dramatic music sounds melodic, in the sense that there are more extended, singing lines of pitch successions, yet initially the melodiousness may make a more abstract impression than in other overtly melodic music, including a large portion of Stockhausen’s music of LICHT. The pitch series, which the composer employs throughout the work, features a twice rising and falling motion, related to the theme of Ascension (for the series, see Appendix I *) which reproduces p. 12 from the composition booklet of the summer courses Kürten 2006).

*) PDF file; if picture is not sharp – reason: Adobe reader set to open within web browser window – download file to computer / for maximal resolution, print out

The most consistent concrete signposts in the music are up-down-up "wedge" figures (quasi neighbor-note figures), sometimes inverted, which are formed by pronounced rhythmic grouping of notes from the pitch series. On the other hand, the many passages through the rising and falling motion of the series have in common only the general outline of these motions, while the particular patterns of rhythm and pitch fluctuate all the time. There even is no passage where an introduction of a concrete "template melody" would occur in an obvious manner.

The continuous flux of the melodic patterns notwithstanding, the concreteness of the recurring "wedge" figures and other zigzag patterns of pitch motion and the tendency of directional rise and fall of melodic lines ensures that the relations to the original pitch series generally remain audible throughout the work – at least upon closer acquaintance with the music. The manifold changes in the patterns of the music make the work an elaborate fabric of melodic variations.

A characteristic of the music that captivates me in a particular way is the "searching" quality of its melodic gestures. In the right-hand part throughout – while in the left-hand part to varying degree – the melodic lines are directional in their rising, or falling, motion. Yet the pitch structure, with its often wide interval leaps and its zigzag patterns, gives the melodic lines a searching character. Moreover, it is as though each time the melodic lines have to search anew a path of developing their directional motion. Not only do the pitch successions upon each new surge of melody vary, the processes are infused with uncertainty of how they will unfold due to the highly irregular rhythms, which constantly change (for the relation of pitch melody and rhythm, see Appendix II). The length of individual notes and the spacing between them fluctuate to a more unforeseeable degree than usual. As a result the music often appears to long for the next note to come or, on the contrary, precipitates part of the rising or falling motions. Further uncertainty results from constant variations of the extent to which the melody rises and falls.

The "searching" quality of the texture is enhanced by the polyphony, which undergoes changes during the course of the work. As the composer points out in the composition booklet, there are many correspondences between the left- and right-hand parts of the keyboard (for good aural separation assigned to the respective stereo channels on CD). Yet over long stretches of the first half of the work they appear quite different.

The melodic contours of marked rising and falling motion are mostly found in the right-hand part for the keyboard player. The lower-registered left-hand part is frequently – though not always – less focused in pitch movement, and the musical strands found there are often of a meandering quality. This adds to the "searching" character of the overall texture on its own, and also by forming a contrast to the more directed – and on the whole more melodic sounding – strands in the right-hand part: the melodic lines heard there must find their directionality ever new against meandering counter-motions.

Later on, the left-hand part more and more resembles the character of the right-hand part. Most of the time, it now also features extended lines in its traversals of the series, yet the irregular rhythms make the directional "searching" in both keyboard parts independent and thus doubly intense.

In addition, the asynchronicity between left- and right-hand part of the keyboard is greatly enhanced by their disparate simultaneous tempi. The separate tempo layers heighten the effect that the musical strands form truly autonomous voices. Nonetheless, left- and right-hand gestures not just run alongside each other, but with significant frequency they respond to one another in a direct way, either in a contrasting or a supporting fashion.

Certainly, a searching quality is found in the gestural language of much modern music, including – to a certain extent – in Stockhausen’s own GRUPPEN, which just like HIMMELFAHRT features irregular polyphony with strands in different simultaneous tempi. Yet in the newer work this character of modern gestural language is fused with the more melodic approach. The overall effect is that there are melodic lines that "feel" or probe their way through musical space, to an extent that is quite unusual – especially in music that is not slow, as is the case here.

This is what I believe makes HIMMELFAHRT unique: it features a searching melodic polyphony that in a comparable form I cannot recall having found anywhere else.

Due to the strong fluctuations in rhythm upon each presentation, the musical flow of the extended melodic lines is highly variable and uneven. The unevenness is compounded by the occurrence of different simultaneous tempi and rhythms in the two keyboard parts. Trying to follow in detail this irregular polyphony of independent voices can be challenging. However, I prefer this detailed listening approach in order to enjoy the individual contours of melody in their polyphonic context. Even though I have listened to the music many times, each new exposure to this work has for a long time been an aural "rollercoaster ride" and is still demanding, the limited musical forces employed notwithstanding; the musical complexity is further enhanced by the large-scale processes (see below). For me the listening experience is one of the most taxing, but also one of the most exhilarating ones that Stockhausen’s complex oeuvre offers.

A comparison with Bach’s Art of the Fugue shows how far the music of HIMMELFAHRT is removed from the regular pulse and evenness of musical flow of the polyphony of that early masterpiece. Though both melodic polyphonies are of extraordinary quality, they are worlds apart from each other.

One of my favorite "concerts at home" has become GRUPPEN followed by HIMMELFAHRT. It highlights both similarities and differences in concept, as well as development and continued originality of Stockhausen’s music, and offers a complex listening experience throughout.

*****

The irregularity of musical flow is accentuated and naturally matched by the development of the music in a stop-and-go fashion. Breaks between musical events can be simple pauses, or they can be emphasized by special signals (cf. composition booklet, p. 13). These are clusters, glissandi, chords, bamboo chimes, as well as strikes of rin and of sound plates; also phrases sung by soprano and tenor can serve as signals. The pitches of the three rin correspond to the three statistically most frequent ones in the work (communication by Stockhausen during the composition seminars Kürten 2006). The three sound plates are of much lower pitches than the rin.

At the onset of the music, in moment 1 – the track numbers on the CD recording correspond to the moments – there are numerous markings by the signals; they indicate re-starts of the series (see composition booklet, p. 13). The high frequency of these interruptions is due to the fact that the series unfolds – in the right-hand part – bit by bit, pitch after pitch, i.e. at first the fragments of the series are short, yet every time one more note is added (the upward glissando at 0’16", even though in spirit related to the ascending motions in the series, is strictly spoken not part of the presentation, but one of the signals, see above). Finally, after a few passages through this process of adding note by note, in which the first, ascending part of the series is developed, at once the twice up/down motion of the entire series "breaks through"; this happens at 1’20" (the introduction of all 24 pitches is completed later than that). This procedure shows an, albeit limited, resemblance to the introduction "by the spoonful" of the ascending first part of the main theme at the beginning of the finale of Beethoven’s First Symphony, until the entire theme bursts forth.

(The initial stages of the process are reproduced by colored score in the inside of the rear cover of the CD booklet.)

Here, at the beginning, the interruptions by the bamboo chimes and rin offer a "clean" separation of events – the music stops upon their appearance. Yet this passage also introduces instances where breaks relate to just one keyboard part (here the right-hand part, with breaks signaled by pronounced clusters/chords), while the respective other part plays on.

Alternations between breaks in only one keyboard part and between stops of the music as a whole will continue throughout the work, and the signals (including bamboo chimes and rin) can participate in either.

The music may be affected to various degrees by a break in just one of the two keyboard parts. At the most extreme, the influence on the overall flow is minimal. For example, at the beginning of moment 6 a pedal point in the left hand is immediately followed by one in the right hand, but all the time figures play on in the part for the respective other hand and the music just goes on.

The pedal point clusters are at times strongly marked by dynamic swelling or oscillating. A particularly memorable instance of dynamic oscillation occurs when in moment 4 the right hand traverses the pitch series with rhythmic "jumps" and the left-hand part emphasizes the feature with swelling and deflating of a held cluster in synch with these notes.

Further into the work there are examples where not the main excitement of the bamboo chimes and rin serves as a stop signal, but their dying away. In moment 16 the synthesizer plays on as the bamboo chimes are struck during the tenor’s "Christos", but soon a stop sets in where the still ongoing oscillation of the bamboo chimes is heard as the only sound – a beautiful effect. Also beguiling is the use of the decay of the rin as a stop signal a bit later, in moment 17, after the soprano’s singing of "Gotteskinder" ("God’s children"). Stockhausen’s sonic imagination in these instances, like in many others in HIMMELFAHRT, is amazing. A marvelous correspondence of sound fluctuation between the excitement of the bamboo chimes and zigzag figures in the left-hand part of the synthesizer is heard in moment 3, from 0’44" onwards.

Interestingly, in the last part of the music, moment 24, the extended clusters which had functioned mainly as a stop feature before, are converted by the composer into their opposite, a forward-driving device: in the right hand they rise and fall slowly as glissandi, and as such spur on the drive of the figures in the left hand. This introduction of a completely opposite function by a relatively small alteration of a feature is striking.

*****

The zigzag motions within the pitch series of HIMMELFAHRT (and the recurring "wedge" figures described above) are mimicked and accentuated by frequent short trills at the beginning of a note (trills upwards or downwards – pralltrill or mordent – to the in the score indicated adjacent note). Extended trills are also heard at times.

The directionality of motion in the melodic lines is reminiscent of the recurring directionality of the falling and rising movement upon each passage through the melody in HARLEKIN, particularly in the first half of that work. However, what there continually happens as a concrete certainty, is found in the newer work only as a constant inclination. Yet even just this ever-present tendency of motion is sufficient to make it one of the factors that ensure a natural coherence of structure.

Whatever the symbolic meaning of the falling motion after the rising one may be, it is dramatically sharpened when the soprano sings on an ascending line (supported by the keyboard music) "Jesus ist aufgefahren in den Himmel" ("Jesus has ascended into Heaven"), and subsequently the music not only descends in the right-hand keyboard part, but at the same time in the left-hand part dramatically plunges down in a wide interval leap of one and a half octaves (moment 10, from 0’26" onwards).

Summarizing the motto of ascension at the end of the work is an energetic series of rising chords. It is followed by excitement of the rin, which flows into a slow decay of about one minute duration.

The sound – tempo melodies

The version of the work with synthesizer was premiered and performed several times during the Stockhausen summer courses 2006. Initially I was, like others that I spoke with there, quite perplexed about the sounds that were chosen for this music on the Kurzweil synthesizer. Many of them were too glassy for my taste, even though the "polished" timbre usually associated with this sound character gave way to a somewhat sharper edge to the tone. Also, compared to a lot of the sounds which Antonio Pérez Abellán, the synthesizer player, produced in other Stockhausen works, the sound colors seemed less sophisticated and at first glance appeared to be based on a rather standard way of programming the instrument. I raised this concern about the sounds to Antonio during the courses, but he calmly and self-assuredly replied: "I chose them for beauty."

First impressions of synthesizer sounds are often unreliable, as I have noticed from my own experience and observation of that of others. Listening more closely and frequently to the timbres of the performance on the CD of HIMMELFAHRT (which uses the same ones as the premiere of the work during the courses 2006) reveals their complexity and originality, proving Antonio’s artistic intuition right. In fact, I am now fascinated by the way the "glassy" sound character is implemented and I thoroughly enjoy it. Also, repeated exposure to the timbres shows how well they fit into the concept of the music.

A considerable subset of the sounds is actually rather "metallic". The metallic character beautifully meshes with the sound of the rin, which, even though heard only intermittently, is a prominent timbral signature in the work. It appears likely that this has been a determining factor for the choice of synthesizer colors.

An especially beguiling sound texture occurs when at the beginning of moment 5 the rin is struck, and then a few metallic chords from the right-hand part of the synthesizer "echo" that timbre; during this series of chords the slow decay of the rin continues to be heard, where it now appears to be an enchanted response to the synthesizer sounds.

The synthesizer timbres also aptly exploit the music’s potential to exhibit vividness. In the last decade Stockhausen has composed some particularly lively works, like LICHT-BILDER and ENGEL-PROZESSIONEN, and the way it sounds in Antonio Pérez Abellán’s performance, together with the ecstatic tenor and soprano parts, HIMMELFAHRT joins the ranks of Stockhausen’s most extrovertly vivid works (while the inner life of his music is always exciting, even when it is more inward focused). A significant part of the drama of the music results from the combination of liveliness with unevenness of flow.

Lastly, the timbres are suited to highlight a particular compositional feature of HIMMELFAHRT. This feature are two tempo-melodies, one for the right and one for the left hand, which are an integral part of the work. The tempo-melodies are derived from the pitch series and stretch over the entire duration of the work (see CD cover, also at http://www.stockhausen.org/cover_cd_83.jpg). The keyboard timbres (organ or synthesizer) are to be matched to these tempo-melodies, so that different timbres indicate different tempi – there is a connection between tempo and color in this work.

The composer (CD booklet, p. 22):

"The tempi are measured metronomically. There are 24 different tempi of a chromatic time scale. These tempi also determine the timbre registration: the slower the tempi, the more rich and complex in overtones are the timbres; the faster the tempi, the more transparent the timbres."

Ideally, the sound colors would be sufficiently distinct from each other as to clearly characterize each one of the 24 tempi for the right hand and of the 20 tempi for the left hand, while at the same time sharing enough similarity of character that the sound world of the work presents itself as a unity. Many of the chosen timbres achieve this to a high degree, but not all of them, which may not be surprising with such a multitude of tempi and associated timbres involved. In order to spot some of the differences, particularly in the left-hand part, very close listening is needed.

An additional criterium in the choice of the sound colors apparently has been their use to highlight certain stages within the work’s development, assigning particularly striking timbres to the tempi found in these places. The most dramatic colors are employed towards the end of the work; the gorgeously luminous, glistening timbres with which the penultimate moment 23 begins, in conjunction with the drama of the music, frequently make me think of the grand finale of the fireworks at First Night in Boston. In moment 24 the left-hand part of the synthesizer mightily sounds like a cross between low-registered organ tones and grand piano; some of the high-registered right-hand figures towards the very end sound like a cembalo. Overall there is a tendency towards brightening of sound colors the more the work progresses.

Interestingly, even though some of the tempi and associated dramatic sound colors are specific to these two last moments 23 and 24, i.e. tempi 60 and 67 for the right hand (dominating all of moment 23 and most of moment 24, respectively), others had been heard before, like tempo 80 and 127 for the left hand in moments 3 and 4. In these early moments the sound colors associated with these tempi do not give the dramatic sensation that they do towards the end of the work; partially this may be a function of musical texture and combination with other sound colors in the right hand. The sound colors do not just make a different impression, however, they actually change to a certain extent. The reason for this is the mixing of parallel intervals into the sound at a lower level (usually -10 dB), for both the left- and right-hand part, by synthesizer programming. There are 12 different mixtures in the work, one for each of 12 sections. These in turn consist of two moments each, e.g. the just mentioned moments 3 and 4 form a section, and so do moments 23 and 24 (cf. composition booklet p. 48).

*****

The second part of the CD of HIMMELFAHRT contains a demonstration of the different timbres assigned to the 24 tempi in the right-hand part and the 20 tempi in the left-hand part. The tones (all at the same pitch for one hand) are held for 24 seconds in each instance. This allows for listening into the sounds in a particularly close manner – one discovers that a number of the timbres result from the overlay of two or three frequency bands that are distinct from each other. This kind of composite sound is one of the fascinating possibilities on a synthesizer, while the timbral structures emanating from acoustic instruments usually do not feature discrete overtone bands. The layering of the sound in separate bands also explains the slightly sharp edge to many of the sounds. In some instances, interesting patterns of oscillation within the sound are heard.

Although it is useful and revealing, this presentation of timbres does not tell the whole story. The emphasis on the sustain phase of the sounds allows for close listening into them, yet in the work proper, given the much shorter duration of tones, the timbre of the diverse sounds most frequently is determined by the attack phase as much as it is by the sustain phase. Therefore, matching up the timbres heard in the work with the ones in the study part of the CD is not always a straightforward affair. By extraction from the score manuscript (as handed out to the participants of the 2006 composition courses) I have matched the tempi with the timings in the diverse CD tracks, so that the listener can more easily connect timbres with tempi, see Appendix III.

At the beginning of the demonstration of the timbres in the second part of the CD, Stockhausen mentions that the faster the tempi, the brighter the timbres become, next to being more transparent. While this tendency is clear, the increase of brightness of sound as a function of tempo is not linear. This is particularly evident in the brief recapitulation of the timbres, after their extended presentation, as an uninterrupted sequence of all timbres with only 2 seconds duration of each individual one.

Large-scale processes

There are several large-scale processes spanning the entire duration of the work, which are all intertwined and connected to one another. These simultaneous processes contribute to the complexity of the listening experience.

Not only do the melodic lines feature constantly recurring ascending motions, but there is also a large-scale, gradual rise in register developing over the entire work. It is most immediately heard in the starting pitch of the recurring "wedge" figures. This rise, combined with the brightening of sound colors, creates an impression of ever "higher" and apparently symbolizes Christ’s ascension – Himmelfahrt.

A gradual "rise" is also heard in earlier music by Stockhausen, like INORI and LUZIFERs TANZ, due to transitioning to brighter colors and higher registers (the latter also shares with HIMMELFAHRT the feature of recurrence of figures on or around the same pitch in its first stages, characteristic for several examples of the ritualistic music found in LICHT). A slow rise in pitch, as during the various presentations of the wedge figures of HIMMELFAHRT, is heard during the approximately 6 minutes of the first "Tutti" of DER JAHRESLAUF (there pitches rise in a statistical fashion).

Then there are large-scale processes related to the musical flow. Towards the end, the music shows considerably more forward impetus and free-flowing character than at the beginning.

I had already mentioned that the character of the left-hand figures undergoes changes as the music progresses; this influences the flow of the polyphony.

At first the polyphony is somewhat recalcitrant, and the flow of the figures in the two hands does not blend. A main reason is the disparity of overall character of the left- and right-hand parts. The meandering figures in the left-hand part are often either restricted in pitch movement or suddenly moving to the other extreme, by jumping with large intervals – most notably there are downward jumps to low-registered sounds that are marked as "Holz" ("Wood", i.e. wooden sounding – "like a rasping contrabassoon", see composition booklet p. 5). Also, when there is a directional traversal of the pitch series, it mostly happens with fast down- or upward runs, in hastened motion. The right-hand part explores the pitch space in a more even-handed manner, is more melodic, and contrasts the frequently interrupted left-hand figures with a more expansive flow.

The high frequency of stops in the initial stages of the music does not benefit an even polyphonic flow as well, yet it is not the factor mainly responsible for the edginess of the polyphony. This is evident from the music in moment 8. Here the figures from both hands of the synthesizer player work synergistically to generate musical flow despite the many stops in the music: the melodiousness of the left-hand part corresponds to the one of the right-hand part.

The episodes, in which the figures in the left hand match more closely the right-hand figures in melodiousness, increase in frequency as the work progresses. As it had been the case far earlier with the right-hand figures, the left-hand figures also form more continuous lines (see also the change towards continuous flow of the left-hand part at the beginning of moment 9); in cases where breaks occur, the musical thread is resumed increasingly quickly. Towards the end the connectivity in the melodic lines of the left hand is so strong that it is maintained even in passages where there are frequent pauses cutting into the flow (compare, for example, moments 20 and 21with moments 3 and 4).

In terms of fluidity of motion, there is not just a gradual development in the music. Within this development there is nested in the middle of the work a somewhat quieter episode, moments 11–15, that serves both as an accentuator of the process and as a divider. The music had increasingly become more expansive, but from halfway through moment 11 onwards (1’08") – after a particularly fluid, yet between left and right hand spectacularly desynchronized, down- and then upward motion of melody – the flow is tightened again by emphasis on short notes, often played in stagnant staccato mode. Also, the left-hand figures become more meandering once more.

After a while, however, towards the end of moment 14 (around 1’50"), suddenly gentle legato playing of the right-hand keyboard part broadens the flow of the music and is sustained through moment 15. Eventually the left-hand playing joins the legato mode as well, until finally the music relaxes into the marvelous, expanded and moving melodic line of the tenor’s "Christos, Meister des Universums" ("Christos, Master of the Universe").

From this point on there is an intensified development of the music into a more and more consistently fluid entity up to the end of the work; soon after this middle episode arrives a passage that shows a particularly energetic correspondence in flow and melodiousness of both keyboard parts – from about 30 seconds into moment 17 onwards. Even though it does not last longer than the dramatic passage heard just before the middle episode (moment 11), it sounds considerably more expansive.

Yet with all that, the tendency for the musical flow to be interrupted, at least in one of the two keyboard parts, is never quite abandoned; the tension between this tendency and the ever increasing overall sweep of the music remains palpable. Nonetheless, the forward impetus of the music becomes ever greater; towards the end, even the arpeggi in the left-hand keyboard part have more forward thrust than they do initially. The fiery drama of the last moments, a combination of sound colors and urge of motion, is exhilarating.

Another important influence on the increase of expansiveness of flow is the development of the vocal parts (soprano/tenor; the vocal lines are derived from the series as well).

At first only short words or phrases are sung on just a few notes in a static, rigid manner; later this alternates with singing of more extended melodic phrases, and the singing overall tends to become more supple and fluid as well. These vocal proceedings support the establishment by the synthesizer of an increasingly continuous musical flow the more the work progresses.

The static, solemn singing forms an obvious parallel to MICHAELs HEIMKEHR; there a transition by the soloists to more expansive and fluid vocal expression, about halfway through the music, is rather abrupt. Interestingly, this part of the Third Act of DONNERSTAG is also mentioned in the program notes by the composer (see above). Apparently not coincidentally, there is a parallel in the vocal forces too: in HIMMELFAHRT a soprano and a tenor are singing, and in the first, solemn part of the earlier work soprano and tenor (Michael and Eve) are the main protagonists.

Performance and recording

If a keyboard player were able to perform the simultaneous different tempi for the two hands properly, it would count as a stunning achievement. This is exactly what appears to happen in Antonio Pérez Abellán’s performance as also heard on the CD from Stockhausen-Verlag (CD 83), which makes the impression to be authoritative and which Stockhausen was very satisfied with. The composer remarked during the courses that Antonio even plays the numerous accelerandi and ritardandi on top of the simultaneous different tempi "very well". He also pointed out that Antonio manages to play the tempi as prescribed in the score, resulting in a performance of about 37 minutes duration, whereas the organ player in the world premiere, whose willingness he appreciated, was not able to play the work in under 41 minutes – he played some passages slower.

Obviously, for Antonio Pérez Abellán "the temporal head-stands for the two hands – actually impossible for us humans today" (the composer’s program note for the world premiere, see above) are very much in the realm of possibility after all. – The two vocal soloists on the CD sing beautifully. They are Barbara Zanichelli, who also sang the world premiere in Milan, and Hubert Mayer, who had already delivered extraordinary performances with earlier Stockhausen works (as also heard on several CDs from Stockhausen-Verlag).

On a good system, the CD comes close to how it sounded during the live performances in Kürten 2006; certainly, the wide space cannot quite be reproduced in home replay, but on the other hand the bass notes of the synthesizer sound fuller on CD. The voices are lifelike.

A great performance and recording of what, in my view, is one of Stockhausen’s most compelling compositions.


© Albrecht Moritz 2007


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