DETAILED GUIDE THROUGH THE WORK
This text was edited by Jerome Kohl
The work begins with an extended 'genesis' in which noises, seemingly from several short-wave radio receivers, are heard simultaneously, switching rapidly through stations. From this short-wave chaos emerge fragments of anthems, amongst other sounds.
The composer (from the CD booklet, p. 134–35):
"With these short-wave events, I created a situation which one experiences time and again when driving in a car at night and listening to the car radio, or when at home at night searching for a programme on a short-wave receiver. Especially around midnight one hears many fragments of national anthems, which mark the end of the day. I have left the short-wave sounds as they are, with all the crackling and interference and intermodulation, shreds of Morse code, etc. After choosing a recording of a short-wave receiver setting, I copied a fragment of a national anthem onto it, and as soon as such a connection was impressed on the memory, I switched to another station. That now takes place in the finished work simultaneously in several loudspeakers, as if the searching process is taking place with quasi four short-wave receivers simultaneously."
(This corresponds with the work having been composed in four channels.)
The simultaneous emanation of short-wave signals from four sound sources provides a spatially encompassing, very dense and continuous (though ever-changing) flow of sounds – a far more continuous flow than would be achieved when searching for events on one single short-wave receiver. "All the crackling and interference and intermodulation, shreds of Morse code, etc." associated with short-wave transmission is deliberately used to create and shape a composed flow of sounds in connection with the content of the short-wave broadcasts, which mostly consists of fragments of anthems. Yet even before any anthem is introduced, composed musical flow using short-wave sounds is evident – just listen to the changes in the stream of sounds, and the drama created by these, at the very beginning of the work. The abrupt interference noises associated with rapid switching between stations are at times used to intensifying effect.
The constant streaming of short-wave interference noises from multiple sources will be the only continuum in the music for quite some time. The fragments of anthems do not add to the continuum significantly since, as the composer says, each anthem fragment is heard only just long enough to allow for a connection to be impressed on the memory. Thus the fragments switch very frequently, leaving only fleeting traces in the music. At most, they provide a 'common theme', but no real continuum. Only later, with the recurring appearance of the "Internationale" (see below), will another stabilizing factor be added to the music and, later still, the musical flow will be transformed when the world of short-wave sounds is left behind.
Employment of multiple sources also allows the sounds of interference and intermodulation to interact with the intermittently appearing anthem fragments (all recorded in a sound quality indistinguishable from real short-wave broadcasts).
These interactions take on an important meaning. It is no coincidence that higher activity of interference signals often goes hand in hand with the appearance of fragments of anthems, especially more extended ones, and at some points such interference signals add a dark, threatening atmosphere to the anthems. For example, about two minutes into the work, two quite martial-sounding anthem fragments (Ethiopia and Dahomey)4) ( Notes to the text ) are accompanied by bass-rich interference signals that may evoke pictures of tanks rolling over the streets (provided your stereo is able to reproduce deep bass). Already here at the beginning, the characteristic of frequently disturbing, disrupting treatment of anthems – which will pervade many subsequent passages – is subtly introduced.
The German anthem, performed by choir and orchestra, has a prominent appearance (the first line is heard twice, at score time 2'52.5", CD track 1 at 3'00") – this anthem will later form the First Centre of Region II.5)
The different radio sounds also feature spoken broadcast fragments. Especially prominent are the ones within the first minute of the work, a man saying "Today they expected", a woman shouting "Don't!" and then an exclamation "United Nations!" (which in the context is probably more to be understood as the statement of an ideal rather than the embracement of a specific political institution). Furthermore, at 9'06" in the score (CD track 4, at 1'15") a woman counts, transcribed in the score as "Føm ses", like an anticipation of the counting in LICHT. Also important, at score time 8'26.5" (CD track 4 at 36 sec.), is a man saying something that sounds like "Are you ready? How would you like [it]?" (see also the annotation in the score). This occurs just before the "fugue" on "red" (see below), and in the context may be understood as asking the gamblers if they are ready for the game and what number(s) or colour they would like (red or black).
The radio sounds are interrupted at several points. First, there are instances where recordings of public events, sounds such as a crowd cheering and whistling, a party atmosphere and so forth, alternate with the short-wave sounds featuring the anthem fragments. These recordings are introduced and borne along by relatively sustained, yet sometimes nervously fluctuating, electronic chords. These bright electronic chords (which will later be joined together to form a segment of the Russian anthem) silence the short-wave chaos and rise above it in such a manner that they elevate the recordings of public events, which they bear, to another realm, as it were – as if these events were taking place in 'rooms' different from the short-wave sounds featuring the anthems. However, a narrative continuity is guaranteed by the shared 'public' meaning of both the anthems and the sound scenes of the crowds. (On a far larger scale, similar 'windows' in the music will be heard towards the end of the work, where the breathing will be interrupted by analogous structures – insertions of sound pictures that occur within frames provided by electronic chords.)
Second, the short-wave chaos is frequently interrupted by noisy electronic sounds consisting of sharp, single wide-ranging glissandi, either ascending or descending. These sounds, providing both drama and structural subdivision, become more prolonged and insistent as this section progresses and, near its end, also more frequent.
Third, there are interruptions by a croupier's announcements, framed by pauses. According to the composer, such words add "a completely different dramatic aspect to this searching" for short-wave events (CD booklet, p. 135). These interruptions occur only a few times, yet they create marked incisions into the musical narrative.
In its combination of short-wave chaos, fragments of anthems and electronic sounds, the overall flow of the music reminds me to a certain extent of modern chamber music for string instruments, some of which is characterized by sudden gestural changes and by hectic, almost nervous activity. However, HYMNEN presents a broader flow on the whole, while at the same time the inner activity is often even higher, due to the inherent frenetic streaming of the short-wave sounds.
After many different fragments of anthems have been introduced into the flow of sounds and its continuity had been interrupted once by an announcement from the croupier, another anthem gradually becomes distinguishable from the short-wave chaos. It is the "Internationale", the socialist 'battle hymn', sung in German by a unison choir of young men.
This is the first anthem that will not just be a fleeting impression, but will recur time and again. Finally, the music will gradually 'lock into' an event, instead of constantly jumping from one musical fragment to another, with the only constant factor being the stream of short-wave sounds.
The "Internationale" will develop into a major occurrence, or "centre" of HYMNEN, the 1st Centre of Region I. The first traces of this anthem appear during a short insertion of a public event over electronic sounds (see above), and similar electronic sounds will evolve into main signals of interference with this anthem. In this way, another principle source of sounds interfering with the appearance of a new anthem has now arisen, even though the ingredients of short-wave chaos will continue to play a major role in interacting with this anthem as well.
The fluctuations in the intense electronic sounds interfering with the "Internationale" acquire an almost violent character, corresponding closely to the intrusive and threatening arrogance in the interpretation of this anthem by the young men's choir, a kind of singing not unlike what you would expect from a group of beer-swilling hooligans. The intensity of the electronic sounds underlines the importance of the anthem which surges up again and again, defining its relentlessly insistent character in the context of the work.
After a while, however, the music diminishes in volume, and there is a longer insertion of about 2 minutes into the short-wave chaos, completely interrupting it. This longer insertion, experienced as a radical extension of the previous marked interruptions of the short-wave chaos ('windows in the music'), is a "fugue" for five, then four spoken male voices, a fugue in which all kinds of variations on the color red are named in different languages (beginning with the croupier's repeated "rouge, rouge").
The composer says, in the CD booklet:
"The word red was, at the time HYMNEN was made, connected with Socialism, Communism – strangely enough also with West Germany's Social Democratic Party: INTERNATIONALE, Soviet Union, East Block, East Germany's SED, West Germany's SPD. Among the West German intellectuals and many "up-to-date" artists, it was fashionable to be red."
The fugue shows increases and relaxations of density, all shaped into a riveting organicity. The diverse voices provide different time layers, resulting from the speed with which the words are spoken and from the difference in languages used (the French and German tracks are mostly in Stockhausen's voice, the English – together with a bit of French – is spoken by David Johnson, and the Spanish by Mesias Maiguashca).
In its purity, spoken against a silent background, the fugue offers a refuge from the short-wave chaos heard so far; yet the insistence of the spoken material of the fugue, always revolving around "red", can be heard as a continuation of the insistent character of the "Internationale" and even of the short-wave chaos. The polyphonic overlapping of "red", taken as a token of the "Internationale", forecasts the imitative overlappings of the "Internationale" on itself in the immediately following section.
The fugue has many humorous dimensions. There are obvious jokes such as the distortion of "Rot" into "Brot" (bread) and clearly invented colors of red – at the latest when "rojo del Vaticano"("Vatican Red") appears, you know that you are being put on (it is interesting that "caput mortuum", Latin for "dead head", is an actual color!). But there is also more subtle humor in the mock seriousness of some passages, such as the solemn intonation on the sung-spoken Spanish track – the 'sanctification' of red seems the issue here, with "rojo cardenal", "rojo del Vaticano" and the like – or the impassive, accountant-style citation of the catalog of "Newton and Windsor Artist Watercolors" at the end.6) Finally, the fact that such a strict- and earnest-sounding long spoken fugue is built over just the word "red" appears humorous in itself.
There is one further associational level: The fugue picks up the word "rouge" from the croupier's announcement preceding it. From that announcement it seems that the roulette gamblers have placed a bet on red (even numbers). After the end of the fugue, and the watercolor catalog statement, there is a pause. Then the croupier dryly says, "impair et manque", meaning that the winning number is odd (black) and between 1 and 18. In retrospect, this suggests all of that chanting of "red" may have been the gamblers praying for an even number – but they have now lost!
After the croupier's announcement and a short break, followed by another noisy electronic glissando, the short-wave chaos, together with the 'broadcast content', again sets in as if nothing had interrupted it. It soon becomes evident, however, that the character of the music has changed: the 'broadcast content' starts to dominate over the short-wave interference and intermodulation sounds, becoming more present and important – and this 'broadcast content' is still the omnipresent, and now even more intense, "Internationale". The anthem is also now presented in several sound sources at once – it is literally everywhere.
Into a temporary recession of the male choir's sound intensity falls the introduction of another part of the anthem, played by a brass band with a much more lively, upbeat character than the young men's voices have. Immediately, however, it is electronically "chopped", and some intermodulation processes apparently take place as well. This electronic-sounding hybrid wallows through the musical landscape with a spooky, compressed, 'squashed' motion (especially in its subsequent appearances). The same electronic treatment, with different degrees of blurring, will later devour other fragments of the anthem and finally the refrain of the "Internationale" as well. The uncanny, ghost-like appearances of the electronic-sounding hybrids enhance the oppressive character of the music.
The intermodulation hybrids, however, only appear at selected points, having the character of a crowning statement; the original presentation of the "Internationale", by the chorus of young men, still remains dominant. It just refuses to disappear, even when it gives way to a presentation of an intermodulation hybrid, or otherwise fades in volume – it may vanish temporarily, but each time it reappears as strong as ever, 'rearing its ugly head'. Snippets appear in all sound sources, at times forming a quite dense web of sound; in four-channel reproduction they surround the listener. Often the fragments heard from the several sound sources are delayed in time with respect to each other (in a vaguely canonic manner) and, as a consequence, at some points there arises a strong echo effect – but without the reverberation of echo. The brass band fragments of the anthem also keep appearing here and there.
The more the passage progresses, the more violent the interference of the increasingly frequent electronic glissandos becomes, raising the level of drama. With every appearance, the intermodulation hybrids seem to be more oppressive, the most so when they finally make the refrain of the "Internationale" their subject.
During a last surge in volume and strength of the "Internationale", as presented by the young men's choir, a dark drone of electronic sound appears, and from there the electronic sounds start to ascend in an all-enveloping upward glissando (a majestic magnification of the previous electronic glissandos), drawing the curtain over the sound scenes heard so far and raising the music to an entirely different realm – to another world.
We now enter, for a while, a world of primarily electronic music. Allusions to another anthem arise, and the melodic material of the electronic music will be determined by this anthem for quite some time: it is the French "Marseillaise", which forms the 2nd Centre of Region I of HYMNEN. The music develops as a ruggedly mountainous, jagged soundscape and fittingly moves often on lofty heights, accentuated by airy, often distant-sounding timbres, and by a finely chiseled electronic texture in the high register, sounding like an imaginary curtain woven from thin, silvery metallic filaments, billowing gently in the wind. (These 'silvery electronic curtains' will remain continuously present for a long while, until the very end of Region I, thus forming an important connection among all the passages in this part of HYMNEN).
Undulating, floating sounds frame the allusions to the "Marseillaise" melody (other anthems also are suggested, the German anthem especially). These allusions take on a subtle, surreal quality from their presentation in fleeting snippets, contrasting to the broad motion of the framing electronic sounds. The dream-like atmosphere created by this texture is disturbed from time to time by violent eruptions of electronic chords, eruptions that create a resolute counterpoint to the predominant subtlety. Into one such eruption there briefly intrudes a short, quickly spoken comment from what seems to be a radio moderator: "Mode und Sex" ("fashion and sex"), a strangely fitting insertion.
After another attack of short, intense sounds, presenting the first notes of the "Marseillaise", a moment of the utmost delicacy is created. The finely chiseled electronic texture in the high register (the 'silvery electronic curtains'), which had been continuously present in the electronic music, is now heard alone and moves in glissando waves that seem unequivocally to allude to the melody of the "Marseillaise", yet in such a refined, sophisticated manner that it just eludes positive identification. In this presentation the melody appears to be concealed in very slow motion.
The long glissando waves here seem to me a clear expression of a certain aspect of HYMNEN which the composer describes as follows (from Jonathan Cott, p. 109 f.; these thoughts were actually expressed in connection with the wandering sound of the small airplane at the beginning of Region II, see below):
"In many works I've been able to realize, practically speaking in terms of sound, these experiences of flying. The sounds really make the movements of long waves, like pushing the air with one motion of the wings, then waiting and gliding. The long sounds which have these accents lose dynamics, regain them . . . and then the next push. I've felt it here in the throat for years and I didn't know how to realize it in sound – flying very silently without any movement.
[...] I get very excited when I see big birds gliding. [...] The rhythms they make have hardly ever been expressed in music. Almost all the rhythms in Western music are those of the human body – when we march or run or walk or move slowly – the rhythms of our limbs and their subdivisions and multiplications. A work like Hymnen incorporates rhythms and durations that are no longer bound to the body."
Following the long glissando waves, an uncannily organic blend of electronic music and anthems from brass bands is launched, a blend in which alternations and intermodulations of electronic and instrumental sounds work together in formulating and bending melodic fragments of the "Marseillaise", interwoven with other European anthems as well: England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Spain. Electronic garlands of sound keep framing all these events.
This is followed by a passage where the art of allusion is brought to another peak. This passage seems to be a continuation of the music at the beginning of this section, the current centre "Marseillaise", and an intensification of its characteristics.
A fluid, yet fleeting, overall quite high-pitched, airy stream of music is formed when a succession of brief sonic snippets, flying through the air, is superimposed on more broadly flowing sounds, framed by the silvery electronic curtains.
The brief sound fragments are even more flighty than the ones heard earlier, at the beginning of the section (the music overall moves on even more airy heights), and the more broadly flowing sounds in the middle register, with timbres similar to those at the beginning, now seem less stable and less continuous as well. The sound bits are single notes or very short fragments of the "Marseillaise" – possibly also of other anthems – and are generated by using short segments of tape; intermodulation of electronic sounds with instrumental ones also seems to be involved. Allusion here may soon become illusion for the listener, whose mind, trying to recognize all events and to connect them in a more solid manner, may start to hear melodic associations that exist only in the imagination. A couple of times the stream of the music is temporarily diverted towards lower registers and slower events, where the music seems to find firmer ground.
The stream of sound snippets in higher registers occasionally evokes pictures of a small plane attempting to land in windy weather: a few times the landing gear just briefly touches ground, followed by lifting of the plane into the air again, until finally the actual landing can be accomplished. The sound bits are such 'brief touchings of the ground'; as soon as they are heard for a moment, they lift off into nothingness again.
This episode is interrupted by another moment solely featuring the electronic silvery curtains. After a while, these electronic billows are diverted into lower registers by slowing down; a few violent electronic chords pound the soundscape, and again the sound snippets appear as before, only this time the silvery electronic curtains, now again in their usual register, remain more prominent.
Such consummate, subtle melodic allusion as has been developed thus far in the music, from the moment it drew the curtain over the world of short-wave sounds and began concentrating on the material of the "Marseillaise", is mostly confined to the domain of electronic sounds; it is scarcely ever heard in instrumental music. However, at least in the orchestral music of the genesis of melody in the work INORI – perhaps inspired by the experience of composing HYMNEN – the composer has approached this refined level of melodic allusion to an astonishing degree (see my essay).
Finally, the silvery rattle of the electronic curtains slows down considerably, far more than in the brief moment a short time before. During this process the sounds, in an elegant and entirely seamless manner, mutate into a mixture of sounds from a crowd, gathered at some event, together with other noises, and you hear scattered chatter or even exclamations.
The composer explains this process as follows (Cott, p. 135):
"Now something incredible happens. When this sound goes downward continuously and slowly enough, you discover at a certain moment that these are human beings shouting. All the shaking metal sounds we mentioned before were nothing but these voices – little boys shouting 'Hi, come here!' – speeded up enormously."
Mutation processes created by enormous speed changes of sound events had already been explored by the composer several years earlier, in KONTAKTE. The event at hand in HYMNEN is reminiscent of the famous passage in KONTAKTE where timbre is transformed into rhythm by dramatically slowing the sound down at the transition between Structures IX and X a (see my essay on that work).
However, by no means is the transformation process as straightforward as the composer's description might suggest. Robin Maconie has, however, depicted it in this same way in his essay on HYMNEN,7) as have Harvey8) and Hopkins9) in their analyses. I have never been satisfied with the idea that the 'silvery rattle' might be nothing more than a simple, sped-up version of a recording of a human crowd. The two time structures – the timbres – seem completely different. The 'human crowd' sounds more like a smeared soundband, mostly of chatter, with shouts emerging here and there above it (there are other sounds that contribute to the 'smeared' impression as well, but they seem to be extraneous ones, mixed in); on the other hand, if the 'silvery rattle' does indeed consist of voices, then it seems – if the tape was not processed further – the shouts would have to be distinct events with short silences in between in order to result in a 'rattle' at high speed. Therefore, further analysis of this famous passage seemed necessary, the details of which are outlined in Appendix I (click here).
This sound mixture itself keeps mutating, by speeding up a little again, until it sounds first like marsh birds, then ducks, and at that moment merges with a recording of real quacking ducks. Towards the end of this passage a solo duck impishly quacks the beginning of the "Marseillaise"! Even though this is an immediately ear-catching moment in the work, quite likely it is actually one of the 'simplest' tricks among the multitude of highly complex methods of electronic processing in HYMNEN.
After this, sounds from the crowd seem to resurface, and retardation of these sounds into low frequencies sees them processed into another melodic fragment alluding to the "Marseillaise". These bass sounds stop for a moment, and a slowly moving, continuous, humming electronic sound in middle registers takes center stage – it mimics the sound of a small airplane.
The composer describes this (from Jonathan Cott, p. 110):
"There's a long section at the beginning of the second Region of Hymnen like this – a wandering sound. As a boy I watched over my grandfather's and uncle's cows for weeks and weeks in the meadows. We had nothing to do, so we made flutes while lying in the meadows. Or we'd fish. [...] I'd just lie on my back for an hour or more, watch the clouds, and a small propeller plane would appear circling with a soft sound in the sky. This sound was drawing its lines in circles, it's been following me my whole life. And you find it again in Hymnen – these slowly wandering sounds in the sky."
(In a letter to the author of this essay, dated 6 May 2003, Stockhausen corrects "grandfather's and uncle's" to "grandmother's".)
The sound mutates in slow rotations in four-channel reproduction, "drawing its lines in circles"; in the two-channel version on CD you still can hear some of that wandering of the sound which slowly fluctuates in timbre. Together with the alterations in a 'whistling' tone at high frequencies, a tone that has been accompanying the music already for quite a while, the slow changes in the music are fascinating to follow. In his essay on the work, Jonathan Harvey fittingly compares the sound of the high frequency tone with jet turbine whine.8)
Below the continuous sound bands, a few scattered, distant, mysterious sound groups in the bass seem to be further afterglows of the "Marseillaise" melody. The electronic silvery curtains fall over the musical scene for a brief moment as well.
The low-frequency sounds become more prominent as a passage titled "Marseillaise reminiscence" is reached and the anthem is played in the bass in extremely slow motion (the high-frequency sound remains present). A fascinating music of distortion is heard here that drives the great majesty and gravity associated with it over the top. This drawn-out presentation, extended because of its exaggerated slow motion, carves deep trenches into the musical terrain. Eventually, after the region of the "Marseillaise" has moved in lofty, airy, mountainous heights for so long, the music – via a few intervening stations – descends into a deep valley.
Finally, with a few energetic chords, the soundscape rises to normal level again, and the German anthem is intoned (the 1st Centre of Region II). The presentation of the anthem is split between solemn unison choral singing and a wind band. Yet we do not hear many of the anthem's phrases in their pure form: the signals from the recordings are often processed by an electronic chopper, with varying frequencies that are sometimes quite fast but still in the range of what we perceive as musical rhythm. Is this 'cruel' treatment of the solemn anthem meant to be destructive, or did the composer simply want to spice up the 'boring' solemnity of the anthem with some Italianate rhythmic pepper? In any case, the musical result is entrancing, not only because of the rhythmic chopping, but also – and maybe even primarily – because of another musical treatment that is closely associated here with the chopping effect.
In this additional musical process, phrases or even just short segments of phrases are chopped, altered to a scarcely recognizable state, and are sometimes then repeated either in their pure form or at least in a less severe treatment. Conversely, phrases in their unaltered form may be repeated in chopped form. This also correlates with the split between choir and wind band found in this presentation of the anthem.
These alterations in presentation and recognizability allow for the repetitions of sometimes very small segments of the anthem to be heard not as repetition, but as shifts – displacements – within the temporal sequence of the anthem. The overall musical effect of such time lags in the absence of tempo changes, combined with the concomitant effect of veiling and unveiling, is remarkable and immensely beautiful. Might the chopping of the anthem in this way be heard also as a purely musical device, apart from its possible reference to an extrinsic meaning?
Around the middle of the anthem the music comes to a standstill on the word "Hand" ("hand"), and the vowel is drawn out into an extended process of a very slow and gradual change of sound, during which several things occur. The overall timbre changes gradually from the sound of the choir to what seems to be that of an airplane. At the same time, the sound undergoes an endless-glissando, an event that upon closer listening appears to be split into two simultaneously occurring parts, one ascending and one descending glissando. Finally, the sound opens up spatially. First it is centered in the middle of the sound panorama (in the two-channel presentation on CD) and then gradually splits up to both outer extremes of the stereo picture. A subtle, magical and mesmerizing effect is created by these simultaneous and slow timbral, pitch and spatial changes.
Towards the end, the German anthem is interrupted by a wind-band quote of the Horst-Wessel Lied, the unofficial Nazi anthem. At the last line of the German anthem, choir and brass band (both in D major) begin synchronously but then drift apart, so that the cadence is reached in the two layers one after the other: the choir finishes first on the cadential D, while the orchestra finishes afterwards on a foreign E major chord (score at Region II, 14'20"; on the CD the E major chord is heard at the beginning of track 18 – the chord is electronically chopped, resulting in a "stuttering" character). According to Stockhausen, this symbolizes the separation of West and East Germany at that time (letter to the author, dated 6 May 2003). The splitting of the sound at the word "Hand" (see above) has been interpreted similarly by Christoph von Blumröder: It is "a process of decomposition which reflects the progressive division of Germany into two separate states".10)
Following the German anthem is a passage that the composer calls "Schiffseinweihung usw." (ship christening etc.), with sounds from a crowd, later from a harbor, and then strange noises that almost make the impression of having resulted from heavy electronic processing of sounds of crashing sea waves. The soundscape is intense, emphasized by the high volume in the beginning. A flash-forward and a few flashbacks occur in this passage, quoting events from HYMNEN that are yet to be heard or have been heard already. The continuous high-frequency 'whistling' tone that arose already during the quote of the Horst-Wessel-Lied, and which forms a connection to previous passages, undergoes constant subtle modulations.
The next passage introduces, along with other events, the British anthem "God Save the Queen". It may be interesting to observe a "hidden affinity" here between England and Germany. The same tune as "God Save the Queen" was used for the German anthem in the time of "the German Empire" from 1871 up to the end of WW I (1918), with words praising the Emperor: "Heil Dir im Siegerkranz ..." This same tune is used for the national anthem of Liechtenstein down to the present, and until 1961 was also the Swiss anthem.
The British anthem is heard in processed sounds from a marching band in the remote distance, below the high-frequency 'whistling' tone, which slowly rises in a crescendo. At this moment (about 1 minute into track 19 of the CD) an especially beautiful effect occurs: the gradual increase of incisions into the sound by electronic chopping, going hand in hand with the progression of a slow downward glissando, just before what sounds like a switch click. (The score shows this is in fact a very brief but loud clip from a recording of an accordion and tin drum.) The "chopped" material wears away into intermittent, stuttering bursts on F#, which emerges by and by as the first note of a new melody: the anthem of Upper Volta, joined shortly by Dahomey. These are also chopped.
At this point a studio conversation, in German, is inserted, the 2nd Centre of Region II; the composer calls it "a subjective center" (CD booklet, p. 120). The conversation concerns the quotation, during presentation of the German anthem, of the Horst-Wessel Lied.
The composer explains (in the CD booklet, p. 164):
"Otto Tomek, head of the New Music Department of the WDR at the time of HYMNEN, warned me after I had described the 2nd region to him. I told this to my American collaborator, David Johnson, as we worked in the studio, and I wanted to say to him: "Otto Tomek said, that to use the Horst Wessel Song will arouse ill feeling. But I didn't mean it that way at all. It is just a memory."
"A studio conversation resulted from this, which Johnson recorded with a microphone, at first without my knowing it. During the conversation, I noticed the recording, quickly rewound the recorded conversation, and played it back. We continued to talk over this recording, and recorded everything again on a second tape recorder, as a second time layer."
Elsewhere in the CD booklet (p. 120) the composer says that the studio conversation, "in the guise of a reflection on another German 'anthem' of the past", reveals the process of the entire composition:
"it is the original recording of a moment during work in the studio, in which the present, the past and the pluperfect become simultaneous (the last sentence spoken: "Wir könnten noch eine Dimension tiefer gehn..." / "We could go yet one dimension deeper...")."
The overlay of one recording on another results in an intriguing interplay between proximity and remoteness of spoken sound. That Stockhausen can smile about himself is evident in this passage: a recorded slip of the tongue is heard, along with Stockhausen's comment "ach Scheisse!" ("oh shit!").
After the insertion of the studio conversation, the music resumes where it had left off, with the chopped Upper Volta and Dahomey anthems. This is the commencement of the 3rd Centre of Region II, AFRICA. The electronic processing of the anthems evokes African drum rhythms, yet here it is much less clear whether or not we are dealing with electronic intermodulation of melodies by real drum music, as seems to be the case in the "GHANA reminiscence" towards the end of Region IV of the work.
In this Third Centre, a fascinating musical motion is presented that I cannot remember having heard before in any music – sounds careen, stumble through the musical space. While other processing of sounds could be involved as well, especially in the pitch domain, this motion is primarily created by combining two main forms of electronic treatment: first, the already familiar electronic chopping of sounds and, second, modulation with the periodic Doppler effect produced by reproducing sounds over a loudspeaker mounted on a rotation table (see my essay on KONTAKTE, Electronic Music). The sound rotations here seem to be partially fragmented.
The broadly flowing serenity of the next passage is the more striking after the tumultuousness of careening musical motion. As the 4th Centre of Region II, the Russian national anthem is presented in extreme slow motion – stretching over about 10 min. – and the complexity of the inner life of the slow sounds is astounding. This complexity results from a laborious process, and could never be achieved by any synthesizer without heavy additional processing – a synthesizer can produce complex and rich timbres, yet is less adept at introducing such irregularities within a sound as heard here.
The resulting inner life of sounds, with many small irregular fluctuations, vibrations and subtle ruggedness, and with different electronic processing for every note of a chord, is of an indescribable beauty, and so are the (sometimes even tonal) chords. This music contains some of the most intensely colorful and detailed sounds I know.
The composer gives some insights into the enormous complexity of the sounds in his comments on the realisation in the CD booklet, p. 151 ff. These pages from the CD booklet, giving an impressive outline of the work process, are reproduced in Appendix II (click here).
Several African anthems are also inserted in this section (most of them toward the beginning), processed with electronic chopping as before. These anthems either are overlaid on the slowly moving chords of the Russian anthem, or they interrupt it.
There is also one passage that is particularly striking: footsteps are heard on a metal ladder, apparently located in an underground shaft, and these footsteps seem to allude in rhythm and even in pitch to the beginning of the Marseillaise. Is this another masterstroke of allusion by the composer, or have all the allusions and illusions generated thus far in the work induced a state in which I cannot distinguish dream from reality anymore, and the footsteps are just footsteps?
begins in the middle of this long passage featuring the Russian anthem, which then automatically becomes the 1st Centre of Region III as well. Finally, the Russian anthem fades away in volume while sporadic "Morse" beeping comes to the foreground, possibly "calling USA".11) This slow transition is followed by a collage of anthems, the so-called "USA collage", the 2nd Centre of Region III. Mostly brass band music and some vocal music are heard, more or less electronically modulated, and the periodic Doppler effect, stemming from reproducing sounds through a loudspeaker mounted on a rotation table, here again occupies an important position. A dreamlike atmosphere is created by the jumps from one anthem to another in the collage, jumps that all seem effortless.
The "USA collage" is composed of all kinds of anthems embedded into the American anthem.
From the composer's speech at Barbican Centre 2001 (unedited transcript of an audio recording of the speech, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/world/stockhausen1.shtml):
"...And the American is the most pluralistic anthem of all in HYMNEN. It passes every bar or half a bar to another country and then comes back always to the American anthem, but the American anthem proceeds bar by bar, or two bars by two bars, and all the other countries of the world are put into it. Like what I experienced in New York as I described it when I lived there."
Quite often, there are also new beautiful melodic jumps within an anthem, introduced by the processing, and jumps between different kinds of electronic modulation and veiling. The collage finishes with the American "Battle Hymn of the Republic": "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah", sung by children's choir, which is underscored by more or less hectic wobbling of modulated sounds, a wobbling that finally makes the music seem to "run out" as it flows into the next episode.
This next episode stretches over passages described by the composer as "short-wave salad", "short-wave obscured speech" and "short-wave Morse signals", into "whisperingly whistled". The short-wave salad, at the beginning still featuring a few relatively distinct events, gradually becomes 'smeared' into more of a noise band due to varying emphasis on certain regions within the frequency spectrum, apparently by filtering. This seething noise band emphasizes low-to-middle frequencies that create a hollow envelope. It very slowly thins out by diminishing emphasis on these frequencies and the concomitant appearance of a fizzling extension of the band at high frequencies, creating a kind of 'rooftop' on the sound. Towards the end of this expansive process, the fizzling extension at high frequencies is the only remnant of the noise band left. During these transformation processes the noise band is charged with unstable oscillations, due to the sum of small events comprising the short-wave salad and to the apparent irregular filtering. Finally, however, all energy is spent, and the noise band stabilizes and straightens out into a drawn-out single sound.
That sound is – human whistling. The transition from the high frequency band to whistling is marvelously natural, convincingly exploiting the principle of sound similarity, and yet it remains unexpected in its imagination.
This entire episode, lasting over three minutes and covering the emergence of the short-wave salad and its gradual thinning out until it goes over into whistling, is one single, astonishing sound transformation. The magic is elicited by a combination of two things: an extreme slowness of transformation and the high degree of restless, continuous activity within the sound bands that are being gradually transformed.
The whistling finally leads to a studio conversation between Stockhausen and his collaborator David Johnson; the latter mentions that "we have to go from America to Spain – we have to get across the ocean in a few seconds". This is followed by the "Spanish Introduction: Sevillanas" – a recording presented in unprocessed form. The incredible aspect about all this is that during both the studio conversation and the recording of the "Sevillanas" the extremely close-miked whistling – now in two voices – carries on. This adds continuity, but also a tremendous psychedelic effect: the constant presence of the close-miked whistling during the diverse events leads to the distinct illusion that "crossing the ocean" takes place in your own living room.
The 3rd Centre of Region III (SPAIN) begins with frenetic run-throughs of the Spanish anthem (at a considerably faster tempo than usual – or, rather, faster tempos, since the anthem is sliced up into segments which are played back at varying speeds, independent of the pitch – thanks to the Springer machine). This is a short passage with very fast fluctuations in the frequency spectrum, caused by rapidly changing emphases, each time on a different frequency band. The abruptness of these very sudden changes in frequency emphasis, combined with rapid fluctuations in sound volume, leads to a constant violent jerking in the sound picture. The "jerking" also has a spatial dimension, since rapid, abrupt changes in position of the anthem's presentation between the loudspeakers are associated with it. The combination of the fiery character of the Spanish anthem's presentation in a fast tempo with the fluctuations in the frequency spectrum and the constant jerking, lends a pronounced 'furioso' character to this passage. The impression of urgent forward motion is further enhanced by gradually raising the anthem's key from the initial B-flat major, a tendency that becomes especially pronounced in the passage "Spain: twice as fast" (see below). Fluctuations of the anthem's pitch will continue to play a role throughout the entire Spanish Centre.
Following this, the sound scene changes completely, yet at the same time it maintains its identity in some mysterious way. In the middle registers a fluctuation of sound at several cycles per second is heard, reminiscent of the vibrations of an engine with a slight imbalance in its rotating parts. Somehow this very different sound is evocative of the rapid fluctuations caused in the preceding passage by the modulations of frequency – exactly the fluctuations that were a main source of the 'furioso' impression.
In the high registers you hear a separate band of sound. This high-frequency band is reminiscent of the recurring emphasis on the upper parts of the frequency range in the previous 'furioso' passage, an emphasis that constantly alternated with accents in other frequency bands. It also seems to be modulated by the fluctuations of the sound in the middle registers, something that enhances the connection to the agitated movement of the previous 'furioso' passage as well.
Very strangely, even though the overall sound of this passage is thus a distant reminder of the frenetic 'furioso' motion heard before, at the same time it seems to completely immobilize that forward-storming motion, being absolutely static in its sound fluctuations in the middle registers, rotating around a fixed axis, and so in perfect inward repose. The continuity of the high-frequency band also contributes to this impression of stasis. In fact, in the absence of the preceding forward-storming motion, we would scarcely suspect that this might be the continuation of such a motion – and yet it does clearly in some way seem to be such an extension, with the characteristics described above. This is one of the most incredible and mesmerizing transformations of sound motion that I have heard, a riveting stroke of imagination.
When the previous frenetic motion returns after a few seconds, violently breaking into this sound scene at double speed ("Spain: twice as fast"), it confirms the wondrous organic relationship between the two kinds of sound motion – it is gradually lifted again from the sound scene by fading in volume, and the static sound rotations continue the musical thread as if no disturbance had occurred.
Subsequently, a relatively motionless low-register drone emerges, and both the furioso music and the static sound rotations, the former overlaid on the latter, start to sound more and more distant. In the process, the sound rotations slow down enormously. Later, they become even more remote through reverberation.
The static component in the music is greatly magnified by this until it assumes dominance, the continuing presence of sound fluctuations notwithstanding. This effect is underlined by isolated strokes of chimes with a slow decay – the fascination here also lies in the fact that the rather close-sounding chimes provide sudden perspective: the music has moved into distant, far-away dimensions.
The static sound rotations are transformed further and further into very remote structures, while the bass drone vanishes until, for one last time, the "furioso" music breaks through in direct sound.
In the meantime, that music had been accelerated tremendously. From the composer's speech at Barbican Centre 2001 (unedited transcript):
"And I compressed this anthem to the extreme. More than eight times shorter, without changing the pitches,12) and then I superimposed up to six layers of this compressed Spanish anthem and synchronised the six layers with itself in different intervals. Which is technically very complicated but very interesting I must say, for me as having made it. So the Spanish [anthem] is then at a certain moment extremely rapid."
Immediately after the last "furioso" in close-up sound, the music again recedes into the distance, while other anthem fragments sporadically appear. They come from the Swiss anthem, sung by a male choir. The sound fluctuations become even more distant, and after a while another dark sound appears, slowly becoming blacker and blacker (this requires a good subwoofer for full appreciation). Although seemingly from a distant dimension, it gradually engulfs the entire soundscape until it becomes its center, a 'black hole'. Very remotely, so remote that often they are barely audible, the sound fluctuations circulate around this 'black hole'. The effect is that, at a certain point, it appears to be the deceptively and eerily calm eye of a hurricane, where the air barely moves, yet around it the storm rages in the distance – and the listener is placed right in the middle of it.
It is astonishing how much ground the music has covered since the Introduction of Spain. The development of the music in one single, cohesive arch from its beginnings to such distant dimensions – while its origins nonetheless remain audible – is quite unbelievable. It is endlessly fascinating.
In the middle of these last processes,
has begun. The sporadic fragments of the Swiss anthem become more and more persistent, until one of these comes to the foreground of the music – marking the beginning of Double Centre 1st Empire of Region IV: SWITZERLAND. The last chord of this fragment is unexpectedly prolonged as an electronic sound, and this sound starts to lead a life of its own. It is a pulsation reminiscent of the chugging of an old tractor engine, yet gradually acquiring a hard, insistent and powerful edge. Its intensity prepares for things to come. Ominous soft, short cheeping sounds ("like bird cries") forebode the massive sounds of a similar timbre that later will flow into endless glissandi, while the pulsing chord tones drop out until only one is left, rising and falling in pitch.
The sound scene becomes even more insistent when a second such pulsating sound is launched from a reverberated initial pulse. This second pulsating sound is out-of-synch with the first one and therefore forms a completely separate thread. After a while new, strongly reverberated initializing pulses powerfully enter the scene, sending new threads of continuous pulsations into the soundscape while old ones seem to disappear. Also entering the scene are more of the sung fragments of the Swiss anthem, and these now highly distorted anthem fragments become strongly reverberated as well. The distortions in the Swiss anthem stand in eerie and almost humorous contrast with the innocent tenderheartedness of the presentation by the male choir. The insistence of the sound scene is enhanced even more by these distortions, and the soft cheeping sounds become longer in duration until they wander around in the soundscape as sustained slow glissandi.
A final, culminating appearance of the Swiss choir, with distortion and intensity driven to the top, is heard. From the final chord of the Swiss anthem, a new anthem arises – Double centre 2nd Empire of Region IV: HYMUNION in HARMONDY.
In the CD booklet (p. 121) the composer explains that this is "an anthem of the utopian realm of Hymunion in Harmondie under Pluramon. This is the longest and most compelling of all, formed out of the final chord of the Swiss anthem into a calmly pulsating bass ostinato."
Also, from the (unedited) transcript of the composer's speech at Barbican Centre 2001:
"And then comes the last region which begins with the Swiss anthem in several tonalities and I bring at the end the anthem of the Harmondy, that is a name I have invented. But Switzerland has something to do with it, because there are so many people speaking many languages. It is very characteristic for mankind where people speak many languages and live together from different races. And I have used in Harmondy, which I call the Hymunion, the hymns and union combined to a new country. Hymunion in the Harmondy and the ruler is Pluramon. You hear his name twice towards the end of the piece. Pluramon is a person who is at the same time a pluralist and a monist, who likes the many but who concentrates also at the same time on the one."
The mighty bass ostinato, imbued with immensity of sound energy, seems to me like the slow beat of a giant heart, the heartbeat of a monster. Or is it the heartbeat not of an individual organism, but rather the collective heartbeat of all humankind? The bass ostinato will continue in the music for a long time, while other events are overlaid, and it will show continuous slight variations in pitch, speed and filtering, and its dynamics will vary as well.
While the bass ostinato gradually subsides into a calm pulsation, glissandi sounds lurk in the background, until one of these comes strongly to the forefront. It unfolds slowly, and finally dies away again. Names are called into the chasm opened in the soundscape while another glissando becomes more prominent, and finally a brutally intense sound, rising to blaring volume, is developed into a vastly extended endless-glissando, a downward movement where the overall sound paradoxically does not become lower in pitch. Jonathan Harvey explains that we are dealing with "a red-hot searing siren-sound, with a fierce cutting edge of high partials, made up of parallel lines falling in steady glissandi, a new one fading in imperceptibly at the top as an old one fades out at the bottom, giving that perpetuum mobile sensation of eternal descent".8)
After more than two minutes (!) of such intense endless glissando, the sound suddenly cuts off, a short pause ensues, and the calm voice of the croupier is heard. Immediately afterward, without any warning, the glissando sound bursts forth even more blaringly than before, and once again expands vastly in time.
In a student seminar, Stockhausen comments with humor on what happens after the voice of the croupier (Stockhausen 70, Pfau Verlag 1998, p. 14; translated by me from German): ". . . and all at once: boing! Then it really comes crashing down. Then I always laugh a bit in the hall, peek to see if everybody has run out [cheerful laughter of the students]. I really go to the edge here."
This endless glissando, imbued with an intimidating power, totally engulfing the listener's senses, may be considered the main climax of the entire work.
At long last, the glissando vanishes amongst echoes of called names as before ("Maka"),13) and we enter an extended quieting period in the music. The model – a great climax followed by an extended quieting period – is one that will also be used later to impressive effect in the section ARIES of the work SIRIUS (see my essay ).
More sustained, initially distant sounds restart the music. The bass ostinato, which had been there all the time, gradually surges up in volume again after a temporary dip, creating a stabilizing factor. Then electronic 'whistling' tones are heard and, at the latest from this point on, the quieting period creates the distinct impression of recuperation following a thoroughly exhausting event. The whistling sounds are intriguing – at some points it seems that human whistling is woven into the texture.
Eventually, the croupier's voice is heard one last time, and a pause follows. The music passes over into calm breathing – literally: a recording of human breathing is heard. This breathing is experienced as a direct replacement and continuation of the bass ostinato and will persist to the end of the work.
There are many connections within the formal framework of HYMNEN, but the connections running through Regions III and IV are especially obvious.
Short-wave salad (after USA Collage in Region II) transforming into whistling – introduction to Spain overlaid on the whistling – announcements of Switzerland overlaid on Spain – launch of pulsating electronic sound from the end of the sixth Switzerland announcement, while at the same time chirping sounds forebode the big endless glissando – launch of bass ostinato from end of Swiss anthem – continuation of the bass ostinato by breathing, interlock all the passages with each other, and this continuous web of connections feels like one big architectural arch beginning already at the end of Region II and spanning all of Regions III and IV. This 'arch' is all the more unexpected in view of the openness of form.
The breathing at the end of the work is not straightforward: it begins with exhaling, and at some points the tape is spliced so that the natural rhythm of breathing is disturbed, for example, when there are added silences between in- and exhaling.
In the CD booklet, pp. 170–72, the composer says:
"With this breathing at the end of HYMNEN, which many listeners described as the breathing of all mankind, I connected musical reminiscences in the form of 7 insertions, which recall to mind 7 stations of the entire work in a dreamlike way. . . .
"The seven insertions into the breathing, as reminiscences, are presented like sound pictures, around which a frame is formed and in which the abstract electronic chords increasingly cross through the realistic sound scenes."
The first insertion, reminiscence of GHANA, is without a frame. Electronically chopped sounds of anthems careen through the sound space (compare the 3rd Centre of Region II, AFRICA, see above), this time clearly sounding like drums processed by intermodulation. They are overlaid by unprocessed drum sounds.
Following this, the insertions are:
2. reminiscence "USSR" with INTERNATIONALE
3. reminiscence INTERNATIONALE
4. reminiscence ENGLAND
6. Chinese shop
7. Empty Frame
The second insertion is preceded by an electronic chord and, in the following insertions, electronic sounds will be a constant presence. The role of the electronic chords in framing the sound scenes becomes more and more dominant and intense, until finally the last, seventh, insertion features only what the composer calls an "empty frame". This frame, lasting more than a minute, consists of a roaring sound that is one of the mightiest and most impressive electronic sounds that I have ever heard.
The 'signature' "Pluramon", spoken by the composer, is heard both before (calmly spoken) and after (quickly spoken) the 6th insertion. The work closes with breathing alone.
The entire last section of the work, from the beginning of the breathing onwards, has the feeling of a hugely extended coda, a coda developing in spacious calmness, relatively speaking, after a primary climax. This 'coda' rivals in effectiveness the large codas in several of the slow movements in Bruckner's symphonies, yet is even more extended (11 minutes!). The idea of discrete blocks of musical windows towering above a steady background (here the breathing) is translated into a wonderful, novel musical architecture.
For further reading on HYMNEN, I recommend in particular two texts from which I have quoted extensively above:
1. Jonathan Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer, Pan Books Ltd., 1974 (available from the Stockhausen-Verlag), where several passages of HYMNEN are discussed in great detail.
2. The introduction to HYMNEN given by the composer at the Barbican Centre in London, October 2001:
In addition I suggest:
1. The analysis of HYMNEN in Jonathan Harvey, The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 102–109. This text can also be found at:
2. A text by Robin Maconie about HYMNEN, "Stockhausen at 70, Through the Looking Glass", Musical Times 139 (number 1863) (1998), also at:
3. A text by Robert Worby:
4. The analysis of HYMNEN by Nicholas F. Hopkins in Feedback Papers 37, Feedback Studio Verlag, 1991. This paper can be ordered from:
© Albrecht Moritz 2003, 2005