Stockhausen

KATHINKAs GESANG (KATHINKA’S CHANT), 1983
version for flute and electronic music

The duration of the music is about 32 minutes. The work can also be performed in versions for flute solo, for flute and piano, and for flute and six percussionists.

The composer (from the CD booklet):

"KATHINKA:
KAT
(Cat - Katze)
THINK
A
(Alif - Alpha, the Beginning, Origin).

KATHINKA sings with flute and voice.

Six groups of loudspeakers provide the resonance with magic sounds.

KATHINKAs GESANG (KATHINKA'S CHANT) begins with a SALUTE.
Then follow

2 x 11 EXERCISES for LISTENING with 2 PAUSES in 24 STAGES,

which form a homogeneous process and are clearly announced by signals of the high F.

These EXERCISES are followed by:
THE RELEASE OF THE SENSES
EXIT
THE 11 TROMBONE TONES
THE SCREAM."

The composer, from the CD booklet of the opera SATURDAY from LIGHT, which features KATHINKA'S CHANT in its version for flute and 6 percussionists as LUCIFER’S REQUIEM:

"Introduction
SATURDAY from LIGHT (SATURNDAY) is the LUCIFER DAY:
day of death, night of transition to the LIGHT.

"Like LUCIFER, every human being dies an apparent death - enchanted by the sensual nature of the music of life. Thus, LUCIFER’S REQUIEM is a requiem for every human being who seeks the eternal LIGHT.

"KATHINKA’S CHANT protects the soul of the deceased from temptation, by means of musical exercises which it listens to regularly for 49 days after physical death and through which it is guided to clear consciousness. In preparation for death during one’s lifetime, one can learn to listen to these exercises in the correct manner." (End quote.)

***

Fitting its purpose, this is a scene with a quite meditative, subdued atmosphere of musical expression, yet one that has a strong undercurrent of liveliness; the music is able to draw the listener deeply into its world of rich nuance. Most of the time, just the middle and lower registers of the flute are used, and often with an introvert timbre; yet signals on high F announce each exercise. The quite extrovert melody in the last third of the work (stages 20-22) stands out against the generally subdued, yet by no means dark tone. The electronic sounds develop with very gradual changes that greatly contrast the flute part.

While practically each of Stockhausen’s works is special in its originality and uniqueness, KATHINKAs GESANG is one of the most striking ones in this respect. The music is not of a ‘type’ that you might have heard before, but once you have explored it, it may seem like an instantly recognizable ‘classic’ with its unmistakable sound signatures. Several years back I was a bit late for a morning rehearsal during the Stockhausen summer courses in Kürten, and upon approaching the door of the hall I recognized right away, within just a few seconds, what was played behind it. It was this work, with its characteristic flute part.

The work is recorded on Stockhausen-Verlag CD28 A-B, Music for Flute.


The flute part

The half-hour work in which the flutist takes center stage gives her ample space to demonstrate her musical and technical abilities. There is a wide variety of playing techniques, including production of microtonal intervals and ‘rushing noises’ (produced by blowing over the mouthpiece). Over considerable stretches during the middle part of the work there is even singing into the instrument while playing at the same time. When done as well as on the Stockhausen-Verlag recording by Kathinka Pasveer, to whom the work is dedicated, the result sounds mostly as single timbres, somewhat dimmer and more complex than that of flute alone. It thus sounds more like a fascinating expansion of flute color rather than a combination of playing and singing where separate timbral components could easily be discerned by ear; there are just a few discrete voice-only remnants that sound like a shadow to the main flute/voice timbres. Only in EXIT there are voice components, as ‘laughter’, which stand out more prominently, yet still well integrated with the flute sound (the voice ‘laughs’ into the instrument). – Towards the end of the work the flute produces ‘trombone tones’ in low register.

The work opens with a beautiful SALUTE that begins with solo flute playing a single, very long-stretched tone (E) with dynamic eb and flow in varying rhythm. In SATURDAY from LIGHT, which features the work in its version for flute and six percussionists, this type of beginning will be echoed in the initial moments of the subsequent scene LUCIFER'S DANCE. The series of exercises follows.

In each of the exercises riveting musical processes or narratives are created, often from simple elements. During performance the elements are visualized on 2 large discs, "like 2 mandalas" (Stockhausen), towards which the flutist generally directs her playing; in live performances that I attended I found that visual element rather captivating (the relationship of the elements to the superformula will be discussed in the Appendix).

In almost half of the exercises (and in the "Exit") there is a string of repeats of musical gestures. The gestures recur many times, yet only slight variations distinguish those repeats from each other. The repetition of small gestures evokes a ritualistic character in the music, a general feature of the opera SATURDAY from LIGHT (see also my introduction to the opera) from which this work is derived.

Stockhausen already had shown with HARLEKIN, among others, that he is a master of small variation, and here this art is carried yet to another extreme. While in HARLEKIN an extended melody was many times repeated with just small changes between each occurrence (which due to their quality nonetheless could keep interest high), here only short melodic segments are the subject of numerous repetitions – the frequency of repetition during a given time span thus is considerably greater. The variations heard in this work illuminate every phrase from within, like a searchlight looking into every corner.

A few examples of what is heard (stage numbers refer to the 24 stages, which consist of the 22 exercises, separated by 2 pauses, see the composer’s comments above):

In the first stage (CD track 21; track numbers refer to Stockhausen-Verlag CD 28B) regular pulses in eleventuplets centered around a single pitch, with only microtonal fluctuations away from it, are the starting point. They are presented in all kinds of playing, with varying emphasis on each note of the eleventuplets, and with different dynamic curves. At times rhythm is densified above the basic pattern, and on some of the repeats there is an addition of grace notes of higher pitch before each note of the eleventuplets. The way it is composed, this passage of the music is a mesmerizing start to the entire series of exercises.

The 6th stage (CD track 26) just features varying pitches that each end on more or less extended tremolos. One might think that this simple design was incapable of sustaining the listener’s interest over its entire duration of one and a half minutes. Yet when done as well as by Kathinka Pasveer on the Stockhausen-Verlag recording (the score allows the interpreter freedom how to execute this) the combination of the changing speeds and patterns of the tremolos on the varying pitches provides an engaging listening experience time and again.

The 18th stage (CD track 38) repeats a short rhythmic motif; the rhythm is hardly changed during those repeats, only pitches vary from one occurrence of the motif to another. The pitch variations are mostly just microtonal (they are formed by the lips of the player on the mouthpiece), both between and within the successive varied appearances of the motif. The microtonal pitch changes confer a strange and captivating state of floating to the music; the episode is a remarkable invention. The tension of microtonal pitch differences would later be explored on a large scale in the second half of WELTRAUM (Outer Space), the Electronic Music of FREITAG aus LICHT.

The 23rd stage (CD track 43) features constant chases up and down the scale in irregular patterns, chases that come to only momentary rests on long notes. There are numerous variations of pitch pattern, tempo and rhythmic emphasis, making the many repetitions of the chases a riveting listening experience during four (!) minutes of concentration on such – at first glance – limited material. The somewhat shorter 24th stage (CD track 44) then follows up with similar material played on ‘rushing noises’. In both cases the score prescribes ‘con molto rubato’ (the positioning of the ritardandi and accelerandi is at the discretion of the performer, and executed in a gripping fashion in Kathinka Pasveer’s performance).

It is fascinating that in KATHINKAs GESANG all of this works well, and it shows the uncommon level of command that the composer has over the material – in lesser hands, such attempts to make numerous repetitions of short phrases worthwhile, by means of small variations between them, would become tiresome. However, the variations are so well composed in their sequence and proportions that I find the music arresting every time, no matter how often I listen.

***

In the remainder of the exercises, which constitute most of the music, there are more extended melodic lines. The first type, equally important as the varied repeats of gestures in terms of number of exercises that it covers (also almost half of all the exercises), employs melodic lines that move through musical space in restricted yet engaging movements of searching character. To a considerable extent, the perception that the musical motion is restricted in its amplitude is due to the introvert, dim and subdued tone of the flute in those passages (in a number of cases with voice component) – even though there is also a good deal of pitch movement in small intervals, the interval leaps sometimes are actually quite large.

Especially in these passages with a tender improvisational feel we often encounter a rather dreamy atmosphere – the musical proceedings seem "lost in their own thoughts". And yet they are so concentrated at the same time, due to a searching directionality that sustains interest upon repeated listening. These lines in restricted motion show yet another impressive side of the melodist Stockhausen.

A good part of these extended melodic lines is presented by simultaneous singing into the instrument while playing (e.g. stages 9-12, 14 [CD tracks 29-32, 34]). As previously mentioned, the result sounds mostly as single timbres, as a fascinating expansion of flute timbre. The deviations of melody in the singing voice from those of the flute are mostly experienced as ‘timbre melody’ integral to the flute lines, since voice and flute usually blend into a single sound.

The other type of extended melodic line consists of what sounds like a singing melody in the usual sense. A single, beautiful melody is woven that spans three successive exercises (stages 20-22 [CD tracks 40-42]). It combines diverse elements of all three layers of the LICHT formula. Another ‘singing melody’ is later heard in THE RELEASE OF THE SENSES. Overall, while they are extended, these melodies are concentrated in relatively brief episodes compared to the overall length of the work.


The electronic music

The composer (from the CD booklet):

"The most essential aspect is the six-layered space-polyphony of controlled phase-rotations of harmonic spectra. A new orientation of musical logic in the realm of harmony, which was not realizable with the technical means available until now, becomes apparent. Simultaneous phase-rotations of phase-synchronous partial-groups of rich overtone-spectra (with completely determined fundamental tones and durations of each rotation, above all with very long durations and with certain intensity-relations of the partial-groups amongst themselves) can be of a beauty such as has never before been experienced. The changes of slow phase-rotations have such an intense temporal logic, that one can accurately follow quarter, third, and, above all, half-phases: and the coincidence of the maxima of all of the overtones (where a sharp explosion occurs at the point of phase synchronization) is perceived each time as a liberating new beginning.

"The version of KATHlNKAs GESANG for flute and electronic music has – through the phase-rotations of harmonic spectra described above, and the associated explosions of imaginary giant gongs at the null-points of the phase cycles – given the REQUIEM a hitherto unknown spaciousness, solemnity, austere beauty in the gliding harmonic transitions through all consonance/dissonance gradations, a traceable polyphonic multilayeredness and purposefulness of the partial processes – as a magic world around the solitary voice of the flute."

***

In each of the separate stages of the music, the (originally 6-channel) electronic music forms a continuous sound band that undergoes slow, gradual changes of color, something like timbre ‘rotations’. It always seems to be moving, not just because of the slow, continuous changes, but also because of its general timbral character; at times it is remotely reminiscent of the sound of running water.

Mostly the sound band consists of two or more distinct layers in different registers. In a number of cases the layers are also spatially separated from one another in the sound field (e.g., in the 20th and 22nd stage, CD tracks 40, 42).

Quite a few times the brief ‘explosions’ at the phase transitions marking the beginning and end of each section (or stage) carry extra weight because of a rich bass content that significantly exceeds that of the surrounding electronic music. As it is leading up to and away from the ‘explosions’, at times the sound band undergoes faster changes of color than more towards the middle of the section. The overall speed of timbre changes varies from section to section as well, as does the volume of the sound band with respect to the playing of the flute.

In several instances the flow of the electronic music incorporates coarser sound ‘particles’, reminiscent of car tires rolling over a gravel surface; the most prominent example is found in RELEASE OF THE SENSES (track 45), which follows the series of exercises. The correspondence of the electronic music with some sections where the flute predominantly plays ‘rushing noises’ is striking – the sound band assimilates some of the character of the flute sound of ‘blowing like the wind’.

The polyphony in the work is remarkable. The flute part and the sound band of electronic music form two independent strata running side by side, with the very gradually unfolding electronic music moving in a completely different time domain than the flute part, in which the music develops much faster. It is a rewarding challenge to attentively listen in parallel to the vastly different proceedings in the two independent musical strands.

With this, the listening experience is fundamentally different from KATHINKAs GESANG for flute and six percussionists. There the percussionists are playing on similar time scales as the flute, and many times they directly interact with or comment on the flute part, while the electronic music in this other version forms its own separate entity, apart from its general timbral correspondence to some of the flute music.

In a few select passages there is ‘witches’ laughter’ (the composer) that accompanies the flute. It is a dense and alluring polyphony of overlaid recordings of laughter of a female voice (Kathinka Pasveer) that is rather distant and soft sounding. This witches’ laughter is heard in the second pause (track 33), and towards the end of the work – in parts of RELEASE OF THE SENSES (track 45), in the EXIT (track 46) where it blends with the laughter of the flutist, and in THE 11 TROMBONE TONES (track 47).


Pauses

There are two long ‘pauses’ (stages 7 and 13, CD tracks 27 and 33). In the first pause the flute plays alone, without accompaniment by other sounds. It constantly repeats the signal on high F, which usually announces each exercise, with a somewhat hesitant tone (each time there is a brief glissando a second down). Given that the pause is no exercise, this time of course there is nothing to announce – the incessantly repeated signal searches in vain to find a purpose, perhaps with a humorous wink. The electronic music is silent.

The second pause features the same repeats on high F with downward glissando as the first one, yet now over ‘witches’ laughter’ (see above); in the original version for flute and six percussionists the flute is silent at that point. The pause is also substantially shorter in than in that version (about half a minute vs. almost two minutes).

***

The performance by Kathinka Pasveer on Stockhausen-Verlag CD 28B appears to be exemplary. The flute sound is slightly less direct than in the close-up recording of the version for flute and six percussionists (yet still very detailed); this allows the flute to be more enveloped in the electronic music.


Appendix:
The flute part in relation to the superformula




© Albrecht Moritz 2014


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