KATHINKAs GESANG(KATHINKA’S CHANT), 1983
The duration of the music is about 33 minutes. The work can also be performed in versions for flute solo, for flute and electronic music, and for flute and piano.
The composer (from the CD booklet):
"KATHINKA’S CHANT as
for flute and 6 percussionists
is the 2nd scene of the opera SATURDAY FROM LIGHT.
It can also be performed separately, staged or in concert. Its duration is approximately 33 minutes.
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.
KAT (Cat – the animal figure of SATURDAY)
A (Aleph – Alpha, the Beginning, Origin).
KATHINKA sings with flute and voice.
Six percussionists – the six mortal senses – provide the resonance with sound plates and "magical instruments":
"KATHINKA’S CHANT begins with a SALUTE. Then, it instructs the soul by means of 2x11 EXERCISES and 2 PAUSES in 24 STAGES,
which form a homogeneous process and are clearly announced by signals on high F.
"These EXERCISES are followed by:
THE RELEASE OF THE SENSES
THE 11 TROMBONE TONES
(End quote from the composer.)
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 almost 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 percussion sounds are mostly delicate, and rather strange – the "magical instruments" (see the composer’s comment above) create a peculiar sound world.
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 – this work, in its version for flute and electronic music (it was the flute part that I identified first).
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 recordings (CD 34B, or DVD from the 2013 Summer Courses) 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 ebb and flow in varying rhythm. In SATURDAY from LIGHT, which features the work as its second scene, 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 of the version for flute and electronic music that I attended I found this 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), which this work is a part of.
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 2; track numbers refer to Stockhausen-Verlag CD 34B) 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 7) 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 recordings (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 19) 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 24) 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 25) 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 performances).
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 10-13, 15]). 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 21-23]). 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 percussion parts
As outlined by the composer (see above), the percussionists represent the six mortal senses. This operatic dramaturgy requires the specific number of six players, which is also used to realize a spatial composition, in which sound movements between players are heard, left-right, diagonal, triangles and squares, quintets and sextets, double triangles (naturally, those spatial movements are only obvious in a live performance rather than in 2-channel stereo).
The accompaniment of the flute by the percussionists greatly varies from sparse to very dense; most of the time it is of moderate density. Care is taken that the flute sounds are not covered up. In the performance on CD by the Kolberg Percussion Ensemble the percussion instruments provide accents that are mostly subtle and in the lower dynamic range, except in some moments of great energy, which occur mainly around the signals of the flute on high F. The performance on the DVD by the Anthos Ensemble is louder and bolder, yet operates at softer dynamics as well. There is something to be said for both approaches; the magic of quiet nuance in the CD recording or the assertive colors of the accompaniment in the more recent performance on DVD.
The CD booklet features photos of the percussion players that show all kinds of adventurous instruments; in the score there are many more of such images. On the DVD obviously the players are also seen, even though rarely close-up; much of the camera’s attention is directed towards the flutist and the two large discs depicting musical elements towards which she plays (the video beautifully captures the atmosphere of the performance).
The composer explains (in a student seminar transcribed in Stockhausen 70, Pfau Verlag 1998, p. 24; translated by me from German):
"The work is […] composed for flute and six percussionists with fantasy instruments. At some point, you really have to take a look at these. In the score there are many photos reproduced that show what kind of instruments we have invented and built. This is really astonishing. At the time I had – together with the percussionists – tinkered, constructed for weeks. The players appear like monsters from another world, a phantom world. The music also sounds that crazy."
Timbres from all the eccentric instruments played by the percussionists, which also produce humorous sounds, vary greatly. The register range spans sounds from relatively bass-rich drums or drum-like instruments up to rather bright, delicate metallic percussion.
There is frequent use of percussion that makes grinding sounds in all kinds of motions and timbres. Some of these sounds are generated by instruments with particles inside, which move upon shaking, others by slowly moving a stick or other device over the surface of skin or metal of diverse instruments. These grinding sounds form a parallel to similar sounds from the percussion in KONTAKTE for electronic sounds, piano and percussion, or in MOMENTE.
Rattling noises are not uncommon as well. Overall, there are many strange sounds from all the adventurous instruments, yet the strangest ones (heard on the CD) may be those buzzes that come from the snapping back of spiral springs that are bent or stretched.
The percussion produces musical gestures as varied as its instruments and timbres; a particular one, however, recurs a number of times. This gesture, heard in all kinds of instruments – those that are struck, those that create grinding sounds, and those that make other kinds of sounds – consists of a series of repeated pulses that slows down and/or diminishes in dynamics. The fastest series of such pulses come from the above-mentioned sounds from spiral springs; here they are most closely associated with the nature of the ‘instruments’.
The percussive instruments frequently underline, heighten or densify accents and phrases sounding in the flute. There may be echoing of and commenting on the motion of gestures in the flute, or there may be a deliberately rough approximation of those motions (in rhythm and/or pitch) in the percussion – as an artful abstraction of a concrete musical image. Improvisation on the rhythm of flute phrases may occur as well.
On the other hand, the opposite of support and approximation of the motions in the flute can also occur by the percussion – a clear counteracting of these motions in order to set colorful and strong musical accents in their own right; the choice of gestures even may appear capricious. In this sense, there is a certain parallel to KONTAKTE for electronic sounds, piano and percussion, where piano and percussion also play a dual role with respect to the ‘leading’ sounds, in this case from the electronic tape, in either supporting or in counteracting their motion.
At times, the percussion significantly amplifies excursions of energy – small or large ones – of the flute, for example, as the instrument hits a high note at the end of a phrase. At certain points of high energy (during some of the signals on high F) there even is (on the CD) a sound like from a signal horn as used by fans at big sports events (ends of CD tracks 6, 13, 23).
It is seemingly arbitrary which phrases by the flute are accentuated; there appears to be a high degree of spontaneity in this respect. The free-spirited and loose way in which the percussion functions in the music is reminiscent of the spontaneity of the intuitive music from AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN. Certainly, this is largely due to the fact that the score allows the percussionists considerable freedom in their decisions. Yet nonetheless the number of entrances of the players in each stage is specified in the form scheme and the players have to rehearse this and the shaping of their events according to the processes in the flute. Therefore, once a version is worked out during rehearsals the performance is determinate (Kathinka Pasveer, personal communication). A comparison of the performances on CD and DVD is instructive as it shows the very different percussive accents and spots in the music where they are placed.
Pitches for the sound plates are prescribed in the score. The plates are struck with varying degrees of intensity; they are always freely resonating, except during the RELEASE OF THE SENSES where in several instances the sound decay is stopped by hand.
On a few occasions, other percussion reacts to percussion that originally had responded to the flute. In this manner, very brief separate musical strands are developed that momentarily move away from an initial connection to the phrases of the flute.
As improvisatory and only loosely connected with the flute music the percussion accents often may sound, they always have a strange ‘rightness’ to them which makes repeated listening the more compelling. A sound phantasy with no bounds is at work here, and the rich succession of different timbres is beguiling.
In the passages where the flute plays predominantly rushing noises (wind noises), corresponding to the colored pauses of the formula, there is at times an astonishing, remarkable complementation of timbre by the percussion instruments with grinding or other sounds, e.g., ‘rustling’ ones.
Some important sounds coming from the percussion players are not percussive at all. They are generated by ‘whistles’ that were improvised in design specifically for this work; each of the percussionists carries one. These instruments generally, yet not always, avoid typical loud whistling noises, but rather are mostly more subtle and quiet. The somewhat whisperingly whistling, hissing or sizzling sounds are often rhythmized. Some of these whistling timbres function a number of times as a kind of ‘shadow’ of the flute playing. This shadow somewhat mimics the gestures of the flute, yet mostly only in rough approximation, according to the limits of the instruments. Going beyond that, however, they often play lines that in a deliberate manner do not even exhaust the instruments’ clear restrictions. At times these ‘whistles’ refrain from mimicking the gestures of the flute, but rather just serve as a remote mirror of the flute’s respective level of energy or of its moods.
The interplay of these ‘whistles’ with the flute creates its own charm, as well as considerable constructive tension in the music. Their accompaniment of the flute even more heightens the sense of improvisation already evoked by the playing of the percussion.
There are two long ‘pauses’ (stages 7 and 13, CD tracks 8 and 14). In the first pause the flute plays alone, without percussive accompaniment. 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 percussion is silent.
The second pause is filled by sounds from the percussion players alone, while the flute is silent (in reversal of the first pause). The silence of the flute player is due to her being occupied with an EXCHANGE OF THE SENSES, where she exchanges sound plates of percussion players. The pause lasts as long as the time it takes her to finish these actions (on the CD it last almost two minutes, on the DVD more than four minutes).
There is a wide array of ‘whistling’ and ‘rushing’ sounds, with diverse impressions created, even those of wind blowing through trees, an owl howling in the night and a machine that releases steam (on the CD; on the DVD some other sounds are heard, including ones reminiscent of bird’s chirping). All in all, it must be one of the most imaginative ‘colored pauses’ in the LICHT cycle.
The flute part in relation to the superformula
© Albrecht Moritz 2014