Stockhausen

LUZIFERs ABSCHIED (LUCIFER’S FAREWELL), 1982

This text was edited by Jerome Kohl

 

This is the last scene of SATURDAY from LIGHT, for male choir, organ and 7 trombones, with a duration of approximately 1 hour.

General characteristics of the scene

The composer:

After the scene LUCIFER’S DANCE has been broken off by an orchestra strike, LUCIFER’S FAREWELL should be performed in a church situated in quiet surroundings near the opera house, as the finale of the opera SATURDAY from LIGHT.

The tenors and organ are in a gallery or balcony or behind the altar. The basses stand to the left and right of the audience facing the walls. The EXIT ends on the square (which must be large and quiet) in front of the church.

The text of LUCIFER’S FAREWELL is LODI DELLE VIRTÙ (HYMN TO THE VIRTUES) by St. Francis of Assisi, sung in Italian. It is divided into 13 periods (I – XIII) corresponding to the last segment of the triple-formula of SATURDAY from LIGHT (see Formula Excerpt). The last seven periods (VII – XIII) are divided again into 13 sub-periods. In addition, there are an EINGANG (ENTRANCE) and AUSGANG (EXIT).

(The formula excerpt is reproduced in the Appendix, part B.)

[…] The work was commissioned by the Associazione Sagra Musicale Umbra (Perugia) for the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi. The world premiere took place on September 28, 1982 in the Chiesa di San Rufino in Assisi.

The staged world premiere took place in the context of the production of the opera in Milan in 1984.

*****

Most of the libretto of LICHT was written by Stockhausen himself; the text of LUZIFERs ABSCHIED is one of the few exceptions. Certainly there is the circumstance of commissioning (see above), yet Stockhausen would not have chosen the text if its structure, theme and associations did not fit so well into the opera. The text extolls virtue and as such is used, in a powerful way, for a rite of exorcism expelling Lucifer (or, in the "Hymn to the Virtues", Satan who in LICHT is regarded as his agent – see the Introduction to the opera); the central verse of the hymn expressly states "The holy Wisdom confounds Satan and all his temptations". St. Francis is also associated with birds – he gave a famous Sermon to the Birds – and in the operatic scene a bird plays an important role. It is caged at first and released towards the end of the scene, a process paralleling the "expansion in space" which is the concept of the form of the entire opera – see the Introduction.

There is a further correlation between the structure of the Hymn to the Virtues and the Luciferian symbolism in LICHT of the number thirteen. The identical middle line of the first three verses "il Signore ti salve con tua sorella", has thirteen syllables. In addition, the text falls into twelve verses, but the last verse is twice the length of the others. This last ‘double verse’ therefore can be viewed as a fusion of two verses, and correspondingly, the text may be interpreted as consisting actually of thirteen verses. According to this apparent structure, Stockhausen subdivides the scene into thirteen ‘periods’ (apart from an "Entrance" and "Exit"). Each of these periods has as its subject one of the verses of St. Francis’s text, with the final two periods dividing between them the last and longest of the twelve verses. Musically, this subdivision corresponds to the last segment of the triple-formula of the opera (see the composer’s comments above), the formula segment assigned to LUZIFERs ABSCHIED.

Stockhausen inserts the numbers from one to thirteen into the last seven periods of the text, thus resolving Lucifer’s number into the weekdays’ number (LICHT, the seven days of the week). The Luciferian symbolism of thirteen extends to the quantity of singers employed: the choir in LUZIFERs ABSCHIED is divided into three groups of 13 singers each.

Coincidentally, Messiaen, Stockhausen’s former teacher, completed his opera on St. Francis around the same time that LUZIFERs ABSCHIED was written.

*****

The scene, appropriate to Lucifer’s day, Saturday, features the choir with the darkest timbre in all of LICHT. It is the only choir in the opera that uses just basses and tenors. All other choirs feature mixed male and female voices, just female voices, children’s voices or, when it comes to male voices alone, tenors (in MONTAG).

Darkness and mysteriousness of choral textures is also emphasized by the virtual absence at normal singing volume of anything resembling ‘cantabile’ phrasing (even the rather dark choirs of UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE and the DIENSTAGS-GRUSS feature such singing at least in part) – only at a lower volume is such singing heard. At such low levels, however, the choir or solo members usually express themselves in whisper-song or speechsong, and at times with just speaking or even groaning; at higher dynamic levels the singing employs a declamatory tone which frequently becomes solemn or, alternatively, the mode of expression becomes one of shout-singing or shouting.

Furthermore, noises play a prominent role in the timbral structure of LUZIFERs ABSCHIED. As in other choral works from LICHT, they may be generated by the voices themselves, but in this case the footsteps of the singers (singing monks) make prominent noises too by virtue of the wooden shoes they wear. The singers also play mass bells and Good Friday clappers.

The fabric of the music is remarkable; after immersion in the music by repeated listening, its exceptional textures may well make a good deal of other choral music seem ordinary in comparison.

In contrast to the other three scenes of SAMSTAG, there is no audible ‘formula melody’: the LICHT super formula (triple formula) only shapes the form on the larger scales – a function that it assumes in the other three scenes as well, as it does throughout LICHT. The composer explains in Texte zur Musik, Volume 9, p. 456 (my translation):

LUZIFERs ABSCHIED [is] a large entity which consists of textural parts with certain tendencies; the shape is derived from a partial limb of the triple formula for the entire week LICHT.

The formula limb assigned to the scene corresponds to bar 16 of the superformula and, as can be seen from the formula excerpt for the entire opera in the Appendix, part A, it is enriched by the "Luzifer-Kern" (Lucifer nucleus). The final shape of the formula excerpt for the scene with the thirteen assigned periods (see Appendix, part B, and the composer’s comments above) is derived from this scheme.

(The formulas are used mainly or exclusively just to shape the large-scale form in some other choral works of LICHT as well, such as UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE and WELT-PARLAMENT.)

Slow timbre changes in the vocal lines play an important role in the musical structure. They are mostly the result of extremely drawn-out singing of the texts, so that each vowel or consonant is expanded for some time. However, tone color is also created as the sum of the diverse kinds of superimposition of such long-drawn-out vocal textures on themselves or on one another, or on vocal layers with faster time scales. Vowel glissandi also shape sound color in certain places. At some points in the texture the gradual variations of vowel/consonant are isolated so as to draw attention to them. Timbre composition is a central feature in LUZIFERs ABSCHIED generally, and with respect to timbre processes that are both slow and structurally determinant there is a certain affinity between this work and WELTRAUM, the later-composed Electronic Music of FRIDAY.

The use of wooden shoes was inspired by Stockhausen’s experience of a 1200-year old temple ceremony in Japan in 1966, a ceremony of consecration of water. As Stockhausen described it (Text-CD 16 on TELEMUSIK, track 9; Texte zur Musik, Volume 4, p. 444–46), at one point the 11 priests ran around the altar in very thick wooden shoes with increasing accelerando. Then, one by one, they threw their shoes away once they had arrived at the height of speed, so that the sound of running became more and more quiet. Subsequently, in a ‘ritardando’ of running they dropped out, one by one. The composer adds that he found this event resulted in a fascinating build-up and again disassembly of a sound structure. The ‘running around in circles’ with an accelerando in the seventh and eighth periods of LUZIFERs ABSCHIED appears to be a direct reflection of this running around the altar during the ceremony.


Guide through the Scene

The composer has written a detailed outline of the staged action, which is printed in the CD booklet of the recording of SAMSTAG aus LICHT (Stockhausen-Verlag CD 34 A-D). The description of the musical processes here only includes certain details of the action mentioned in the composer’s text; the additional reading of that text in its entirety is recommended (it also includes a diagram showing the positions of the singers).

Eingang (Entrance) (CD 34 D, track 1)

LUZIFERs ABSCHIED begins in a striking way: Above a pedal point in the organ, slow downward glisssandi are sung by the tenors, while simultaneously the sound of the singers’ wooden-shoed footsteps sets in, footsteps associated with their slow entrance into the church where the scene will take place. It is a splendid combination of sounds.

The downward glissandi (derived from the large-scale formula excerpt for the scene, see Appendix, part B) show variations in tone color: the words "Lodi delle Virtù" (Hymn of the Virtues) are sung and the timbre of the glissandi changes along with the sung vowels. The duration and speed with which the glissandi follow each other also fluctuate. From the beginning they partially overlap, and at a certain point the vocal texture takes on the character of a single sound with an intricate inner life. Closely following its changes can be mesmerizing.

The overlapping of downward glissandi creates an effect reminiscent of the ‘endless glissando’ in Region IV of HYMNEN, which is a downward movement in which the overall sound paradoxically does not become lower in pitch.

After a while, other vocal sounds set in, and these are unusual: The basses begin a hoarse groaning at a soft dynamic, introducing a dark Luciferian atmosphere. Since this voice strand is entirely different from the downward glissandi not only in register and motion but also in timbral character, the music moves in two parallel, disconnected strata.

The hetereogeneous polyphony, established here with the disparate voice gestures of tenors and basses as well as with the noises of footsteps and bells, is arresting and stands as representative of things to come in this scene. More vocal layers gradually enter the music, at first almost imperceptibly. In these layers, emphasis is placed on the consonants of the words ("Lodi delle Virtù") so that these stand out (especially d and t). As irregularly scattered noises of short duration, they supplement the clatter of wooden shoes.

This section, "Entrance", lasts as long as it takes for the singers to complete their entrance into the church (or onto the stage, if in the context of an opera performance the change to a church is not possible). For example, in the Milan staging in 1984, where the path to the stage was very long, durations up to seven-and-a-half minutes occurred (Jerome Kohl, personal communication). The performance on CD, from the first organ tone onwards, lasts 5’05".

While entering, the first singer "is carrying a birdcage, containing a wild black bird, high in front of him on a staff. He takes the cage down and sets it on a pedestal…" (the composer).

Finally, the sounds from the wooden shoes swell with vehemence to a great trampling, shadowed by a cresendo in the organ. This surge in intensity quickly subsides again and a dramatic transition follows. Out of the silence arise footsteps of a single tenor as he steps forward from the choir. He then "sings and yodels" (the composer) the first three words of the First Period.

First Period (CD track 2):
"O regina sapienza, – O Queen Wisdom,"

After his solo he walks away as the choir sets in again and slowly completes the sentence:

"il Signore ti salvi con tua sorella, la pura semplicità – the Lord save you with your sister, the pure Simplicity."

The line " la pura semplicità" is sung particularly slowly. An absorbing tension is created by the careful choice of durations assigned to each syllable – resulting in a slow rhythm greatly expanded in time. For a moment the music recalls the world of the first part of INORI, the Genesis of Rhythm.

Afterwards the music condenses into a highly complex, heterogeneous polyphony. The basses’ groaning continues, as do the vocal strands where emphasis is placed on the consonants, but these are now drawn out into hissing. Another layer is formed by tenors engaging in quite rapid speech-song, and after a while yet another layer enters in which tenors sing extended tones, each one consisting of a different vocal timbre intoned on the same pitch (as a result of singing the opening line "O regina sapienza").

Second Period (CD track 3):
"Signora santa povertà, il Signore ti salvi con tua sorella, la santa umiltà – Lady holy Poverty, the Lord save you with your sister, the holy Humility."

A solo tenor sings the first line, and a solo bass the second one. Meanwhile the previous choral texture reappears and then takes over entirely. However, the different vocal strands now appear less tight than before and the loosening of the choral texture over time leads to the impression that the flow of the music broadens and disperses until the music seems to ‘run out’.

Eventually, the music stops with the ringing of bells, footsteps are heard in the distance, and the only remaining voices are the basses with their Luciferian groaning. Ringing of mass bells divides it into time segments and, finally, an intriguing texture consisting of double timbre glissandi of groaning, running counter to each other, is heard.

These glissandi are abruptly brought to a halt with the onset of the Third Period.

Third Period (CD track 4). Again the first three words of the verse are proclaimed by a tenor:
"Signora santa carità, il Signore ti salvi con tua sorella, la santa obbedienza – Lady holy Love, the Lord save you with your sister, the holy Obedience."

A sudden and enthralling change in momentum occurs here: upward-directed vocal lines are sung by the tenors in place of the downward glissandi or static lines heard thus far. Moreover, the rise in pitch of each line occurs much faster than any previous pitch movements in the choral textures. All this leads to the impression of a precipitate forward motion that forms a strong contrast to the static musical fabric heard up to this section. However, the musical scenario is not changed completely; rather, the rising lines have to break through static textures that continue in the music, thus creating considerable friction.

Around the one-minute mark there is a pronounced surge in volume of the upward-striving lines, letting them break free from the surrounding texture – a captivating moment. Further variations in volume prolong the monumental dynamic breathing that is taking place on a very slow scale.

A gripping forcefulness of motion is created when, later in this period, the rising lines are propelled upwards amidst overlapping or each other echoing voices.

(The rising vocal lines are a large-scale interpretation of the upward glissando from the Eve-formula, assigned to this Third Period, see Appendix, part B.)

Fourth Period (CD track 5):
"Santissime virtù tutte, il Signore vi salvi, dal quale procedete e venite – All you holiest virtues, the lord save you, who come from him and return to him."

At the onset of this period, the impetus of rising motion achieves its maximum among scattered repetitions of "Santissime virtù tutte". This is followed by a slow, solemn, unison celebration of the power of the upward motion that had dominated the previous period – it resumes by the spoonful while climbing higher bit by bit, until at last it breaks free like an eagle, rising majestically, reaching its climax and, at the same time, its end. In the process, the singing of the verse beyond the first three words is finally completed.

(While the existence of the upward motion in an obvious form ceases, less evident "echoes" of the rising motion continue until about 2'50" before pitch stasis is reached in the last three minutes of this period.)

Immediately, voices clash with each other in disorder and confusion, yet the energy is soon dispersed into a very slow (over approximately 4 minutes) and broadly developing decrescendo in which the music gradually relaxes in texture. This is one of those marvelous extended decrescendo or crescendo processes where a complex inner life and entirely seamless development are joined together, a fusion that Stockhausen has developed to perfection. Such processes are also found in, among other works, DER JAHRESLAUF and SIRIUS (see my essays). – The decrescendo unfolding here can be viewed as a resumption and extension of the process of ‘running out’ of the music as it was heard in the Second Period (CD track 3).

"Theoretically", according to the form scheme (see Appendix, part B), the rising motion of vocal lines should have stopped at the end of the Third Period, instead of ‘spilling over’ into the beginning of the current Fourth period. Serialism is just a method for Stockhausen to organize his compositions, and this incident, as just one of many examples, shows that Stockhausen is too much of a musician as to be a slave to his own method. In instances where the power of the musical processes wants them set free to go their own way, the composer lets this happen.

Regular pulses from the organ signal the end of the extended decrescendo, and the beginning of the Fifth Period.

Fifth Period (CD track 6):
"Quasi non c’e uomo / al mondo / che possa avere per sé / una sola di voi / se prima no muore – There is certainly no mortal / in the world / who could possess / even one of you / if he does not first die." ("Even one of you" refers to "virtues", see the verse which is the subject of the Fourth Period.)

Diverse choir groups, at times featuring prominent contributions of solo voices, alternate in unison singing of these verses. The presentations of the individual choir groups are separated by pauses that, to dramatic effect, are filled with single ‘chords’ of footsteps, mass bells, Good Friday clappers or combinations of these; the patterns vary. At times these ‘chords’ accompany a new onset of voices and they also divide sustained tones into time segments. The footsteps change weight and emphasis, and thus timbre.

Three times a solo tenor shouts with elevated pitch (with voice doubling the last two times) and, with great effect, the change to a brighter timbre is commented on with a corresponding change to lightness in the sound filling the vocal pause – instead of the common clatter of wooden shoes it is now each time a single ‘chord’ formed by hand clapping, alone or in combination with Good Friday clappers.

Trombone sounds enter the music for the first time. "At the words ‘…se prima non muore’ a trombonist costumed in pitch black leaps through the room playing furioso a major seventh in fragments" (Stockhausen).

Sixth Period (CD track 7):
"Chi ne ha una e le altre non offende, le ha tutte, / e chi ne offende una non ne ha alcuna e ne offende tutte; / e ciascuna confonde i vizi e i peccati – He who has only one and does not violate the others, he has them all, / and he who violates only one has none and violates them all, / and each one alone redeems vices and sins."

In a delightful succession of timbres, the first line is sung by a solo tenor, the second by a solo bass, and the third by the choir.

Seventh Period (CD track 8):
"La santa sapienza confonde satana e tutte le sue insidie – The holy Wisdom confounds Satan and all his temptations."

The composer:

At the words "la santa sapienza confonde satana" ("the holy Wisdom confounds Satan") all the basses run counterclockwise along the wall with a gradual accelerando, singing and calling fortissimo, clapping, ringing and tramping.

(As stated before, this ‘running around in circles’ appears to be inspired by a temple ceremony that Stockhausen had experienced in Japan in 1966.)

The fast-moving mayhem is counterbalanced musically by drawn-out glissandi of voices and by the slow swelling and deflating of chords on the organ. The emergence of distinct shouts and sounds of clapping and ringing from the continuous random swirl of noises is an engaging feature. Yet on CD the effect of this particular passage clearly suffers from the absence of visual imagery (the basses running in circles, ‘in confusion’).

A tam-tam roll stops the running around, and while silence is almost reached after the decay of the tam-tam, the hoarse voice of a solo bass arises – reversing the decaying flow of energy into a dramatically surging one.

The composer says:

After the bass call "e tutte le sue insidie" ("and all his temptations") the 1st and 2nd basses run in opposite directions with an accelerando, springing into the air every now and then.

7 staccato organ chords stop everything. All the basses turn to the wall. From the distant heights (the church tower or a distant, higher room) a chord of 7 trombones can be heard.

In total, 13 trombone chords will be heard in the following 7 Periods, with their impact and timbre powerfully enhanced by the supporting organ. According to the composer:

In each trombone chord, one pitch can be heard especially loud, doubled by several trombones, and the main pitches gradually form the LUCIFER melody […] which – like the last segment of the formula of SATURDAY from LIGHT – gets stuck on C.

This "getting stuck on C" explains 13 chords for the just 11 pitches of the Lucifer nuclear formula; in fact, only 10 pitches are presented (see the music example in the CD booklet).

The particular number of trombone chords, thirteen, of course corresponds to the Luciferian counting from one to thirteen. This counting is materialized, in other places during these 7 periods, through drawn-out presentation of the numbers by the second basses in a subdued tone (quasi-‘whispering’) and resolves, as mentioned before, Lucifer’s number into the weekdays’ number. In the majority of cases, the counting is not a very obvious part of the larger vocal texture; only the numbers one, seven, twelve and thirteen are presented by themselves, with the last three standing out. The counting of "uno" (one), stretched out as "u – no", was heard at the very beginning of the present period, from 0’06" to 0’09".

The other numbers from two to thirteen will be heard, also in rather drawn-out presentation, by the second basses:

In track 9 (8th Period) at 0’56" ("due", two) and at 1’49" ("tre", three);
in track 10 (9th Period) at 0’43" ("quattro", four), at 1’39" ("cinque", five) and at 2’59" ("sei", six);
in track 11 (10th Period) at 0’30" ("sette", seven; clear whispering of the number alone), at 2’16" ("otto", eight) and at 3’05" ("nove", nine);
in track 12 (11th period) at 0’08" ("dieci", ten; together with the words "La Santa"); "undici" (eleven) is indiscernible by ear.

In track 13 (Twelfth Period) immediately after the trombone chord, the number "dodici", twelve, is sung syllable by syllable. In track 14 (Thirteenth Period) the number "tredici", thirteen, is sung several times very clearly, as the endpoint of the counting. Apart from this obvious case, repetitions of other numbers at their respective appearances can also be heard at times.

*****

Similarity of musical characteristics is shared by the following three periods (CD tracks 9–11):

Eighth Period: "La pura e santa semplicità confonde ogni sapienza di questo mondo / e la sapienza della carne – The pure and holy Simplicity confounds all wisdom of this world / and the wisdom of the flesh."

Ninth Period: "La santa povertà confonde ogni cupidigia / e avarizia / e le preoccupazioni di questo mondo – The holy Poverty confounds all greed / and avarice / and the preoccupations of this world."

Tenth Period: "La santa umiltà confonde la superbia / e tutti gli uomini di questo mondo / e tutte le cose di questo mondo – The holy Humility confounds pride / and all earthly mortals / and all wordly things."

In these periods, and also in the second half of the Eleventh Period (track 12), the voices of solo singers engage in energetic shout-singing/shouting, often with wide interval leaps, while emphasizing each syllable along the way. Voices alternate with each other, at times slowly, and at other times rather quickly. The ferocious slashing through musical space of these vocal articulations is answered by entirely different choral gestures. The choir singers individually repeat syllables in irregular rhythms of medium, sometimes rapid, tempo. This dense scattering of voices is reminiscent of the vocal gestures in the Praying-moment of MOMENTE, where it is described by the composer as having an effect "as a whole sounding like the murmur of a praying crowd" (From the libretto, Texte der Momente für Solosopran, 4 Chorgruppen und 13 Instrumentalisten: Europa Version 1972, Stockhausen-Verlag 1993, p. 29, my translation). The density of vocal articulation, mostly soft in character, and the stasis of pitch in these choral textures form a maximal counterweight of contrast to the expansive gestures of the solo singers. The polarity between elemental energy in the solo parts and complexity of the choir texture is compelling. The drama again is underscored by footsteps, mass bells and Good Friday clappers.

The resurgences of the vocal solos after the choral murmur are each announced by one of the trombone chords that Stockhausen describes above.

In the Tenth Period (at the beginning of CD track 11), "on the 7th trombone chord, after ‘the holy Poverty’ has confounded ‘the preoccupations of this world’, a sack falls from heaven. It is full and closed. The last of the 1st basses rushes to it and takes it for himself" (Stockhausen).

Following the noise of falling, the footsteps of the first bass and the ensuing silence stand out to great effect.

Eleventh Period (CD track 12):
"La santa carità confonde tutte le diaboliche e mondane tentazioni / e tutti i timori umani – The holy Love confounds all devilish and wordly temptations / and all human fears."

The composer says:

Directly after the 10th trombone chord, voices and organ become synchronous with the words: "La santa carita confonde tutte le diaboliche e mondane tentazioni."

Here the choir, supplemented by the organ, returns to the singing of more drawn-out notes. The alternation of whisper-song with gentle singing creates a strange, beguiling, floating texture.

Then in the second half of the period, previous characteristics of the music surface again:

On the 11th trombone chord and the subsequent bass solo"e tutti i timori umani", a hellish racket breaks out. (Stockhausen)

This succession of bass solo and "hellish racket" in the choir is the culmination and, at the same time, end point of the contrasting of energetic solo singing in wide interval leaps with scattered choral complexity as a response, as it had been heard from the Eighth Period (CD track 9) onward.

Twelfth Period (CD track 13):
"La santa obbedienza confonde tutti I piaceri della carne / e tiene il cuerpo mortificato, docile all’ obbedienza dello spirito / e all’ obbedienza al propio fratello – The holy Obedience confounds all lusts of the flesh / and keeps the body mortified, dedicated to the obedience of the spirit / and obedience to his brother."

The drawn-out character of choral singing is not only picked up from before, but even further intensified as a group of tenors lays a carpet of sustained vibrato notes underneath unison singing of the basses together with some other tenors, resulting in a moment of sublime beauty.

Thirteenth Period (CD track 14):
"e rende l’uomo soggetto a tutti gli uomini di questo mondo / e non soltanti agli uomini ma anche agli animali, alle fiere, / cosi che possono fare di lui quello che vogliono, / in quanto sarà loro permesso dal Segnore – And makes humans serve all the humans of this world, / and not only the humans, but also the tame and wild animals, / so that they may live in freedom, / in so far as the Lord permits."

Individual basses and tenors alternate in solemn singing of this verse in a soaring, elegantly fluid manner. For the last line of the verse, solo voices join in unison. The choir several times whispers "tre-di-ci" (thirteen), the last Luciferian number of LICHT, and the period ends on "tre-di-ci" as well.

Ausgang (Exit) (CD track 15)

Church bells start to ring and will continue to do so until the end. The regular patterns of the bells are countered by irregular sounds of chatter and the footsteps of the monks leaving the church, and from this juxtaposition an attractive fabric of sound arises.

At first, the microphones capture the sound of the singers exiting the church, which at some point slowly fades away and/or is actively faded out below the church bells which continue ringing at unchanged volume. At low volume and seamlessly, the microphone feed gradually turns to the sound of the singers gathering outside the church and, in the process, increases in volume again (the sound now also becomes much drier as it leaves the resonant acoustics of the church). Finally, as the composer describes:

Outside, they [basses and tenors] position themselves in front of the portal in a circle. The first of the 2nd basses takes the birdcage down and calls once again for holy obedience to "also the tame and wild animals". At that, the others imitate bird calls with the syllables of the words "anche agli animali, alle fiere", clapping and ringing and tramping, and at this

the bird is set free.

The singers move in a procession to an enclosed stone slab in the forecourt of the church, and stand in a queue in front of it. The singer carrying the sack walks ahead, opens the sack at the stone, takes out a brown coconut, stands facing the stone, raises the nut above his head holding it with both hands, closes his eyes, makes a wish –
the others clap, ring, tramp, sing the syllable "Lo-------"
with ascending glissando and crescendo -------------
and abruptly throws the nut against the flat stone slab.

As the nut smashes, all sing fortissimo the second syllable "di!", followed by a general pause.

Then quickly, one after the other, in the same manner, each singer smashes a coconut while the others each time sing a new syllable with crescendo:

"del-le / vir-tù / lo-di / del-le / vir-tù…!" / etc."

*****

This ritual was apparently inspired by Stockhausen’s experiences at the Kataragama religious festival in Ceylon, as he recalls it in Jonathan Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer, Pan Books Ltd., 1974, p. 161:

Several days before [the festival] starts – even after it has begun – you can see lots of families with their kids on the road walking literally hundreds of miles to go to Kataragama, where every year there’s a two-week festival for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. For the Hindus, it’s a festival of self-punishment; for the Buddhists, a festival of joy; and for the Muslims, of competition.

When you arrive you see the river filled with human bodies alongside elephants taking a bath. The water is considered holy, so there are many sick people, but others, too, pouring the water over themselves . . . The first thing everybody does is to walk to the main temple, in front of which is a large stone and a hill of coconuts. Each person takes one, prays a little, stands there with eyes closed – an enormous tension building up in the face – then all of a sudden he opens his eyes, throws the coconut on that stone, and then watches the result. If it splits exactly in the middle, the wish that he’s just formulated in his mind will be fulfilled. And if it breaks with many little splinters, the wish is rejected. If it breaks in uneven pieces, the wish will be only partly fulfilled. And as you look at all the people passing by in line you can observe every imaginable human expression – the very happy face, the slightly disappointed face, the proud face, the furious face – one after another.

As mentioned in the introduction, the choir in LUZIFERs ABSCHIED is divided into three groups of 13 singers each. What is more, these three groups are costumed in monks’ habits of white (tenors), brown (basses I), and black (basses II), indicating they are of three different religious orders – likely as a symbolic parallel to the three religions represented at the Kataragama festival in Ceylon.

Incidentally, coconuts are sold by vendors all over the cathedral square in Milan – they appear to be highly popular refreshments there. Stockhausen must have been familiar with this from his earlier visits to Milan for the world premiere of DONNERSTAG aus LICHT at La Scala, and it may have been an additional incentive for him to incorporate the coconut ritual into SAMSTAG, which also was first performed in Milan.

*****

The ascending glissandi and crescendi, heard each time a new singer smashes a coconut, undergo many variations. They repeatedly play with the listener's anticipation that they should rise to the energy level of the first glissando-crescendo. Most of the time they stop short of this, however – while at other moments they approach or even fulfill expectations. The skillful and imaginative implementations of this simple idea to create tension, with constantly new variations, lend a particular fascination to the extended passage which does not wear off upon repeated listening. The ever new turns to these ascending lines are provided by diverse shapes – as a continuous sweep or as more of a stepwise progression in different rhythmic configurations – and by the various durations.

The constant ringing of church bells supplies a continuum of sound from which the vocal lines – supported by the excited clapping, ringing, and trampling – surge time and again. The changes in which particular bells are rung at a given moment are dramatic, providing incisive alterations in the timbre.

In the large-scale formal development, the repeatedly ascending vocal lines can be viewed as a parallel to the energetic ascensions in the third and fourth periods (see above), even though their structure is different.

At last, the excited repetitions of rising lines come to an end. The unison voices scatter and then die down, and the only sounds left are the church bells. These are joined by the chirping of birds outside the church in the late spring weather at the time of the recording. During these last minutes, time is suspended.



© Albrecht Moritz 2012


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