Stockhausen

SAMSTAG aus LICHT (SATURDAY from LIGHT), 1981–83

INTRODUCTION

This text was edited by Jerome Kohl


The opera consists of four scenes, preceded by a Greeting for 26 brass players and two percussionists (8 min.).

1st Scene:
LUZIFERs TRAUM (Lucifer’s Dream) for bass voice and piano, duration about 36 min.

2nd Scene:
KATHINKAs GESANG (Kathinka’s Chant) for flute and 6 percussionists, duration about 33 min.

3rd Scene:
LUZIFERs TANZ (Lucifer’s Dance) for bass voice, piccolo trumpet, piccolo flute / stilt dancer, ballet (or mimes) / wind orchestra (symphonic band) of about 80 players; duration about 51 min.

4th Scene:
LUZIFERs ABSCHIED (Lucifer’s Farewell) for male choir of 39 singers (13 tenors, 2 x 13 basses), 7 trombones and organ, duration about 1 hour

*****

SAMSTAG is, after DONNERSTAG, the second opera written by Stockhausen out of the seven comprising the LICHT cycle, which portrays the seven days of the week. The three main protagonists of the opera cycle are Michael, Eve and Lucifer. Saturday is Lucifer’s Day (Michael’s and Eve’s days are Thursday and Monday, respectively).

In LICHT, Lucifer is characterized as the cosmic spirit of rebellion, in accordance with the Urantia Book, which is one of several sources of inspiration – by no means the only one – of the opera cycle’s content. "Lucifer negates […] While composing I am constantly aware that Lucifer mostly does the opposite from what one of the other two persons is doing" (Stockhausen, Texte zur Musik 9, p. 19, translation by the author). In the tradition of several main branches of Christianity, Lucifer (a Latin word meaning Light Bearer, and a Roman name for the Morning Star) is commonly identified with Satan, the name of the archangel in his fallen state. In contrast, Stockhausen’s character is just called Lucifer.

Like Michael and Eve, however, the character of Lucifer can manifest himself in LICHT as several different personages; among those manifestations of Lucifer are the Father (in DONNERSTAG), Ludon (in FREITAG) and Lucipolyp (in MONTAG). The last scene of SAMSTAG uses the Hymn to the Virtues by St. Francis of Assisi as libretto. The central verse of the Hymn states "The holy Wisdom confounds Satan and all his temptations". Yet unlike the manifestations of Lucifer just mentioned, Satan is not a manifestation of Lucifer’s persona here, as he is Lucifer’s minister of foreign affairs (communication by Stockhausen, expressed in an email by Kathinka Pasveer to the author, Nov. 15, 2005). Also, even though his "confounding" is depicted in vivid music and stage action, Satan is not present as a physical person in this scene.

In this context it should be pointed out that the message of LICHT does not appear to revolve around particular religious beliefs. Rather, it is concerned with universal concepts regarding human nature, the relationship of humans with God and the battle of spirits and minds. As the framework for this message, the opera cycle uses a specific spiritual mythology, created from familiar religious elements – as an example, the "mystical union of Michael and Eve" from SONNTAG has parallels in the teachings of "mystical union", e.g., of the soul with God, in several of the major world religions, but is not found as such in any religion (and, by the way, not in the Urantia Book, either).

Following his conversations with the composer, Jerome Kohl summarizes the preoccupations of Lucifer in Perspectives of New Music, vol. 22 (1984), p. 489:

Lucifer [. . .] is concerned with reason, with complexity, with Magic, with time (and therefore rhythm), with humor, and above all with death.

Stockhausen explains, in Texte zur Musik 6, p. 156 (translation by the author): "Saturday is the day of Lucifer, the day of death, the day of the dance of death, and of the transition to the Light." (Compare also the comments on KATHINKAs GESANG, CD booklet, p.73)

Michael Kurtz writes in his Stockhausen biography (London: Faber & Faber; p. 216)

Samstag, Lucifer’s day, is the day of death, and work on his second evening of opera demanded that Stockhausen confront this age-old human question. Is death an end, to be awaited with fear or stoic equanimity? Not for Stockhausen. ‘From Childhood on, I quite often experienced death directly as the moment of a possible transition that can come at any time, something we do not necessarily have to spend twenty, thirty or forty years preparing for, and which is followed immediately by continuation in some other form. My conception of art and the whole of my work in composition have been stamped with this experience.’ Stockhausen’s life-motto, ‘Birth in death’, now assumed its broadest dimensions: death on earth is seen as birth into a world beyond, as the possibility of a new existence in the ‘light’, in the lux eterna, if the soul can maintain itself in clear consciousness. Many factors have left their mark on Stockhausen’s image of death: the inner certainty of an ineradicable self and the constantly experienced presence of dead friends and relatives; but there are also the various conceptions of death in other cultures, his impressions as a traveller and the study of the classic books of the dead. Stockhausen concluded his preparations for Samstag by studying the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and said at that time that he had inwardly come to terms with the question of death.

The theme of death appears in diverse forms in the opera:

In the first scene, LUZIFERs TRAUM (Lucifer’s Dream), Lucifer seeks to "nullify time" – but what does this mean if not to end all life? And at the end, Lucifer dies an apparent death.

Also in JAHRESLAUF (Course of the years) from DIENSTAG, the day of war between Michael and Lucifer, Lucifer repeatedly tries to stop time, while Michael puts it in motion again on every occasion.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Greek Titan Kronos, the lord of time, has his Roman equivalent in Saturn who, in astrology, has been equated with Satan. Therefore, assigning to Lucifer the role of "lord of time", even if he then tries to use this function for destructive purposes, seems fitting.

Because Saturday is actually Saturnday (as the composer points out, CD booklet, p.73) – and since, as just mentioned, Satan has been equated with Saturn, the notion of Saturday as the day of Lucifer seems natural as well (despite the fact that the Roman name actually refers to Venus).

KATHINKAs GESANG (Kathinka’s Chant), the second scene, in addition to being a "Requiem for Lucifer" after his apparent death, is also a ritual for the recently departed soul, preparing it for the "transition to the Light".

LUZIFERs TANZ (Lucifer’s Dance), the third scene, is a Dance of Death (see the composer’s comments above), with enslaved mankind (possibly in the form of reanimated dead, i.e., zombies) jerking about, as elements of a giant face, commanded by Lucifer. It also points to the "transition to the Light", following this admonition:

If you, Man, have never learned from LUCIFER
how the spirit of contradiction and independence
distorts the expression of the face,
how brow can dance versus brow,
– eye versus eye,
cheek versus cheek,
nose versus cheek,
lip versus nose,
tongue versus lip
and chin versus tongue –
you cannot turn your countenance in harmony
towards the LIGHT.

And, at the end:

As soon as you have tried out your countenance – divided into ten parts – in all dissonances, rhythms and grimaces, it will disintegrate, empty and hollowed out, before in the realm of souls, invisible to the human eye, it will resurrect on SUNDAY.

In LUZIFERs ABSCHIED (Lucifer’s Farewell), the last scene of SAMSTAG, death is also a subject matter, though in a purely spiritual way. The text, the Praise of the Virtues by St. Francis of Assisi, also called Hymn to the Virtues, includes the following:

All you holiest virtues, the lord save you, who come from him and return to him.
There is certainly no mortal
in the world
who could possess
even one of you
if he does not first die.

From the viewpoint of Christian theology, upon which the text is based, no human being can possess any of the holy virtues (in the text of St. Francis: wisdom, simplicity, poverty, humility, charity, obedience) if (s)he does not first "die to sin" in order to being able to live in God, which subsequently allows the transition to the afterlife – or in the terminology of LICHT: "the transition to the Light".

In the libretti of LICHT, explicit mention of Saturday as the day of death is found in the 7 Songs of the days from MONTAG (see CD booklet there, p. 179) – where the day is also associated with "Saturn-Licht" – and in DÜFTE-ZEICHEN (Scent-Signs) from SONNTAG (see CD booklet there, p. 29), where it is also called "Saturn’s day".

*****

After discussing the opera’s opening music, SATURDAY GREETING, Stockhausen comments on an encompassing process in the opera (CD booklet, p. 66):

The music of the SATURDAY GREETING clarifies, in concentrated form, a process occurring in the four scenes of SATURDAY from LIGHT as a whole: the opening up of the space and the liberation of the sound.

The 1st scene, LUCIFER’S DREAM, takes place in the narrowest space with only 2 people (bass, pianist), who appear out of nowhere, hardly move and, at the end, "disappear".

The 2nd scene, KATHINKA’S CHANT as LUCIFER’S REQUIEM, widens the orientation to middle (flutist on 2 mandalas), left and right (3 percussionists each) with 7 people, who either leave during the ENTLASSUNG/RELEASE (percussionists) or climb into the grave during AUSWEG/EXIT (flutist).

The 3rd scene, LUCIFER’S DANCE, layers everything vertically by means of a stilt dancer and a wind orchestra sitting on 6 levels, one above the other, in the shape of a Giant Face which is finally blown up by a strike.

The 4th scene, LUCIFER’S FAREWELL, then presents both static and rotating panorama events as well as diagonal events by means of singers who stand, walk, run and dance. It also presents distant events through the use of hidden tenors, organ, 7 trombones (heard from far off), of singers departing into the distance and the flying away of the liberated wild bird.

(For the nature and dramatic action of the scenes, see the essays on each scene.)

Ritualistic music and SAMSTAG

Ritualistic atmosphere plays a major role in the music of LICHT. Some scenes in the opera cycle are literally rituals. Several examples:

FESTIVAL, from the third act of DONNERSTAG, is a ritual of homecoming;

EVAs ERSTGEBURT (Eve’s First Birth-Giving), the opening scene of MONTAG, is a consecration ritual of the earth-mother statue, and – from the same opera – MÄDCHENPROZESSION (Girl’s Procession) and BEFRUCHTUNG mit KLAVIERSTÜCK (Conception with Piano Piece) are rituals of fertility;

HOCH-ZEITEN (Weddings, also High Times) from SONNTAG is a wedding ritual;

LICHTER-WASSER (Lights-Waters) and ENGEL-PROZESSIONEN (Angel-Processions) from the same opera also appear to portray rituals, though less obviously.

SAMSTAG, the opera discussed here, is the one opera of the LICHT cycle which prominently features ritual as subject matter throughout:

LUZIFERs TRAUM is a ritual spell by which Lucifer attempts to annihilate time;

KATHINKAs GESANG, as already mentioned, is a ritual for the recently departed soul.

LUZIFERs TANZ is a ritual of distortion of the expression of a giant face, through a dance of its components, by the spirit of contradiction and independence;

LUZIFERs ABSCHIED is an exorcism ritual and, in addition, includes at the end the divining ritual from the Kataragama Festival of Sri Lanka.

*****

In several of the acts or scenes of LICHT not only the atmosphere and/or the subject matter are conducive to the perception of ritual, but the musical proceedings themselves directly evoke ritual.

The first composition of the opera cycle, DER JAHRESLAUF (The Course of the Years, 1977), later incorporated with modifications and extensions into DIENSTAG aus LICHT as its first act, already features ritual as a theme, and through large stretches evokes it musically in textures which combine a circling around tightly confined sets of figures with a relatively static character – a perceived lack of directional forward impetus, even though the level of musical activity may be high and the inner life of the music intense.

An impression of ritual is caused by the musical proceedings themselves in later scenes, acts or layers of LICHT as well. A few examples are FESTIVAL from DONNERSTAG with its stark singing of live soloists/choir contrasting against the tape of the UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE (Invisible Choirs) with their quasi shout-singing, KNABEN-GESCHREI (Boy’s Hullabaloo) from MONTAG, and HOCH-ZEITEN from SONNTAG.

Just as in DER JAHRESLAUF, ritual is evoked in these scenes by a static texture combined with a circling around restricted sets of gestures. This combination of features elicits the impression of ritual so readily because it emulates musically a characteristic ritual: repeated invocation.

This kind of ritual is found – in vastly diverse forms – in numerous rites, religions, ceremonies and meditation exercises. To name a few examples, tribal shamans practice repeated invocation in their ceremonies, as do the public or private recitation of the rosary and the litany of saints of the Catholic church, and it also occurs in certain prayer forms of the Muslim Sufi. The mantra as mystic word, repeated in (private or public) prayer or in meditation, is an important practice in Hinduism and Buddhism. Related to this, Stockhausen’s work MANTRA for two pianos and ring modulators (1970), his first formula composition, concentrates on a single mantric formula over its entire duration.

*****

Taking a closer look at the evocation of ritual by the specific combination of circling around confined sets of figures with a rather static texture, we may note the following:

The compositional texture of circling, restricted sets of figures is by itself not enough to convey an impression of ritual. A vast catalog of music, generated by composers over centuries, features musical development that circles around limited sets of short motifs. Prime examples are many of the preludes of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

The static character in the above-mentioned parts of LICHT, however, gives the impression of a recurring onset of musical phrases in an invocational manner. Moreover, in numerous cases the phrases themselves have an invocational quality (for instance, many of those sung by the – almost tribal sounding – choir in UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE).

In contrast, the varied repetition of motivic cells in, for example, Beethoven’s symphonic movements, is guided by strongly directional, overarching lines, by tonal progressions and by forward impetus in general, and thus does not give rise to a static invocational atmosphere, which would evoke a sense of ritual. Similar considerations hold for repetition of guitar riffs and bass lines in rock music; the drive and forward impetus of the music excludes a ritualistic impression.

On the other hand, static textures alone of course do not necessarily evoke ritual.

*****

The LICHT opera which not just in terms of subject matter but also musically, with the combination of relatively static atmosphere and of circling around single figures or confined groups of figures, appears as most ritualistic overall, is SAMSTAG. In many passages of the music the varied repeats of gestures constantly begin on or around the same pitch, which further emphasizes the stasis. As in UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE, in SAMSTAG the phrases themselves also often have an invocational character (immediately evident are the flute gestures in the first two exercises of KATHINKAs GESANG – second CD, tracks 2 and 3).

There is just one scene in the opera, LUZIFERs TRAUM, where, after the introductory music, stasis is only a factor on the most local level (here, however, it becomes an important symbolism for "nullifying" time) and where revolving of textures around restricted sets of short gestures plays a lesser role. However, recurrence of melodic/motivic gestures is still of great importance, and in this scene ritual is evoked by the solemn conjuring of elements by the bass voice (Lucifer) and by the prominence of recurrent counting and other noise layers.

In contrast, other operas of LICHT alternate the ritualistic atmosphere and texture of some of their scenes or acts with more linearly developing, less circular, stretches of music – for example, VISION in DONNERSTAG or EVAs LIED (Eve’s Song) and AVE in MONTAG. In fact, the duet of basset horn and alto flute in AVE is an unusual, extreme instance of openness of musical narrative (see also my essay on AVE in the version for just the two woodwind instruments).

Humor

Though SAMSTAG is about death, it is fundamentally a comic opera. Humor is found in many of Stockhausen’s works, and Lucifer is concerned with it as well, see above. In addition, the composer comments in an interview with Jerome Kohl ("Stockhausen on Opera," Perspectives of New Music vol. 23, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 1985), p. 26):

Humor is always connected with something that frightens you, and yet you laugh, because laughing is a liberation in this context.

In the first scene of the opera, LUZIFERs TRAUM, all kinds of noises are made on the piano, alongside "normal" playing, and extraneous noises from the player are also heard, such as whistling. The humor associated with many occurrences of these noises is, amongst other things, supplemented by counting in all kinds of contortions, by "whole-body" clusters on the piano, and by the toy rockets shot off in sychronization with the counting at one point. At the end, Lucifer dies an apparent death which, however, if one may believe the sounds that are heard, seems to consist in simply "snoozing away". In KATHINKAs GESANG (or Luzifer’s Requiem), Lucifer’s tomb is an upturned grand piano without legs, and the percussionists look a bit like monsters from another world, as crazy as the music they play (to paraphrase the composer; compare Stockhausen 70, Pfau Verlag 1998, p. 24). In LUZIFERs TANZ a wind orchestra is seated vertically to form a face that dances in grimaces, and there is a stilt dancer as well, which of course leads to comically warped movements. In the last scene, LUZIFERs ABSCHIED, the choir "monks" are behaving in "crazy" ways, even running around in circles while shouting, and there are all kinds of vocal contortions, not to mention the coconuts.



© Albrecht Moritz 2007


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