Stockhausen, Karlheinz

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz

Karlheinz Stockhausen (kärl´hīnts shtôk´houzən), 1928–2007, German composer, music theorist, and teacher; his first name also appears as Karl Heinz. He studied composition with Frank Martin in Cologne (1950–51) and with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud in Paris (1951–53). Stockhausen is ranked with the most inventive of avant-garde composers. He frequently employed serial music techniques in his works, was a major developer and proponent of electronic music, and was enormously influential with many younger classical composers. His wide-ranging influence was also felt by a number of rock, pop, and jazz musicians of the 1960s and 70s. Often using complicated contrapuntal systems, Stockhausen's compositions are characterized by much emphasis on free rhythms, tonal repetition, dissonance, and percussive effects. He was an adherent of aleatory music and allowed performers to determine certain aspects of a performance, e.g., they can improvise, begin and end at different points, and decide at what speed to sing and play.

Stockhausen's unique approach is well illustrated by his composition Gruppen [groups] (1957); in this piece three separate orchestras, each with its own conductor, play simultaneously; sometimes their music coincides; sometimes they play against one another; sometimes they play antiphonally. Among Stockhausen's other compositions are Kreuzspiel (1948); Kontrapunkte No. 1 (1953), for 10 instruments; Kontakte (1960), for electronic music; Stimmung (American premiere, 1971), for voices; and Jubilee (1981), for orchestra. His monumental Licht [light], a cycle of seven operas (one for each day of the week) with mystical and cosmic overtones, was begun in 1977 and completed in 2003. His final electronic work, Cosmic Pulses, debuted in 2008. During his late period of composition, he and his work were venerated by a small circle but largely ignored in the larger world of contemporary classical music. In all, Stockhausen wrote about 300 works, approximately half of which had electronic elements.

See R. Maconie, ed., Stockhausen on Music: Lectures and Interviews (1989); biographies by K. H. Wörner (1973) and M. Kurtz (1991); J. Harvey, Music of Stockhausen: An Introduction (1975); R. Maconie, Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (1976, repr. 1981, 1990) and Other Planets: The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (2005).

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