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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Instrumental theatre of Karlheinz Stockhausen: varieties and means of realization

Petrov Vladislav Olegovich

Doctor of Art History

Professor at the Department of Theory and History of Music of Astrakhan State Conservatory

414000, Russia, Astrakhanskaya oblast', g. Astrakhan', ul. Sovetskaya, 23

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Abstract: This article examines one of the most unique and widely known musical genres of the second half of XX century – instrumental theatre, which saw its bright implementation in the work on the renowned German avant-gardist Karlheinz Stockhausen. The author analyzes Stockhausen’s instrumental theatre – from using simple relocation of musicians and specific placement of instruments on the stage, to creating full-blown instrumental-theatrical spectacles. A special attention is given to the issue of interpretation and scenic re-creation of the instrumental-theatrical compositions. An attempt is made at a comprehensive study of Stockhausen’s instrumental theatre: the analysis of his oeuvres is aimed at determining the general regularities of the manifestation of this genre in composer’s work. The scientific novelty consists in the fact that until today they instrumental theatre of Stockhausen has not become the object of e dedicated close attention of art scholars. As the conducted analysis of his works demonstrates, his methods of creation of the instrumental-theatrical composition have significantly affected the evolution of the instrumental theatre as a genre, and broadened its genre aspects.  


art, musicology, synthesis of the arts, instrumental theater, Stockhausen, performance, syncretism, synesthesia, postmodernism, musical genre

Instrumental theatre of Karlheinz Stockhausen: types and methods of realization

The second half of the XXth century, as we know, is characterized by the emergence of a number of new musical genres united by the evident tendency forwards the synthesis of arts. One of them the instrumental theatre is represented by a great number of many sided and many valued, from the artistic point of view, compositions. This genre distinguishes the works of many leading composers of the given period: J. Cage, M. Kagel, F. Rzewski, S. Gubaidulina. R. Shchedrin, V. Yekimovsky, F. Karayev. All of the authors mentioned have their own reasons of using the devices of theatricality of the instrumental space, their own methods of putting into practice the elements of the theatre at the stage realization of instrumental opuses (Problems of history and theory of the instrumental theatre are being considered by us in the next works: [7, 8, 9]).

The theatricality of the instrumental performance in seen especially vividly in the musical legacy of K. Stockhausen, who believed that in 999 people of 1000 in our society there prevails a visual principle in their perception and there is only one way for them to convert the experienced data of sense perception into the visual images [12, . 52]. He considered that the score of the opus, representing the instrumental theatre, had to be based upon the description of the detailed scheme of actions instead of presenting the notation in music. On this we see a specific trait of Stockhausens instrumental theatre, that can be observed in his compositions Harlekin (1975) for the clarinet, Autumn music (1975) for the four performers; but at the same time the given genre can allow notation of music suffice it to cite as an example the scores G. Crumb, F. Rzewski, S. Slonimsky and by a whole number of more conservative in this respect authors. In Stockhausens opuses, referring to the instrumental theatre, in contrast to those by M. Kagel, J. Cage and B.-A. Zimmermann, there is used to an even greater degree aleatorics form; in these scores, as much as possible, there is represented the scheme of the stage action of performers and the musical texture can be, to some degree, chosen by instrumentalists. Such tendency is characteristic for the compositions by Stockhausen referring to the years 60-ies 80-ies of the XXth century. While in his later works it becomes specific for him to write out the whole musical material in the score. For example, the score of his piece Joy (the cycle Sound, 2005) for the two harps possesses the whole complex of standard notation; in it theres written out the whole musical scheme and also the text, which the harpists are to sing and recite in Latin Praise to the Holy ghost, Consoler spread far of (Gregorian chant of the IX century, converted into a prayer hymn in Roman Catholicism). They sing both solo and in duet, each playing their own musical material.

In Stockhausens aesthetics as well as in that of the founder of the instrumental theatre Kagel there is one aspect drawing their views together: the movements of the instrumentalists, connected with the transformation of the acoustic space in most cases were done within the frames of the concert hall so-called settled zone of the instrumentalists. Stockhausen said that action becomes the means of the sound: what is heard and seen coincides, what is being heard is perceived as a direct result of action and vice versa. action serves to associate the music heard (and seen at the same time) with the music read (which I see and at the same time I read inwardly) [15, . 90]. So, accordingly, in Stockhausens instrumental theatre, music, the acoustic, filling of the space (inspire of the aleatoric method of writing the score) is principal and the theatrical effect is aimed at a fuller exposition of the musical idea and at the rise of the hearers definite associations and emotions, but not at all at the deliberate epatage. Thus at the stage realization of the opus Harmonies (the cycle Sound, 2006) for the bass-clarinet Stockhausen demands movements and action from the performer. Yet, these actions must not be too active in order not to reduce the level of the artistic significance of the music. Considering the problems of theatricality in performing Stockhausens works, S. Savenko marks: The broadening of possibilities of music in the sphere of spatial coordinates, not very usual for it, inevitably introduces a visual aspect. Music begins to come into risky contacts with the vast sphere of the extra-sound. Similar experiments, rather wide-spread in the vanguard arts of the 60-ies, were directly inspired by the development of the aleatoric devices: freedom of choice, offered by the composer, brought in an inevitable element of theatricality into the playing of the performers, thus turning to actions. Its quite natural that the degree of freedom, various composers differs greatly: from improvisation in separate details (for example metro-rhythmical) up to transforming the composition into a kind of musical happening, closing up to the theatre of absurd. Sheer radicalism of Cages type remained alien to K. Stockhausen, but in his creative work at the beginning of 60-ies extra-musical elements are noticeably activated [11, . 95-96].

Following the American H. Brant, Stockhausen created his own conception of spatial music, the first example of which became his composition Groups/Gruppen (1955-1957) for three orchestras and three conductors; at the performance of which there takes place the division of the instrumental staffs in the space of the whole concert premises: one orchestra can be on the stage, the second in the hall, the third on the balcony. Yes, the ideal place from the composers point of view world be performing in the hall without any stage at all, when the orchestras could be on one level and surround the public in the form of a horse-shoe. Stockhausen marked: In reality I wanted to create a usual orchestral play, but when I began to consider some temporary conformities to natural laws in music for its organization, I had to put a number of metronomic tempos one on another. It turned out impossible to find such a solution, in which one conductor would be able to conduct three section of the beg orchestra in various tempos. So, I came to the conclusion that the sole solution of the problem is the division of temporary conformities and placing every group into a separate space [14, . 108]. Considering the Groups/Gruppen, S. Savenko remarks that Spatial existence of music can give a new spectrum of means of expression, in particular it can give birth to spatial melody, connecting all the proportional relations of stereophony. The impressive example of that can be the culminational zone of Groups with its sounding that flows from one orchestra to another. Stereophonic effects require new conditions of musical functioning: new peculiar auditoriums are to replace the traditional concert hall [10, . 20]. Essential is the opinion of E. Nazaikinsky here: Tempos and rhythms of music, written for every orchestra are original and intended just for a special effect of confluence of the various into some integral generalized whole, where spatially divided ensembles do keep their autonomy nevertheless, at all that freedom of tempos and rhythms in every orchestra the hearers perception also clearly grasps moments of concordance. They are quite often occur in common intervals (silence as deep space), in informal phonic colors; and this homogeny provides timber and instrumental unity of going sounding, since for the differentiation of the groups the spatial factor proper is the used [6, . 451]. Musical themes of the orchestras, every one of which is atonal, rich in sonoristical elements depending on the conductors will, can follow one another (at that the dynamic recession is marked) can follow one another temporally (the dynamic growth is marked) they are based on the antiphonal oppositions. When the orchestrants are immovable, there arises movability of the material, migrating from orchestra to orchestra and recreating the original atmosphere of sounding in the whole. Hearers pay attention to various groups of the orchestra.

Stockhausen paid special attention to the disposition of instrumentalists in the space of the stage. The composer most often uses the location of the instruments in the form of a semicircle, thus the sound coming from each of them focuses in one point of the stage, as it comes into its empty space, and only after that, combined with the sounds from other instruments goes as a sole sound wave into the hall. In other words the united sound wave is now formed in this case not in the process of the movement of a number of sound waves (rays) to the hall, as at the traditional frontal disposition of the instruments, but already in the middle of the stage space there takes place the so called sound interference (adding of a number of sound waves into one sound source). One of such early compositions is the opus Measure of time/Zeitmasze (1955-1956) for woodwinds, dramatic in its content. It is supposed that the instrumentalists will sit facing the conductor in a slightly distorted semicircle, the distance among them from the oboe to the bassoon shortens, the oboe-player sits nearest of all to the conductor:


Stockhausen thought it was ideal: the plain sound wave, typical for the frontal principle, in connection with his indispensable condition of devising the musicians and the public is sent into the hall not in the dispersed variant (as at the linear disposition of the instruments parallel to the border of the stage, when the public, sitting in the right of the stage hears more distinctly the sound material from the performers playing on the right side of the stage), but as a sound complex, which finds its synthesis in the centre of the stage. Stockhausen offers various kinds of modification of the instruments sounding, when there appear the performers solo, duets, trios, quartets, quintets. Taking into account the fact, that the part of any of woodwind instruments is atonal, has its complex rhythmical and melodious lines, their combination adds peculiar specifics of perception. Besides its extraordinary sound combination, Measure of time/Zeitmasze gives the public the visual effect, used by the composer undeliberately: the disposition depends on acoustic experiments. Even such a point of stage performance as the disposition of the instruments is very important for Stockhausen, its important gust from the point of view of the publics perception both auditory and visual; Stockhausen market that our conception of true perception rests upon the visual, that has brought us to an extraordinary situation, when nobody believes anything till he sees it. In all spheres of social life theres discovered need in visual expressions people dont believe in what they cant see. And it leads to the strange reaction of most people, when they listen to (spatial) music: hearing sounds, going outmost far and then coming back to the maximum, they say that its an illusion [13, . 226]. The work at the problem of interrelation of instruments in the acoustic space used to lead Stockhausen to an extraordinary disposition of instruments on the stage, for example, to such, which is used in Measure of time/Zeitmasze. The analogous disposition is also used by Stockhausen in the composition Farewell/Adieu (1965) for the flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and clarinet.

At the stage realization of the piece Mixture (1967) for the orchestra and a number of sinusoidal modulators, regulating the supply of sound, according to the scheme, the orchestra is devided into the groups, which form a circle:


The public is inside it. The availability of technical means, used by the composer, let the public hear the sound material in separate places of its presence in a peculiar aura Stockhausen compensated inaudibility of one group in separate sections of publics presence by means of raising its sonority through the loud speakers, set along the perimeter of the whole circle. Thus, the hearer, sitting for example, in the left side of the whole sound complex, since from the loud speaker nearest to him there will come that sound material which is performed by the orchestral group, locating far from him. All this plunges the hearers into active music, associated with the images of Apocalypse at time. But the creation of the musical atmosphere is improvised, as a score represents a row of patterns, appealing to their free arrangement. Every group has its own set of such patterns:


One of the most radical methods of the innovatory interrelation of performers and hearers, changing the space of the musical being, can be the following: hearers themselves are at liberty to walk on the platform where the instrumentalists are located and their moving in the space. At that, the performers are at their places. The movement of the public in the process of performing Music for the Beethoven Hall (1970) was also supposed by Stockhausen. The aim of the composer is to free the audience from their real duties: to perceive sounding from one position, on a static form. In connection with the possibility of the hearers moving to and fro and the perception of music from polar position, the time of sounding music and the performers play is not restricted. And the hearer himself is at liberty to choose a source of sound interesting for him; either to come closer to one of them or moving off him. At the premiere performance of Music for the Beethoven Hall continued for more than 5 hours. In such new spatial conditions the hearer is close to the sources of sounding to the maximum This method has become favourite in the modern drama theatre, reaching at a time the direct contact between the performer and the hearer-spectator [4, . 11]. In this we see another propinquity of the instrumental theatre to the theatre as an independent kind of art.

To the elements of the instrumental theatre, used by Stockhausen we can undoubtedly refer moving of instrumentalists in the space of the stage or the hall. The movements of the performers are called to demonstrate the composers idea, to express the stage action parallel to music sounds. For example, while composing Trance/Trans (1971) for the orchestra the composer came to the distribution of the groups in such a way that the part of the instruments was on the stage and the other part behind the stage. At the definite spaces of time instrumentalists had the right to change thus places as if in the psychological state of becoming rigid like in the trance. In the score there are remarks: Dreams Sleep Dreams in the sleep Why do we forget dreams? When we are within our sleeps; they seem real to us But as soon as we wake up, we again find ourselves in the world which we call reality Some people say that it happens when we are dying, that we wake up in the death and in some time life disperses in a mist. So it is not by chance that he makes dedication of the opus (Music for the next to die) and gives it unreal sounding, like chaotic uproar (a parallel play of the groups always dissonant intervals with the absence of rhythmical coincidences, a more important correlation of timbers, than correlation of melodies).

For the performers of the piece Periodical Implosion/Ilem (1972) for 19 musicians, the basis of which is the theory of the fact that once in 80 billions years any universe burst out and breaks down into new formation, soon amassing again round its main centre, Stockhausen offers the following plan of a transference: the sound es, performed furiously on the piano, become the moment of the implosion itself, after which the part of epicenter of the implosion leaves the stage, playing their musical material while leaving. After about eleven minutes of wandering they little by little return to the piano (the centre of the universe), which in some time again utters the piercing sound es and now all the 18 instrumentalists (besides the pianist himself) start out travelling in the hall and even outside it. At that Stockhausen was troubled with the acoustic nature of their movements: for this process was regulated by the conductor standing in the middle of the hall and having the opportunity of hearing all the instruments which could be on the stage, in the hall and outside it. Every instrumentalist, playing his musical material, created his own sound wave, having its start in the point of all-sound fixation the centre es, and the correlation of these sound waves, moving in the space, created the integral musical conception. K. Zenkin marks, that the text of this opus is a number of the authors instruction to be fulfilled: the sound material proper is only slightly marked (the model of the combination of initial notes or the culmination tritone sounding in the section Implosion). The musical-eidetic basis of the piece in this case is determined by the correlation and interaction of the temporal stage space factor (remarks on the occasion of the musicians disposition on the stage, their further dislocations and the loud-dynamic and articulatory aspects [2]. So the travels the composers ideas of implosions and collapses of cosmic universes (the visual row helped to understand this theory); on the other hand, they recreated also the process of collapse of the original musical universe (from the centre es up to the improvisation).

Particular elements of theatricality of the instrumental performing process, considered above (specific disposition of instrumentalists in the space of the stage, thus travels in the space) can be combined in one composition, forming the peculiar instrumental spectacle. If the composer uses the image-bearing characteristics of a personage then it is presented over and above the events and the plot of dramaturgy, as its proved with the opus Amore (five pieces for the clarinet solo, 1976) by Stockhausen. In this cycle theres impressed the description of a female image like in a gallery. The number of the elements of theatricality is limited by the movements of the performers and the presence of voice phonemes. They are chamber pieces, their musical material is plain. The first piece of the cycle Be joyful again (for wistful ladies who can find some consolation, listening to the music) takes only one page in the score:

amour - 01 - sei wieder froehlich

There are also a number of opuses, more eventful from this point of view. Thus, the detailed portrait of one of the striking personages of Italian comedy dellarte Harlequin is given in the mono-spectacle of the through action in Stockhausens Harlequin (1975) an instrumental choreographic composition, of 15 minutes duration, written for the dancer-clarinetist S. Stephens. The main task of the performer is not only rendering of the thematic material, but also its stage playing up, including various kinds of moving and performing some plastic etudes. The score represents a musical formula, possessing high sounds and putting into sharp rhythmically:

Variations of the formula are at will. The single condition is that it must constantly change and reflect all that takes place on the stage with the musical means. And the plot, composed by Stockhausen (a comedy dellarte has always been a stage improvisation on the basis of a particular scenario) and possessing some outlined section is such: at first Harlequin is a charmed wanderer. The clarinet-player must run out from behind the scenes, begin to dance actively, beating rhythmical figures with his feet, that introduces some additional sound effects into the composition the chief melodic formula and its development sound against a background of definite rhythms. Further Harlequin is a playful improvisator. He modifies the melodic formula, striving for a slower tempo and pronouncing separate sounds clearly. He may leave the stage, play from behind the wings, produce acrobatic tricks all that what corresponds to the notion improvisation. In the given section the sounding material in its structure most of all moves away from the formula, given at the beginning. The performer can show everybody his mastership in playing his instrument. Then Harlequin falls asleep (the performer lies on the stage) and in his sleep he sees himself a lyrical character, looking into futility, playing one and the same melody, gradually being lame in his left leg, and seeing himself a pedantic teacher, uncompromised and strict. In his sleep he charms everybody with his melody, transforming the ugliness of the world to inner beauty. He is dreaming about music. When Harlequin wakes up and gets up, he shows the world the music he heard in his dream. He tries to play it as lively as possible, he makes a mistake, he stops, agitated, and begins to play anew, directing his sounds into the space. All ends in Harlequins furious dance (theres used a special sole, that let the hearers hear the noise of the blow of the foot on the floor at a big distance). In other words, through the whole piece Harlequin changes from a dreamer into a personality, being a part of the general space intellect all other actions of the performer during the stage realization of Stockhausens opus are at will, in connection with that the score may be considered similar to the scenario of the comedy dellarte existing many centuries earlier, in which there was only represented the structure, regular succession of the events of the performance.

This approximate scenario, assisting to the performers improvisation, was affected to the wings from the back side for the actors to be able to see what scene will be the next to be acted and to form their text. It should be mentioned here, that at the end of the mono-spectacle. Harlequin must fall down on his knees in front of the public; only at this moment the chief melody of the composition, gradually crystallizing itself in the process of performance must sound in its total form in integrity, but not in phrases as during the realization of the composition in connection with the actions of the personage movements, actors play, choreography. According to L. Mazels opinion, Dance side beside with poetry is the nearest relative of music. The principle that unites them is the fact they are closely connected with the emotionally impressive manifestation of the human organism, perceived either by sight or by ear. Really, human emotions aspire not only to the voiced expression but also to a moving one [5, . 18]. On the Harlequin by Stockhausen the movement expression of emotions is always in the context with the music of remarks concerning the ways how its necessary to perform the material: to produce the sound with the fermata like a bird is crying, while playing to turn the head quickly from side in order to create a feeling of an uneven tremolo etc. Stockhausens Harlequin is a unifying image, for this personage in the comedy dellarte was treated in different ways: he could be a not very bright servant, always arguing against Pantalone, or a dreamer in love, provoking sympathy. In his remarks the composer explains not only the stage dramaturgy (lies on the stage, get up and so on); not only the condition of performing (modification of the formula) but also figurative types of transformation of the formula (for example, if its mentioned that Harlequin is a charming dreamer, playful improvisator or a lyrical personage, this emotional state must be expressed both by the performers behavior and by music). The theatrical colouring is brought in with a variegated costume (for the premiere performances of S. Stephens Stockhausen was also a designer) and with a bright make up to personify the image.

Its well-known that one of the prototyped of the modern instrumental theatre is a syncretic ritual, in the process of which there was no differentiation of kinds of arts and one man, rendering this ritual, could fulfill the functions of a singers, recite, and dancer. Many composers of the second half of the XXth century in their opuses revive the traditions of syncretic rituals, what in its turn also theatrilizes the performance space and turns the performance of the composition into an instrumental play. The autumn labour ritual become the basis of Stockhausens composition Autumn music (1975) for the 4 performers. The idea of the tetrameter composition is embodied in the following chain of the events which must be performed by the instrumentalists who, are dressed in various costumer (there is the comparison of visual layers) and which are described in the score: 1) at first the performers represent hammering the nails into the cover of the barrel (a duet with the accompaniment), 2) then the whole quartet of ensemblist must represent chopping wood on the stage, 3) three performers represent threshing, 4) the principle elements of autumn suck as leaf and rain must be represented musical and stage means (a duet). So on the stage level there are represented events, connected with the principle action, done in the autumn and they are the peculiarity of the theatrical models of some autumn rituals of the traditional culture. From the stage point of view there takes place the comparison of a number of layers of behavior, as in every scene there takes part a definite quantity of performers (there appear duets, trios). The chain of the actions forms an unconflict plot: all the instrumentalists represent a row of ritual scenes, aimed at the description of one of the rituals, important in the past. This plot is not global, it is not unfolded, it doesnt consist of the shows of various, from the point of view of contens, scenes, that the mass instrumental performance can do. These actions, naturally, must the sounding of the music performed. But the musical material proper is only premised to the last part; while in other parts the musical dramaturgy is only described in words (for example, rhythmic improvisation chopping wood of various thickness) and the ensemblists themselves are at liberty to choose the material which is necessary to be performed, that is to abandon themselves to improvisation, which has been the part of every ritual since olden times. Accordingly, there arises the comparison of a number of musical layers.

In the home musicology there exists a serious delusion: some compositions by Stockhausen, written not only for instrumentalists but also for vocalists or even for the choir are called the instrumental theatre. In such a way these acts E. Dusines in his book Sings of sounds: about modern musical notation, referring heptology Light by Stockhausen we must say not about the display of the instrumental theatre in it but, say, about the display of the vocal-instrumental theatre in it. The more exact definition in reference to it is K. Zenkins, who, while considering the cycle Light by Stockhausen characterizes his genre as the opera with the elements of the instrumental theatre (total musical theatre, displayed on all performing levels), giving as an example the specific clothes of the instrumentalists, the expansion of the space of the hall, etc. [3]. As it may seem, its necessary to find an exact delimiting of the notion instrumental theatre from other notions, also connected with the theatricality of the performing process.

On the conclusion we should mark, that the instrumental theatre is a representer of the main transformations, having place in the XXth century and peculiar for all the spheres of human activities for socium expressing the principle conformities of time, the most important of which is the conformity of synthesis. The popularity of the instrumental theatre and its wide dissemination just in the second half of the XXth century are really stipulated by the synthetic nature of the genre: the public in all the variety of the most complex techniques of musical writing, present at the time mentioned (from series to aleatories) needed the visual explanation of the composers conception, in the deciphering of their ideas and dramaturgy. The authors, in their turn, orientating to the demands of the public in visual arts at the time of the flourishing TV, clip thinking and gravitating forwards the originally of their opuses could bring to the listener their complex music or the presence of the definite concept more exactly with the help of the additional visualization of the performing process. The instrumental theatre is multipolar with its possibilities; it is advantageous both for the composers (the visual row is conductive to the display of their actor abilities) and for the hearers (visual row attracts their attention and deciphers the authors ideas). The idea of the synthesis of arts is most vividly and visually represented in Stockhausens instrumental theatre, who used both separate elements of theatricality of the performing process and instrumental performances of full value, based on the complexes of these elements.

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