Stockhausen liked to compose moments. He envisioned Klang as a collection of moments, much like the hours in a day. In the early stages of the project, Stockhausen set each moment of Klang apart. The first five Hours of Klang are highly eclectic, bearing little resemblance to each other. Each piece functions as a microcosm of the whole, containing 24 moments. Had Stockhausen lived to complete Klang, he had vowed to next compose music for the minute, then for the second, and so on, continuing the decades-long project of diminution that began in 1975 with Tierkreis (Zodiac), his music for the year. In 1977 came Sirius, his music for the seasons, and from that year until 2003, he composed Licht (Light) for the seven days of the week.

In the 1st Hour of Klang, Himmelfahrt (Ascension, 2005), the organist is overtasked. His hands rarely play in the same tempo, and no tempo is sustained for very long. In addition to doing things like playing 40 beats per minute in his right hand against 75 bpm in his left, he must occasionally accompany two singers, as well as strike a small percussion battery. On top of all that, with each new tempo, Stockhausen requires a new timbre from the organ: 24 in total. The timbres mark the moments. Slower tempi have darker timbres, and faster tempi have clearer ones.

Freude (Joy, 2005), the 2nd Hour, is a completely different sonic world populated by two singing harpists. Their virtuoso performance is structured in 24 moments. Each moment of the score takes a different approach to the 24 lines of the Latin hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus”. The end result is a tour de force that feels like it has exhausted the capabilities of the harp.

The 3rd Hour, Natürliche Dauern (Natural Durations, 2006), is a cycle-within-a-cycle: 24 piano pieces for the 24 hours of the day. Like Freude, the piece is highly variegated. Some pieces are governed by the resonance of the instrument, and the pianist cannot move on to the next sound until the current one has faded away. Some durations are governed by the length of the pianist’s breath.

Himmels-Tür (Heaven’s Door, 2006), the 4th Hour, is the most theatrical piece in the cycle. The percussionist tries to open the Door (shipped from Atlanta for these performances), and the poor fellow seems to have no luck. Stockhausen prescribes 14 different moods for his efforts: excited, angry, impatient, humorous, etc. Perhaps because 24 panels would start to resemble one of Harry Partch’s marimbas, the door here only has 12 panels, 6 per leaf.

In the 5th Hour, Harmonien (Harmonies, 2006), a solo performer cycles melodic material through 24 iterations. Languorous melodies are immediately echoed by faster repetitions of the same notes in displaced octaves, creating the illusion of harmony. In the first of the three versions of Harmonien, Stockhausen asked the bass clarinetist to move to a new spot on the floor for each of the 24 tempi in the piece.

By this point in Klang, nearly three years had passed in Stockhausen’s life since the completion of Licht, and he had composed less than a quarter of the 24 pieces he intended for the cycle. In 2006, he turned 78, and he would need over a decade to finish Klang at its established pace. He decided to shift gears abruptly. The next year, which was the only one remaining in his life, proceeded at a breakneck pace that no one around him had seen since the late 1960s rock star phase of his career. Many people felt that Stockhausen knew his time on Earth was coming to an end.

The second phase of Klang is a series of acoustic trios based on the music of Harmonien. The 6th Hour, Schönheit (Beauty, 2007) begins with the flute playing the 1st moment of Harmonien, while the trumpet plays the 2nd, and the bass clarinet plays the 3rd. The resulting counterpoint is aleatoric, intermittently frustrating, and beguiling. There are moments of stunning beauty, as well as a gauzy sense of place and time.

Since the 1st Hour of Klang, Stockhausen has been slowly breaking down our ideas about how time passes. The seven trios of Klang (Hours 6—12), are not meant to be discrete segments of the cycle. They are blurred together, perhaps as if one were asleep. The trios are parts of a whole, as if an orchestra were cracked into pieces and playing the same piece in separate rooms. In fact, Stockhausen’s ideal presentation for Klang was in a museum with each Hour sounding simultaneously from separate galleries.

The thunder crack that bolts us awake comes in the 13th Hour with Cosmic Pulses (2007), Stockhausen’s last electronic work. The 24-note row of Klang is performed starkly on a keyboard, but at 24 different tempi, and then those 24 melodies are stacked on top of each other in 24 layers of sound. The resultant jumble of melodies is then rotated through an 8-channel system according to a Byzantine spatialization scheme that creates a kind of sonic roller coaster for the listener.

Stockhausen uses Cosmic Pulses to escape the quotidian concerns of Earth with its minutes, hours, and days. The timelessness of the trios has transmogrified into an intergalactic space trip in the final phase of Klang. Hours 14—21 are named after planets and galaxies in The Urantia Book, a science fiction retelling of the Bible that informed part of Stockhausen’s spiritual bricolage.

In the same way that the trios used Harmonien, Stockhausen generates Hours 14—21 with the material of Cosmic Pulses. Each Hour filters out three layers of synthesizer melodies from the original 24 as an accompaniment for an onstage performer. The process is the reverse of what happens with the trios. By thinning out the texture of Cosmic Pulses, the listener starts to hope that comprehending the whole structure might be possible. There is an abiding sense of being taught something, particularly during the hilarious lecture of Orvonton (2007).

That neverending urge to learn was part of what drew Stockhausen to The Urantia Book in the 1970s. It promises an afterlife full of learning about the universe by visiting billions of planets. Stockhausen held tightly to his own curiosity throughout his life. He was always eager to learn something new.

Even as he died from a heart attack, he thought there was something to be learned from the painfully slow breaths he was taking. He told his companion that he would find a way to use this new method of breathing in his music. As death came into focus, he vowed to continue his work during his adventures in the afterlife.

Joseph Drew, Analog Arts

Performances

  • Stuart Gerber dans le cadre de la porte de Himmels-Tür (La porte du ciel) de Karlheinz Stockhausen [Photo: Kathinka Pasveer]
    Friday, November 7, 2008
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019
  • [Image: Geneviève Bigué]
    Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1, 2019

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