The Stockhausen Affair

by Jorge Lima Barreto

Karlheinz Stockhausen, german composer, born in 1928, is one of the major figures of the whole music history; he has been in the vanguard of the contemporary music through the second half of the XXth Century.

It happens that after the terrorist action in New York, a journalist incidiously extrapolated a sentence from the content of a speech by Stockhausen on this very topic, thus it was assumed that the composer had consider the action such actions against U.S.A. as ‘the hugest work of art ever’.

We can compare his sentence to the one of the futurist Marinetti which claimed that ‘the war is beautiful’’ – but contrary to Marinetti bellicose, Stockhausen intended to show just how disgusting and horrible is to destroy countries, its people and its buldings; for the terror and the abomination prevailing – there is no good nor bad war – war represents the self-destruction of human society. The war and its most coward ramifications in terrorism – the evil, the atrocity, the threat, the nightmare, are the means of Lucifer actions, the aphoristic literary-musical character, whom the master was referring in his class – in this context, the suicide and hideous assault to the WTC Towers would be the masterpiece of Lucifer’s art.

A wide movement pro and contrary to the musician developed, mainly though the internet, and there flowed malevolent plays and plots from the part of some more ordinary minds, remaining indifferent to the radical refutation by Stockhausen, who immediately confirmed to have pronounced this sentence in the context of an explanation concerning to his opera ‘Licht’ and its mephistofelic character ‘Lucifer’.

Immediately, due to some moral and political fundamentalisms; all the Stockhausen activities – concerts, workshops, classes, conferences – were stalled. This matter can’t, by no means, be faced with a light spirit – the universal and utopistic reality of his music denies any impugnation of pro-terrorism promoted by his detractors. And, it is with full authority that Stockhausen recovers the wagnerian concept of music as total art (Gesamkunstwerk) – Stockhausen composed ‘Gesang des Junglinge’, the most beautiful piece in the whole electroacoustic music history, which quotes the biblical myth of Daniel in the furnace; in ‘Stimmung’ he recovers vocalisms from the eastern worlds; he wrote ‘Ceylon’, the magical reverence to autoctone music; in ‘Hymnen ’ he created a concretist work consisting on an assemblage of innumerous national anthemns of all the geographic quadrants.

Scenegraphy, videography, filmography, circus, rite, myth, containing every race in the world and heralding their melting; multimedia, informalism, improvisation, conceptualism, fluxus, TV show, concert via satelite, the helicopters considered as music instruments, cybernetic, algorithm, the birth of a flower, the cosmic flight and the ecunemism. Life as Opera, today.

Stockhausen assumed attitudes of spiritualism and pan-religiosity, from the humble prayer to the dream, or sensual libations; defender of the pacifism and individual freedom – his biography illustrates one of the most extraordinary creators of the XXth Century.

stockhausen.jpgStockhausen controls the whole of his musical world as a divinity and supreme entity of the image and the sound-in-itself; the graphism, the mail, the publishing of scores, the musical production, the recording process, the mixing and the mastering, the selection of the performers and the conduction; he takes care of every aspect from beginning the end; sonic, visual, theatrical and, more recently, the artistic distribution.

He elaborated installations, conceived props and multimedia sceneries, coordinated performart actions, built acoustic and electronic instruments, imagined projects for light-shows; calligrapher, mimeographer, sound designer, tonemeister. He conveys the event in real time and turns it to an aesthetic element; sonic worlds, apocalyptical visions, melodic microcosm, galaxy of patterns assembled from the musics of the world; phenomenal innovations on musical notation; feasts, trance, meditation, epiphany, dance.

Without any musicological and multicultural reservations, Stockhausen has been the hugest revolutionary in contemporary music. He erased the epitomised neo-realism in the so-called nationalistic musics and, conciliated, among other divergences, Judaic-Christian/Muslim, or the western / eastern dicotomy… With no doubt, he is, as well, the most famous of all the classical contemporary composers due to his distinct figure, to the manner he cultivated his own personna – by declaring himself as immortal genius and, simultaneously, by ruling an independent and idyllic life in permanent creation, and in his love for nature – living in freedom with is family and his technical staff in the village of Kurten.

He has always been adventurous in his comments and vignettes over lords of the war and the capitalism; the fantastic resurrection of Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven in the multidiscipline of the cybernetic age; he speaks in a scientific, aphoristic and poetical language, structurally related to the concepts of metaphysics in music – lying in the virtual space, between the anthropological reality and the imagery, the most delirious and beautiful.

In his works of singular postmodernism, glorious and magnificent pieces, he invented postures and elaborated morphologies; his glorious speech is co-inhabited by primitive techniques and informatic sophistication; there arise the Bible and the Coran, the most varied languages and idioms, the hidden ethnic instruments are beside the digital technology and the hum of the breeze.

Musicians such as Webern, Lennon, Ayler, were murdered by the terrorist stupidity and we can’t admit, ethic or aesthetically, that under its banner grant icons as the contemplative Buda or the WTC are destroyed, or that Africa is let alone dying of hunger – we want to listen to music and not to promote the radioactive.


Jorge Lima Barretto

The social communication, the press, the radio, TV, Net, etc, in some of its minority, still staggering but already committed to genocide ideologies of the moment, doesn’t look at means to reach the ends and tries to sequestrate to the sordid settings of the conflict – no-one more than Stockhausen loves New York, the urban façade of the new times, the limitless creativity and the mirror of the whole world-wide cultures; the Babel, as it was considered by the surrealists and the reggae; its two towers and its racial melting pot, and the alibi to the confrontation between forms of fundamentalist and totalitarian powers, due to a diabolic and spectacular action. The machiavellian weaving of the rich and the despair of the hunger convey to the suicide terrorism.

And this was what Stockhausen meant to emphasise in his polemic and overrated sentence. The semiology and the poetry of his music and its character, Lucifer, in the very moment of the huge emotional reaction to the news of the terrorist mission in N.Y.C.The art of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the wise and innocent person who never handled a gun, has been a relentless battle for the human rights.Hail music and not War – is the message that we must hold from this cryptic assertion, misrepresented by the journalistic terrorism to instigate the chasing of the witches. – Everyone, artists and intellectuals included, has the right and the duty to denounce War, independently of the flag – war is the supreme form of terror – and Art is the fulfilling of Love.

When Shostakovitch attended the premiere 0f ‘Licht, in Moscow, he told to Stockhausen: ’your music is the peace, the concentration of the peoples.’ Lisbon, 2001 – Jorge Lima Barreto

Karlheinz Stockhausen web page