Karheinz Stockhausen, pioneer of electronic music
The opera cycle 'Light' was the life work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the controversial German composer whose death was announced Friday at the age of 79.
7 December 2007
Cologne, Germany (dpa) - The opera cycle 'Light' was the life work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the controversial German composer whose death was announced Friday at the age of 79.
The gigantic project was considered the biggest work in the history of music since Richard Wagner's Ring der Nibelungen.
A pioneer of electronic music and a renowned contemporary composer, Stockhausen created more than 200 works and made more than 100 recordings in a career spanning more than half a century.
Stockhausen was regarded as a musical genius with the pretentions of a messiah, but also an ability for self-promotion. He was often critical of modern music and also of many German composers and orchestras.
In an unguarded moment he told an interviewer that the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States were "the greatest work of art ever in the whole cosmos."
He was roundly criticized for these remarks and some of his concerts had be cancelled.
In his tonal world, human voices are mixed with noise and synthesizer chords. He became fascinated by Japan and his later works were influenced by Zen Buddhism.
"Nothing in my music should ever sound like any other thing," Stockhausen said in the early 1950s in explanation of the unaccustomed sounds.
He often directed his own works and took charge of the demanding productions himself.
Between 1977 and 2003 he composed a cycle of seven operas called Light (Licht), which dealt with the traits associated in various historical traditions with each weekday.
In terms of size, it put Wagner's Ring in the shade. Stockhausen said he worked 16 hours a day on the project and had "no time at all to listen to other music."
He was disdainful of other contemporary music, saying much of it was "rubbish." Record companies also came in for criticism because he felt they were only interested in making a profit.
Stockhausen said he did not care whether the public liked his music or not. He created music for those who liked his works, he said, adding: "The rest of the planet doesn't interest me."
The composer, who lived in seclusion in a modern villa in Kuerten, just outside the western city of Cologne, studied piano, composition and choral works at the city's College of Music.
He later studied philosophy, German and communications science at universities in Cologne and Bonn before Olivier Messiaen taught him analysis and aesthetics in Paris.
His first steps in contemporary music were taken under the tutelage of Pierre Boulez and Luigi Nono.
The son of a teacher who died as a soldier during World War II, Stockhausen took charge in 1963 of the studio for electronic music at West German Radio in Cologne.
His international breakthrough came with the concerts he gave at the world exhibition Expo 70 in the Japanese city of Osaka.
He received numerous awards for his works, among them UNESCO's Picasso Medal, the Siemens Music Prize, the Bach Prize and the Prix Ars Electronica.
As a pioneer of electronic music, the twice-married Stockhausen was also known as the "Father of the techno generation."
The musician Simon Stockhausen, the youngest of his six children, said Friday in Berlin, "He was my teacher from the beginning. Since the age of five he was teaching me. He invested so much love in ensuring his sons followed in his footsteps. That was his aim."
Udo Zimmermann, a fellow German composer, who is producing a performance of Stockhausen's 1993 work, Mixture, at the Munich Music Festival next month, said the utter complexity of Stockhausen's work was what stood out.