Record of the day: Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Stimmung"

Record of the day: Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Stimmung”

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Stimmung (Cd Hyperion CDA66115)

Composed in 1968 in America, “Stimmung” is one of the most controversial scores within the vast catalog of
German composer. Intended for an ensemble of voices only, it is a modular composition and as such its duration can vary, but always remains no less than an hour; it is therefore an intense immersion on the part of the listeners in a very particular musical world.

“Stimmung” means agreement, and in fact the entire work is based on the harmonic projections of the B flat note, onto which all the natural harmonics that that note contains are grafted, expressed through a large quantity of different vocal techniques and using phonemes, texts written by Stockhausen himself, names of Aztec, Aboriginal and Greek divinities, names of stars and planets, the various days of the week, the so-called “magic numbers” to signal the passage from one section to another (the work must however be carried out without interruption ) superimposing singing, words, noise, simple and almost childish melodies, rhythmic ostinatos and long passages with a static nature imbued with mysticism (but there is no shortage of numerous sections full of humour).

Stockhausen wrote this work after a long tour in Mexico, remaining extremely impressed by the Aztec ruins of Oaxaca and Chichenitza, in particular by the immense natural spaces and Mayan architecture, which inspired him with the idea of ​​using progressive phase shifts within of similar musical figures (the intuition probably also came from having listened to musicians like Terry Riley and Steve Reich for the first time in those years, but obviously Stockhausen will never admit it).

The effect at the first performance was extremely mixed; listeners were divided between those who remained enchanted by the hypnotic charm of this music and those (in particular his structuralist colleagues such as Boulez and Berio) who considered it a pseudo-mystical joke that deliberately winked at hippie culture and Flower Power .

To this day it is difficult to find unanimous consensus on the work, so the best thing to do is listen to it and decide for yourself; for me it’s a masterpiece and I highly recommend it even if you’re not particularly familiar with contemporary music, it will be a real surprise.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.