Biography of Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)

German composer born in Brug Mödrath (Germany) on August 22, 1928 and died December 5, 2007.

Son of a rural teacher and an amateur singer, Stockhausen worked in a hospital military Bedburg (Germany) before beginning her musical studies. After the death of his father in 1945, the young Stockhausen returned to the region of Cologne already after the second world war to work on a family farm. It was in 1947 when he began to study piano with Hans Otto Schmidt-Neuhaus and composition with Frank Martin at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, where he graduated in 1951. He combined his musical training with several jobs as a pianist in bars, clubs and as accompanist of the magician Adrion.

In the summer of 1951 he attended courses of composition of Darmstadt and was there where heard for the first time the work of the French composer Olivier Messiaen called Mode de Valeurs et d´intensites, that would mark his later compositional career deeply. The result of this influence is his work serial Kreuzspiel (cross game) (1951) for piano, oboe, bass clarinet and three percussionists.

In 1952 he married Doris Andreae and later decided to continue his training in Paris with Messiaen and Darius Milhaud, though not attended with enthusiasm of the latter classes. In the French capital locked contact with Pierre Boulez and other figures of the Parisian avant-garde as Pierre Schaeffer, together which worked in the newly created Studio of music specific analyzing sounds, composing works for magnetic tape as Konkrete Etüde. In 1953 he returned to Cologne, where he obtained a position in the newly created a string of German radio electronic music Studio, which years later was director. In 1956 he returned to Darmstadt courses, but this time as a teacher and lecturer, since it had become a relevant figure in the musical avant-garde along with Boulez, Luigi Nono , and other composers settled in Cologne as Gottfried Michael Koenig and Franco Evangelisti. Two years later, Stockhausen decided to invite students from Darmstadt, given his admiration for the American musician, who would later influence in works of the German composer as Carré (1960), for four groups of choir and Orchestra, or Kontakte (1968), for piano, percussion and tape to John Cage .

In 1958 Stockhausen made his first trip to the United States, and it was around that time when his compositional work became more relaxed, less thematic density and greater accuracy in musical notation. The following year the first of his assistants hired: the composer Cornelius Cardew. Later, other composers such as Hugh Davies, Tim Souster and Joachim Krist collaborated with Stockhausen in the creation of their works. In the Decade of the 1960s, the German musician founded his own musical group with performers such as Alfred Alings and Aloys Kontarsky and young composers such as Johannes Fritsch and Rolf Gehlhaar. With this group he gave recitals all over the world and they played daily for six months at the German Pavilion of Expo 1970 in Osaka (Japan).

In 1967, and after separating from his first wife, he married the painter Mary Bauermeister. Over the next decade he developed his work in the cottage that had in Kürten (Germany), acquired in 1965 and located near the Stockhausen archive, founded in 1994. He also worked as Professor of composition at the Musickhochschule of Cologne (1971-1977), institution that he had formed. There he had as pupils featured Robert H. P. Platz, Wolfgang Rihm and Claude Vivier, among others. It was in 1977 when Stockhausen began to perform his most ambitious project: the Licht opera, divided into seven parts, each of which is entitled the name of a day of the week. The composer was calculated to terminate the project in the year 2002, i.e. after 25 years of work.

Stockhausen was awarded prizes and awards such as the Siemens Prize in 1987 and the honorary doctorate awarded by the free University of Berlin in 1996. The composer was the owner of a publishing house, called Stockhausen-Verlag, which published his works since 1972 it had problems with its former Publisher (Universal Edition). The scores of the Stockhausen-Verlag contain abundant documentation, both verbal and photographic, work to facilitate their interpretation. The excellent quality of these publications led him to win the German editors award in 1992, 1994 and 1997.


The aesthetic ideas of Stockhausen are part of their religious beliefs and spirituality, and of her passion for expressing in innovative languages. For him, the total serialism is a kind of sound theology where all the elements are present in a balanced way. In addition to the influence of Anton Webern , appearing in his first works, notably the Dutch composer Karel Goeyvaert and the aforementioned of Olivier Messiaen. Both are left to see in Kreuzspiel (1951), first book serial of the German composer.

Later, from 1953, Stockhausen said a rupture with the past through their forays in the music electroacoustic through its two Elektronische Studien (electronic studies) (1953 and 1954, respectively). Both Studien were the first examples of pure electronic music performed at the time. But it was in 1956 when he composed his most famous electronic work: Gesang der Junglinge (the song of adolescents), who created great controversy for its avant-garde use of a sacred text. The biblical text in German, from the recording of the song of a child, is organized according to the serial principles and is fully integrated into the general structure of the piece. The work uses resources such as the reverberation and spatial movement, which occurs due to the five speakers placed in a circular motion around the Auditorium. After Gesang der Junglinge came other electronic compositions as Kontakte (1960).

During the Decade of the 1950s, Stockhausen developed a pointillist composition style registered with serialism, in which all forms arose from the single note, from the point. Later changed its orientation towards so-called "group composition", in which the larger and more complex musical fragments charged major. His main work in this style was Gruppen (groups), composed between 1955 and 1957 for three orchestras. The three act simultaneously, but each has its own director. In Gruppen, the texture appears as the main carrier of musical content and does not depend on the work of a specific harmony, the possibilities of combination have no limit.

Most of his works between 1964 and 1970 use electronic music live. Some examples of this are the two works entitled Mikrophonie (I and II) and the orchestral piece Mixtur, in which orchestral template is divided into five groups, from which four are subjected to electronic transformations in time real. These and other works such as Prozession (procession) (1967), Kurzwellen (short waves) (1968) and Aus den sieben Tagen (from the seven days) (1968) were frequently interpreted by his own group, the Stockhausen Ensemble. Aus den sieben Tagen is the clearest example of what he called "intuitive music". This kind of conception of music occurred especially in the Decade of the 1960s, when individual expression and freedom of the performer were priority in the musicals. In the aforementioned work, Stockhausen is breaking with any material already built before and asks the interpreter that he improvise freely on texts provided by the composer himself.

The return to a more conventional language suddenly came with Mantra (1970), for two pianos and electronics. The work, lasting an hour, is written from start to finish, without hardly leave room for improvisation, and is based on the transformations of a melodic theme or "formula" of thirteen notes.

Later, in works such as Trans (1971) or Inori (1974), Stockhausen developed explicitly dramatic elements already present in some way in his earlier music. Trans, Orchestra, seen through a veil, has to be bathed in a light purple, while, Inori, two mimes run actions accompanied by the Orchestra.

In your main project still unfinished, the opera Licht (light), music electroacoustic also plays an important role, especially in Donnerstag (Thursday) (1980), in which there are recorded on tape playbacks. The operas of the cycle mix of Opera fragments in the traditional sense with others of a ritualistic nature including dances and purely instrumental sections. Stockhausen took great interest in the performance of their works in unusual scenarios; for this reason, in the premiere of Donnerstag at La Scala in Milan, one of the scenes was interpreted from the rooftops of the plaza surrounding the theatre. The most eye-catching of their locations is the Helikopter-Streichquartett (helicopter String Quartet), which is part of Mittwoch (Wednesday), one of the seven parts of Licht. It's a String Quartet played from four helicopters and broadcast to the public through screens and speakers. Other operas of the heptalogy that have already been completed are Samstag (Saturday) (1984) and Montag (Monday) (1988).

Stockhausen also explored the possibilities of the piano only in his extensive collection of pieces for this instrument, entitled Klavierstücke I-IV (1953), v-x (1955), XI (1956).

Selected discography

- Aus Den Sieben Tagen. Performers: Musique Vivante Ensemble. Director: Diego Masson. MUSIQUE D´ABORD 190795.- Stimmung. Performers: Singcircle. HYPERION 66115.- Kontakte. Cast: Christoph Caskel, G. Koenig, K. Stockhausen, D. Eugene Tudor. WERGO 6009- Mantra. Performers: Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher (Piano). WERGO 6267- Helicopter Quartet. Performers: Arcadian Academy, K. Stockhausen. NAIVE MONTAIGNE 782097.


MACONIE, Robin: The Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

MORGAN, Robert P.: Music of the century XX, Madrid: Akal, 1994.

SCHAEFFER, Pierre: La musique concrète, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973.

STOCKHAUSEN, k.: Stockhausen on Music, London: Marion Boyars Publishers, 1991.

TANNENBAUM, Mya: Conversations with Stockhausen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Links on the internet; official website of the German composer. Contains biography, concert information, catalogue of works by Stockhausen, bibliographical news and links of interest. In English.; Unofficial page of the composer. It contains information on how to become part of the Stockhausen Society. In English.