Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | December 9, 2007

Stockhausen

StockhausenIn my younger life, the name Karlheinz Stockhausen represented the vanguard of “new music”—i.e., the avant garde of serious (“classical”) music composition. (You can see that I struggle a bit with descriptions here; the music of Stockhausen and his contemporaries is not easily compartmentalized and defined) .

In the 1970’s, I studied a bit of Stockhausen’s work while a composition student at Western Michigan University. I must admit that Stockhausen wasn’t my favorite contemporary composer (probably because I didn’t understand his music as fully as I could have), but he was nonetheless referenced repeatedly by my mentor as a mover and shaker, a pioneer of modern music, particularly electronic music composition.

I found Stockhausen’s work fascinating, if not immediately appealing. Particularly impressive were the kinds of sounds and organization of those sounds that he was able to create with only a tape deck and his expert tape slicing techniques—the kinds of things perhaps more easily created with a computer today, but certainly not created with more mastery.

Karlheinz Stockhausen passed away four days ago. The picture of him that will always be in my mind is the one posted above. It is a photo of a young, brash, inspiring pioneer; the picture of what might come into one’s mind when the word “genius” is mentioned.

I have been reading about Stockhausen on the Internet all afternoon, and looking at more recent photos of him. I am almost in shock that he was now an old man. I had always thought of him as youth personified. He joins an inevitable growing list of living 20th century composers that I grew up with, who are now gone. It doesn’t seem possible that life is moving by so quickly, but it is.

Sometimes it seems to me like “new music” of the 1970’s should be locked in space, never to move on. But it has. Music is one of those things constantly on the move, constantly searching for that new or undiscovered country. It is composers like Stockhausen who with their genius and their force of personality point the way for the next generation; these composers take up the musical baton and run with it for a while, and hand it off to the next generation who moves it along a bit, and then hands it forward as well.

And so it goes.

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