Stockhausen Edition no. 20
(Am Himmel wandre ich)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Am Himmel wandre ich”; American Indian Songs for 2 voices (1972)
Helga Hamm-Albrecht [mezzo soprano], Karl O. Barkey [tenor], Karlheinz Stockhausen [musical direction]
Stockhausen 20. Duration: 52:29.

The Stockhausen adventure continues, as we travel chronologically through his mighty oeuvre. On arriving at Volume 20 of his Complete Edition we realize that something new, something different, has happened again. We discover a vocal duo!

There is always silence in the beginning of Stockhausen’s CDs (before each piece, in fact), but before “
Am Himmel wandre ich” the silence is extra long. However, if you listen carefully – or better, through earphones – you’ll detect the sounds of footsteps, rather heavy and slow, and when they stop you’ll recognize the rustling of clothing. At about one minute into the piece the actual singing commences:

In the sky I am walking…

All the ingredients are composed, in the slightest detail. This does not only apply to the music – the songs – but to each and every action of the two singers, down to the very rhythm of their eyelids!

Am Himmel wandre ich” is a musical-scenic unity. Even though it is scored in such detail, Stockhausen composed it in one single week of June 1972.
The work is actually a part of a much larger work called “
Alphabet for Liège”; an event lasting no less than four hours, containing 13 “situations”. Those “situations” are to be performed in 14 rooms that are connected with open doors and windows. The audience can walk freely between the rooms, experiencing the “situations” at will. The premier of “Alphabet for Liège” took place in Liège in the basement of the radio and television building in the Palais de Congrès, which was under construction at the time. That meant that there were no doors or windows installed; just openings everywhere. As a preparation for the performance of “Alphabet” the walls, the ceilings and the floors were completely whitewashed.
One of the situations is a duet for voices; this piece – “
Am Himmel wandre ich” (“In the sky I am walking…”).

The work can be performed by various combinations of two voices; two females (the original concept), two males or one female and one male singer. The last situation is the one used herein.

Stockhausen rehearsing with Helga Hamm-
Albrecht & Karl O. Barkey at the Oeldorfer
barn near Kürten in 1972
(Photo: Erika Magdalinski)

The atmosphere is very attentive, very aware, actors/singers watching closely as they sit facing each other on a rug on the floor with legs crossed, at the edge of the stage at the eye-level of the audience.

So what about the textual material? Well, it consists of an array of different expressions: poems, onomatopoetic articulations, magic names (chosen by the interpreter), something Stockhausen calls “free intimate texts” in which the singers/actors whisper “erotic things to a lover, which you would not directly say to him”, made up fairy tales about sounds, purely tonal vowel and consonant formations, finger snaps, clapping, foot stomps and more.
As you can see bits and pieces out of former practices show up here, like the usage of magic names, which also were used in for example “
Stimmung”, or the stomping of feet and clapping of hands, which have been heard in for example “Momente”.

The poems are chosen from a collection called “
American Indian Prose and Poetry”, edited by Margot Astrov. Whether these poems were spoken or sung – maybe chanted – by the Indians is down to speculation, but considering the Indian cultural traditions surviving inside the remnants of the tribes in America today, the conclusion would be that the texts were sung and chanted.
Stockhausen leaves the decision pending, whether to call these Indian texts poems, aphorisms or prayers. He also mentions that he has transformed and enlarged the texts according to musical laws, into a complex new text. The mood of the composition changes through the 12 texts: dream lovewarlovedeathopening prayer of the sun dancedance of deathplaint against the fogquetzal birdgood weather lovevision.

However, this seems plain for a Stockhausen work, and sure enough, there are other implications too, to the piece! The 12 scenes follow each other without breaks, in a continuum. Song no. 1 only utilizes one pitch, whereas song no. 12 uses 12 different pitches. Also the rhythmical development follows this example, evolving from simple synchronisms to “
free polyphonic superimposition of completely unmeasured rhythmic layers with accelerando to ecstatic near the end.”
Also other parameters of the events move from simplicity to complexity.

The dynamics and the tempi are notated relatively. Stockhausen has equipped the piece with 12 forms of dynamics and tempi, to be determined by the interpreters for a version, concerning the order of the application of these qualities. The CD version – the first version to be stated – was done in collaboration with Professor Stockhausen.

To give an example of Stockhausen’s instructions for the performers we might chose song no. 1, “
Dream song” (“In the sky I am walking…”), from the Chippewa nation, and quote out of the instructional text:

BOTH with instrumental, childlike voices until 12
both look in opposite directions

completely comprehensible
suddenly look at one another
free – irregular
irregular trill
BOTH rhythm and melodic line
With hand signs
INDEPENDENT, not synchronous

The different poems, aphorisms or prayers come from the following tribes: Chippewa, Pawnee, Nootka, Teton Sioux, Ayacucho, Aztec.

Helga Hamm-Albrecht [mezzo soprano] and Karl O. Barkey [tenor] have performed “
Stimmung” many times, and worked through hundreds of rehearsals with Professor Stockhausen. This, naturally, qualifies them perfectly for the task of performing “Am Himmel wandre ich”. This can easily be recognized on listening to the piece, perhaps preferably over headphones to catch all the minute details and movements on stage.

There are a few instances in the work that have intrigued me especially, like in song no. 5 – “
Song, sung over a dying person” - at about 00:28, when the female is letting her voice gallop in vowels on a rocky progression while the male voice inserts magic names, chosen by himself, like for example Osiris. The text is very touching, too, thinking about the context in which it originally was sung, to guide the spirit of the dying person onwards, making him realize that he has to leave the physical body to enter the spiritual realm:

You are a spirit,
I am making you a spirit,
In the place where I sit
I am making you a spirit.

Another place inside the work that touched me especially was in song no. 7 – “
Peruvian Dance Song” – at about 2:50, where you can hear from the sound that the woman is dancing around while singing fast, until both the female and the male sink down, seemingly exhausted from the dancing and singing. And it’s a wild, fatalistic song:

Wake up, woman,
Rise up, woman,
In the middle of the street
A dog howls.

May the death arrive,
may the dance arrive.

Comes the dance
You must dance.
Comes the death
You can’t help it!

Ah! What a chill.
Ah! What a wind…

Some other spots I’d like to single out as favorite places inside “
Am Himmel wandre ich” are found in song no. 9 – “A song by Nezahualcoyotl” – in the beginning and at circa 3:56. The combinatory effect of the male and female voice in their utmost clarity, gliding along on two different planes in a serene beauty, is devastating! At 3:56 the birdcalls get really raw and pointed, and fun!
The text of song no. 9 is very positive:

I am like the quetzal bird,
I am created in the one and only
I sing sweet songs among the flowers:
I chant songs and rejoice in my

Song no. 10 – “
Song to bring fair weather” – is at times melodramatic, and even crossing the line into sound poetic disciplines, in the vein of gifted sound poet and vocal performer Hebriana Alainentalo. Wonderful!

There is a naked bareness in the interplay of these two voices, a male and a female one. Let these voices represent the whole of humanity, which can be sized down to, and focused in, just one couple. There is the essence of what humanity is. The rest is just repetition and variation. The core is one man, one woman – and God. It is refreshing to resort to this naked core through this work, and amazing to realize how much can be done with just the barest of necessities; a man and a woman, their spirits and the Great Spirit in the Sky.

Helga Hamm-Albrecht & Karl O. Barkey
at the dress rehearsal preceding the world
premier of "Am Himmel wandre ich" in Liège 1972

I conclude this report quoting Stockhausen from the CD booklet:

Already on the occasion of the premiere I wrote in the program notes: ‘The singers should only perform this music if they can completely identify with what they sing.’
Therefore, he who does not innerly experience, ‘In the sky I am walking, a bird I accompany’, he who has the slightest misgiving when he sings, ‘Ye gods who dwell everywhere’ and – imagining a dying person between the two singers – ‘In the place where I sit, I am making you a spirit’ and ‘Grandfather, a voice I am going to send, all over the universe: I will live!’ and ‘I am created by the one and only God’, and at the end – pointing to the partner – ‘Sacred she ha been made, sacred I have been made’, he should not perform this music.
During the recording I have attempted to make everything clear acoustically: the entrance of the singers; the rustling of the clothing; the creaking of the floor; singing in all directions; going into a corner of the room and whispering into the corner; covering the face with the hands while singing; lying down on the ground and singing to the ceiling; taking a bowl full of water and sprinkling the partner with water; dancing and turning while singing; clapping, stamping, and much more until the slow exit singing and ringing away in the far distance.
As the singers bring to life within themselves an inner pure spiritual world, within the listener similarly the inner spiritual world can awake and the inner eye can see all the pictures of the ritual scenes, really SEE. The best is to close the eyes and listen with headphones, if no excellent loudspeakers are available


Volume 21