Stockhausen Edition no. 2
(Formel, Schlagtrio, Spiel, Punkte)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Formel” (1951) / “Schlagtrio” (1952) / ”Spiel” (1952) /
Punkte” (1952/62). Stockhausen 2.

The Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Karlheinz Stockhausen, cond. (“Formel” & “Spiel”) – Aloys Kontarsky (piano), Jean Batigne (timpani) & Georges von Gucht (timpani) (“Schlagtrio”) – The North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Karlheinz Stockhausen, cond. (“Punkte”).
Duration: 73:04. Released 1991.


Starting off with a merry, but very cautious fairytale melody, the little figures (a princess, a clown, a poor peasant?) trip down a spiral staircase, then move in sudden rash movements across the stage, hide behind a tree or a rock, stick their heads out in a peek-a-boo-manner, look cautiously around with big apprehensive eyes, then dart forth again, to the next hiding spot – until they feel more at ease, and expose themselves center stage, holding hands or arms, dancing around, still looking and listening, in the spotlight, while the rest of the stage is in darkness… This is “Formel” (“Formula”) which Stockhausen composed in November – December 1951, directly following “Kreuzspiel”. Once again, like the case was with “Drei Lieder” on the Edition Volume 1, I find this piece too actually behaving like choreographic music, extremely well suited for a fairytale ballet, though I’ve seen no mentioning of that anywhere, and not in the notes to this CD either. In fact, Stockhausen keeps the notes on “Formel” very short, almost as if he’d like to rush by it (even though the first four pages of the score are reprinted in the booklet). However, I do not want to leave this piece too hastily, because the fantasies it starts in me, of little tin soldiers, princesses, clowns, poor peasants and a little fairy, somewhere in a little sleeping child’s room in the world, make me feel very very comfortable and childish, very childishly adventurous. I really get physically transponded to this child’s room somewhere in a timeless and placeless part of my own childhood, maybe, or to childhood as a principle or a state of mind – yes, childhood as a state of mind! This is probably carrying me very far off from where Stockhausen would place this music – but I really get these feelings, which demonstrates that there are many layers in this music, enabling you to travel many imaginary miles and years!

Stockhausen in the student hostel in Cologne
in 1951, composing "Formel"

The instruments in “Formel” are 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 3 horns, 6 violins, 3 celli, 3 double basses, vibraphone, glockenspiel, celeste, piano & harp. This structures a beautiful, transparent and extremely clear soundweb, which feels, at times, like a good massage of your temples, leading you on in this childhood scenario that I’m lost in. Though there are many instruments at play here, you don’t get a crowded impression. Instead the music feels very structured, piece-by-piece-like, and easy to breath in. Lots of fresh air between notes here! This, in turn, bears witness of a masterly hand behind the composition.

Even though “
Formel” indeed was composed in 1951, the world premiere of the piece took place twenty years later, as late as 1971, in Paris; Théâtre de la Ville.


Schlagtrio” (“Percussive Trio) was composed in 1952. It immediately strikes me as a relentlessly forward-moving force, like Destiny, or like the passage of time. I get analogies to a work by Luciano Berio; “Eindrücke”, though that was composed much later than “Schlagtrio”, and for orchestra, while Stockhausen’s piece is written for the wonderfully stripped-bare and naked instrumentation of a piano and 2 x 3 timpani. It takes a musical genius to shape great music out of these small means, and Stockhausen does it! It shows a highly intricate structure, in ever-changing geometrics, giving intellect and emotion more than their due, as you jump on this moving force and ride along, getting the feeling of invincibility yourself, for some illusionary moments. I had that same feeling last summer, when trekking the mountain paths of Lapland in northernmost Sweden, between Abisko and Kebnekaise. On some of those days, walking with a heavy backpack across rough terrain, kilometer after kilometer, with snow on the mountain tops around you and fresh water to drink straight out of the “jokks” (the streams from the glaciers), you get this feeling of bodily and psychical strength, as your legs and muscles feel warm and almost numb from all the physical effort, and you get into a state of hypnotic purposefulness, as you enter the second breath, and just sort of join your body on the path, forward, forward – until you reach the hut at Tjäktja or Sälka, where you are going to wash yourself in +2° Celsius glacier stream water, cook your nutritious food, rest and read, and converse with fellow mountain hikers… Yes, “Schlagtrio” feels like this, strong, fresh, moving!

Stockhausen at Théâtre de la Ville in Paris 1971
(Photo: Bernard Perrine)

The original instrumentation for this piece was piano and 3 x 2 timpani, i.e. with three timpani players. In 1974 Stockhausen revived the dormant piece and re-notated the score, in as much as he reduced the number of timpani players to just two, but each playing three timpani instead of just two, as was the case in the first version, while at the same time he simplified the stroke types, and doubled all rhythmical values, making the score easier to read.


Spiel” (“Game”, “Play”), composed 1952, hits hard on opening, with a combination of percussive and stringed instruments, in which the percussive sounds get more space than in just any average chamber piece. The sounds of the strings remind me of the way Swedish composer Allan Pettersson uses his string sections in his symphonies, like alarms from the soul, or like signals from within distress or sorrow or an inward vulnerability – or just like swift Japanese calligraphic signs on a piece of rice paper! Allan Pettersson (1911 – 1980) was for most of his life over-looked in Sweden (except for his Seventh Symphony), but now he has been released in extenso by the German label CPO; Classic Produktion Osnabrück). However, in other aspects, “Spiel” has more in common, like was the case with “Schlagtrio”, with music like Luciano Berio’s “Eindrücke”, though “Spiel” presents a much more intricate structure. Sven-Erik Bäck’s “Ein Spiel um ein Spiel” (“A Game Around a Game”) is also remotely related to “Spiel”.

Stockhausen’s “Spiel” progresses in a swaying forward motion, in an atmosphere of something very powerful, yet also meditative and introspective, until it just slowly and mellowly fades out after sixteen minutes. It is the last piece Stockhausen divided into movements; it has two; 4’23 & 11’38.

Stockhausen conducting "Formel" at
Théâtre de la Ville in Paris 1971

(Photo: Bernard Perrine)

An interesting note here is that “Spiel” was Karlheinz Stockhausen’s first commission. Herbert Eimert, music critic and producer at the West German Radio (later composer) had a copy of Stockhausen’s “Kreuzspiel” at home, when the director of the Donaueschingen Music Festival, Dr. Heinrich Strobel, came by. On seeing the score for “Kreuzspiel” he was moved to contact Stockhausen for a commission for the Donaueschingen Music Festival. Stockhausen later sent the conductor – Hans Rosbaud - a piece for two pianos, derived from an orchestral piece, which was to become “Formel”. The piano piece convinced the people in charge of Stockhausen’s abilities. They sent him a commission for an orchestral work, and funds that made it possible for him to move to Paris, where he stayed throughout 1952. After a few months at the outset sharing a room with a Turk whom he had no language in common with, he got his own room in the spring of 1952, which is where he composed “Spiel” for orchestra.
The instrumentation is for 7 percussionists, 3 oboes, 3 A-clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, glockenspiel, vibraphone, celeste, electric organ (in the second movement), piano, 6 violins, 3 celli and 3 double basses. Even though there is so much percussion here, it never gets really over-powering. Instead the whole majestic set moves away across the swamps on narrow steel-reinforced spiderlegs; a heavy loftiness across the terrain!


The last composition on this CD is “Punkte” (“Points”) from 1952/62. It is the longest work on the CD with its 27’37. Stockhausen – as the dating hints – rewrote “Punkte” in 1962. He says: “In the new version, points are only seldom simply tone points: they become the centers of groups, formations, swarms, vibrating masses, nuclei of micromusical organisms.”
In the booklet accompanying the CD Stockhausen goes deeper into the explanation of the structure and into his compositional methods. I recommend everyone interested to read these very interesting notes. It is fascinating to catch a glimpse of the many visions Stockhausen has had when composing a work, which the explanations in the booklet are logical reflections of. Of course, the best way to read about the oeuvre of Karlheinz Stockhausen is to obtain the volumes of “
Texte zur Musik”, now being translated into English. Let me cite another passage out of the booklet, which I find especially interesting and important: “Why do we always think of music as sound structures in empty space, as black notes on white paper? Can one not, as well, start from a homogeneously filled sound space and leave out the music, erase out the musical figures and forms?” This thinking reminds me of a sculptor who “liberates” a face, a head or a torso from a big slab of rock, and of something Friedrich Nietzsche once said about the image that rests in the rock, “the image of images”, that has to be freed.

As a humble listener with some measure of imagination, the atmosphere of “
Punkte” surrounds me like a forest of swaying bamboo in an eastern misty morning, in a hard to get through terrain, where danger lurks, where you move with your sword always ready, where you cannot rest without guards posted around the camp – of course in a physical setting of a mental state.

Let me just finish this review with a citation from the booklet, where Stockhausen says something that I think is very revealing and characteristic, and which probably has a bearing on his life’s work as a whole:

I see an orchestra, in which every musician plays each – seemingly so unimportant – single tone with care and love, and with the consciousness, that for a living whole each tiny particle is important and good.

I see a conductor who has penetrated the atomic structures with his consciousness to such an extent, that he makes the higher form configurations grow together in a large organism, in which the single elements no longer destroy each other, but rather, elevate each other. A conductor who knows the secret identity of the musical vibrations with the vibrations of all micro- and macrocosmic life.

I see an auditorium with people who have become sensitive enough, to be conscious of the connection between each point in the music and their individual existences: of the particles of their person and of their person in the cosmos. Who let the vibrations of the music penetrate into the furthest atom of their unconscious layers and thus use the music in order to understand themselves more deeply, themselves and their significance in the whole. People, who through this music become music themselves


Volume 3