Stockhausen Edition no. 5
(Gruppen / Carré)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Gruppen” (1955 – 57) / “Carré” (1959 – 60).
Stockhausen 5.

The WDR Orchestra, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna & Michael Gielen, cond. (“Gruppen” 1965) – NDR Symphony Orchestra, NDR choir, Mauricio Kagel, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Andrzej Markowski & Michael Gielen, cond. (“Carré” 1960).
Duration: 55:45.

When I think about Stockhausen I think about converging spirit and matter, a focal point of an immense energy, derived from bottomless space, filled with starlight – and the likewise bottomless spiritual realm; the spiritual dimension of existence, where the force that drives the universe originates (as Lawrence Ferlinghetti describes it in his epitaph for the Kennedy brothers; “Assassination Raga”), and when all comes to all, these seemingly opposite factors - matter and spirit - turn out to be just different aspects of the same force, which in itself is pure mystery. This mystery of space, time, life, existence, death is very real in the perception of the Child and the Artist.

Stockhausen is an artist that has kept the child alive within himself, and without which he would not have been able to bring to life so many important works of art. In this Stockhausen has served like a prism, breaking up white light into all the colors of the rainbow. He shares this plight with other artists – not only musicians and composers – but maybe we have to look into the depths of time past to find anyone with the same intensity, the same stature of a life’s work, because in present day cultural life I cannot find an oeuvre that can compare to the quality, quantity and diversity of Stockhausen’s. Maybe we have to look to J. W. Von Goethe to find any comparison.
Stockhausen has been – and is - a catalyst for an eternal universal creativity. This creative force, of course, is apparent to anyone who has had the veil of Maya lifted from in front of his spiritual eyes. It is apparent in nature and its workings of natural forces, and through the innumerable shapes that it materializes itself in, like flowers, plants, animals, humans and so on. When this creative quality of the Universe is funneled through the mind of an artist, a poet, a musician, a composer, a painter, a mathematician, an archeologist, a linguist or any other human being with a heightened awareness, this universal force of creativity speaks to the higher being that the human is, or can be, or should be, on a level that inspires to ever higher spiritual aspirations


On volume no. 5 in the ongoing Stockhausen CD Edition we meet large-scale orchestral works for the first time in the series. The first piece on this CD originates in a commission that Stockhausen received from the WDR, but nobody – perhaps not even Stockhausen – could foresee the kind of music that would eventually come out of this commission. The end result was no less than revolutionary, in its totally new concept of music moving in space, in multi-temporal layers; spatial orchestral music!

In the summer of 1955 Stockhausen temporarily left his family for a period of seclusion in the Alps of Switzerland, staying in an attic of a house in the little village of Paspels. While working on the piece for the commission, which was to be a large scale orchestral work, Stockhausen discovered – or invented – a new way of structuring temporal events in music. In his earlier work in the electronic studio he had noticed certain aspects of tempi and pitch, which in themselves were great discoveries, and it was not by chance that it was Stockhausen who made the discoveries, since he always works in a combination of technical awareness and edge, methodically and stubbornly – and a flawless artistic intuition. The level to which these combinatory creative processes have risen to in Stockhausen is unique to him.
Stockhausen noticed that a rhythmic pulse that is repeated in a sped up fashion eventually, at about 30 pulses per second, transforms into pure pitch. This made Stockhausen, by virtue of his extended musical thinking, turn the thought around, and think about pitch as a temporal process in a circumstance where it is not heard as such by our perception. He then went about constructing a 12-tone scale of durations. Now he could shape pitch and duration from one single principle! He composed a time spectrum with sub-divisions of temporal layers.

However, he understood that it would be difficult – impossible! – for one conductor and one orchestra to realize his multi-temporal, multi-layered music, so Stockhausen bluntly came to the conclusion that he would use several different orchestral groups, each with their own conductor! Placed in different parts of the concert space he could then let the sound move back and forth between groups in different ways, merge and diverge – yes, even rotate! This was completely new!
When he laid down the first structure of the piece he actually used the pattern of the mountains that he saw outside his attic window in the Swiss village.

Fundamental spectra over seven basic durations
(Mountain Panorama at Paspels)

Stockhausen got the idea down on paper in the Alps in 1955, and worked on the score in Cologne in 1957. In 1958, on 24th of March, the work, named “Gruppen”, was premiered in Cologne. Conductors were Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna and Pierre Boulez! What a gang! The music merged and diverged between the three groups, it moved in a circle, it united and split up, echoed, called and answered – and “Gruppen” brought well-deserved fame and success to Stockhausen. Musical thought, musical concept, would not be the same in Western art music after “Gruppen” – it was a true new invention, that in a sense liberated music and the way composers could think about music. Static music suddenly became dynamic, and motion in space was incorporated in musical thinking. A new musical dimension was born!
The same year John Cage was in Darmstadt, so quite a bit was happening in the musical world, which drastically altered and broadened the way western art music was conceived. I suppose the general man – whoever he is – got more than his share to ponder that exciting year of 1958 in Germany!

Stockhausen & John Cage 1972
(Photo: Felicitas Timpe)

Gruppen” should be heard in a big auditorium to be experienced the way Stockhausen intended it. On a CD, however well recorded, you cannot get the spatial feeling that you get sitting in an auditorium with the three orchestral groups in a semi-circle around you. It is possible, if you have a surround-system at home, to experience some of the effect of this magnificent music, but the ultimate listening situation is an auditorium.

Stockhausen says that “
Gruppen” is a synthesis of orchestral, chamber and solo music. The musical impression that you get from hearing “Gruppen” at home is of great diversity, sudden events occurring from, or disappearing into, other events, in a bewildering, mind-expanding tour de force through a hall of mirrors, moving your mind along with great beauty and brilliant intellect in a tonal labyrinth, at times lifting you high above the complications, with a sudden free view to the horizon, until you shoot down like a meteorite into the multi-layered events that so well demonstrate the many levels on which we live, simultaneously. This is great art!

We do not know who we are, we do not know from where we come, we do not know where we’re going, but it’s all happening right now, in the dynamics of life. If we keep asking ourselves these questions we are asking the questions of life, the questions of a three year old child, the questions of the artist – the questions of a human. Without these reflections we are nothing, nothing at all. Most people get so used to living that they do not reflect on it. They push aside any notion of existentialistic introspection, and go about their daily chores, like unconscious machines. This is the tragedy of the living dead, and it is certainly common in the Western world, which has come to embrace nihilism and atheism as its firm beliefs. In this context the artist/child is especially important, to show us the shimmering light of spirit through the emergence of art. It is my belief that the spiritual world is indeed the original world, and that the material world is a mere aspect of that original world. This is where people like Stockhausen have their real purpose, their real importance. They are, through the means they have (in the case of Stockhausen music) teachers of the spirit, much like the radiant teachers in the books of Herman Hesse, that you can find in for example “
The Glass Bead Game” and “Siddhartha”, to mention but a few of Hesse’s books.
It is evident to me that the purest form of humanity – the essence of what it is to be a human being – is expressed through art.

I am a young boy, and I walk under the stars, listening to the music of the spheres. I remember the dark nights of my boyhood winters, when we lived on a farm in the countryside. The stars were close, and you could actually feel the vibrations of energy out of those deep star-laden voids. It was magnificent, true, revealing.

I know that Stockhausen’s art belongs in that same realm of the star-cast night, when even the farthest reaches of the Universe are close, vibrant. There does exist a scientific theory of causality that is called “non-local connection”. This theory introduces the idea that events taking place well beyond any known source of possible communication, in star systems so far off that they border on the unthinkable, in very practical ways have effects on daily life here, through the “non-local connections” of certain sub-atomic particles. It gives me joy and peace of mind to dwell on these thoughts! You can study these scientific theories in Fritjof Capra’s “
The Tao of Physics”. Whatever the implications of these theories may be, the idea of surprising connections, intertwining across space and time, play at the thought that maybe it is our looking that is wrong or imperfect. Maybe we just ask the wrong questions. Maybe time-space is nothing but a certain curious quirk of our mind, a framework of our thinking. Maybe everything is closer than we experience. I once wrote a statement saying “all places are here; all times are now”. Maybe I hit it right on the nail. In Stockhausen’s music I get reassured that this indeed is true, on some higher level of existence. I feel this throughout his works; all places are here; all times are now.


During a tour of the United States in late 1958 Stockhausen drew the sketches for “Carré” for four orchestras and four choirs. He flew so much during that period that he got the sensation that he lived on airplanes and visited the ground! “Carre´” originated in Stockhausen’s dream-like experience in flight, searching out the spaciousness and tranquility of flying through those cloud-covered expanses, across sensed topographies way down below, while the engines kept humming; a drone across the planet. This experience, when dwelled upon and consciously and unconsciously digested, led to a new way of shaping time, which Stockhausen called “moment form”. In the book “Stockhausen – A BiographyMichael Kurtz cites Stockhausen’s thoughts from his Texte zur Musik and explains the concept of “moment form”. A moment, he says, citing Stockhausen, is a formal unit that exists on its own, and in which each Now simultaneously makes vertical cuts breaking through the horizontal conception of time – (i.e. the Western concept – eastern is more like a spiral! [reviewer’s comment]) - into a timelessness that is eternity. It is, he says, “the search for a temporal structure with the tendency to transcend the ultimate time, death”. Stockhausen gives the example of a prisoner who only hears one sound a year; the sound of the door slamming, and then after one year another slam of the door. In the mind of the prisoner that sound would last for a year – it would be the sound of the year. Stockhausen arrived at the thought of an eternal duration, and from that he derived the concept of “moment form”, in which a moment does not have to last just an instant, but possibly an eternity, if it isn’t changing, as Stockhausen puts it in Texte zur Musik.
Carré” and “Kontakte” were the two first works in which Stockhausen utilized this thinking, which for most of the 1960s decided the structure of emerging compositions, pro forma.

To perform “
Carré” a large orchestra of eighty musicians is divided into four groups with similar instrumentation. Those four groups, placed around the room, also each contain a mixed choir of eight to twelve singers. The instrumental sounds and the sounds of the voices are appearing in a “unified sound-mix”. The text was composed, says Stockhausen, according to purely musical qualities. Audible words occur at some instances, in the form of names of people. In a commentary from the world premiere Stockhausen stresses that there is no story, no continuation through causality here, but each moment stands by itself. This gives me associations to the compositions of Morton Feldman, whom Stockhausen had met during his visit to the United States, even though I doubt very much that any influences from Feldman had anything to do with “Carré”. Incidentally, only in later years, in the 1990s, has there been any substantial occurrence of Feldman CD releases, but now they are numerous, on, for example, Hat Art and Mode.

Stockhausen continues his introduction to the world premiere: “
I wish that this music could impart some inner piece, expanse, and concentration; an awareness that we have a lot of time, if we take it – that it is better to collect oneself than to be beside oneself, because whatever happens needs someone to whom it can happen – someone must intercept it”. Now, this is philosophy, and there is lots of philosophy, lots of thought, introspection, and reflection, behind Stockhausen’s music. It is hard, painstaking, methodical work, according to a plan, combined with a flow of philosophical thought and a deep intuition, that lead to the outstanding works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. There is so much more than “just music” to consider here, that I almost forget about the music sometimes, feeling that the music is just one aspect of the life’s work of Stockhausen, which can be contemplated in so many ways. It is a true pleasure that the composer also is publishing so many texts for the interested public to study, in which the philosophical quality of the works of Stockhausen are clearly discernable.

Carré” starts with vocal sounds that could stem from Tibetan monks in a monastery, but the sounds change fast, and like Stockhausen says, it’s not a story, but a series of moments, one after the other – and I would sincerely like to attend a live performance, seated, as the public should be when hearing “Carré”, in the middle of the four groups. It must be a fantastic experience indeed, and as the case is with “Gruppen”, it is also with “Carré”: it should be heard live, since so much of the character has to do with spatial events, which must be overwhelming at an actual live performance. However, it is very interesting on a CD too, as a next best opportunity to hear the piece.

It is very typically Stockhausen, when a situation, a chance experience, is utilized in a composition. Stockhausen taps the source of life itself, in all its innumerable gestures in the form of an Alpine silhouette, a series of airplane flights, a dream or almost any other occurrence. This, very firmly, attaches, anchors, Stockhausen’s work, however intellectual and lofty, in real down home everyday life, and this makes Stockhausen’s creativity so humane, so deeply sympathetic – more in the way of a poet than a composer. In Stockhausen art is life, life is art, and everything is intertwined, cross-connected, in the web of existence. This is so deeply felt in this man’s music.

In a dream I had way back in 1970 I heard a voice saying: “
A tremendous pressure rests on the point in Universe that is I”. Those words out of a dream have stayed with me, and I think about them now and then. Somehow they seem to tell me that everything – even the infinitesimally small point that is I (or you!) – is important in the whole, in these vast spaces – and that no one and nothing is here for nothing. Everyone has a potential for something higher than himself, for something that is a refinement of himself and thereby of the Human Being in the Universe, and through the Human Being a refinement of the Universe – for we are the eyes of the Universe looking at itself… This thinking, this insight, flows through the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has been in a refinement process since he started his artistic work, and he has never stopped. His day’s work is a full day’s work.


Volume 6