Stockhausen Edition no. 10

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Hymnen” (Electronic & Concrete Music) (1966 – 67) / “Hymnen” (Electronic & Concrete Music with Soloists) (1967)
Stockhausen 10 (4 CDs)
Participants in the Soloist version: Aloys Kontarsky (piano), Alfred Alings & Rolf Gehlhaar (tam-tam), Johannes G. Fritsch (electric viola), Harald Bojé (electronium), Karlheinz Stockhausen (filters and potentiometers). Mix-down: Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Durations: 57:52 / 56:07 / 60:45 / 60:40. Total duration: 235:24.

Stockhausen has said that a composition should surprise, and that the less it reminds you of something else, the better it is. You can read Stockhausen’s own words on this in the book “Stockhausen 70”, in a series called “Signale aus Köln – Beiträge zur Musik der Zeit”, in this case in Band 1, where a text called “Bildung ist grosse Arbeit” appears. The subtitle is “Karlheinz Stockhausen im Gespräch mit Studierenden des Musikwissenschaftlichen Instituts der Universität zu Köln am 5. Februar 1997”, and the setting is a meeting between students of music and the Maestro, where Stockhausen answers questions and discusses issues with the students. It is a pleasure to note how good and friendly Stockhausen’s relations with these students are, and how easily he socializes with young persons, and especially artistically inclined young people – and of course all young persons (at least as long as they are children) are artistically inclined – until the binding and frustrating forces of society takes hold and crushes everything that is really alive and well inside their fresh minds; and that is especially apparent in latter day Western cultures and societies, which have become so “secular” (in the worst meaning of the word) that any strong spiritual experience is supposedly a negative occurrence – and bear in mind that all lasting artistic experiences are of a certain spiritual quality, which in turn has long-lasting implications as to what kind of culture we shape, to live in.

Anyhow, the words that Stockhausen utters about the surprising, new quality of any good new composition are proved immediately as you go through his own oeuvre. I have reached “Hymnen” on my journey through Stockhausen’s works, and sure enough, many things surprise me; especially my own gut reactions that the music awakens in me!
This piece, presented on four CDs in a box, is about two hours long, and appears here in two of the three existing versions; the first for electronic and concrete music; the second for electronic and concrete music with soloists.

Stockhausen producing HYMNEN at the WDR 1967
(Photo: Inter Nationes)

Stockhausen’s intentions – to simplify it – with the composition of “Hymnen”, were to incorporate people of all races and nations in a work combining electronics, vocals and instruments, making it a universal piece. In “Hymnen” about forty national anthems from the far reaches of the Earth combine forces in four “regions”. Stockhausen wanted to compose new pictures out of known pictures, much the way Jasper Johns did with the star-spangled banner, except that Johns did it with just one original picture, whereas Stockhausen uses many “pictures” (anthems). Stockhausen did not consider the anthems as composed art music, but as something general, commonplace.

Stockhausen started the work on “Hymnen” before “Telemusik”, but had to abandon the work on “Hymnen” momentarily when he went to Japan in 1966. In fact, Stockhausen started planning the piece already in 1965. After completion of “Telemusik” in Japan he continued the long work on “Hymnen”, and the beginning – about 18 minutes – was composed last. Stockhausen says that “Telemusik” (with its all-embracing characteristics) was – or turned out to be - a preparation for “Hymnen”.

The surprising quality that strikes you immediately as you let the music immerse you is the richness of events, the richness of sounds, of spatial aspects, of associative inducements – like a tapping of a dream factory – your own subconscious or rather the collective unconscious…

Before getting into any details about how this actually comes about, through the extreme labor of Stockhausen, it is interesting to note the effect this piece has on you.
The dreamy, kaleidoscopic pattern that emerges in your brain tissue is a swelling realization of the nations, of the people of the nations, of the human race in all its innumerable and shifting groupings – the actual imprint of Homo Sapiens on a background of space-time, like an occurrence around which light and time bends, the way light (and, according to Einstein; time!) bends around gravitational objects, like stars. Here we sense the collective mind – or consciousness, be it fully aware, sub- or unconscious – revealing its forceful presence through (among many other things) the mystical waves of short-wave transmissions, not only by way of fragmented or clear national anthems, but also through the faint or harsh noises of groups of people and many other iconistic sound objects. The way the sounding objects materialize themselves in this dreamlike sphere of “
Hymnen”, they become much more important than they otherwise would seem. In the combinational pattern that Stockhausen lets these sounding objects – filled with meaning even before Stockhausen’s composition; especially concerning the well-known national anthems – appear, where all objects amplify each other, they collect and store importance, like holy places do in our geographic world, such as old churches or other ritual places like Stonhenge or the Maya temples or the mounds at Old Uppsala in Sweden. Here in “Hymnen” the loading of importance and force actually builds up to icon-like proportions in sensual dreamy visions of a collective human spirit, speaking many voices that eventually, in your own mind’s summarized conclusion, all appear as one voice, one vision: the voice of Homo Sapiens, the vision of Man!

I can’t help but hearing even more in this music, like a farewell to a comrade that went down the path of destruction about 38 000 years ago; the Neanderthals. Some passages in “
Hymnen” give me this feeling, especially the parts in between the recognizable sounding objects, i.e. the purely electronic parts, or other parts that have been so transformed that they are unrecognizable, taking on the neighborly strangeness that I ascribe the Neanderthals. They were a people that for unaccountable millennia lived parallel to us Homo Sapiens, and who surely interacted in many ways with us. They were bigger than us, stronger physically, and nothing indicates that they would have been less intelligent than us, but their way of living – fairly static – contrasted to our way of moving about, adjusting to many different circumstances, which in the end made us come out prospering, while the Neanderthals gradually ceased to exist. It is believed that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens may have been able to produce offspring, but that this offspring wasn’t fertile, much the way a horse and an donkey can get a mule, which isn’t fertile. This explains why there aren’t any genetic traces of Neanderthals in our human race. It is estimated that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals are about 4% more genetically different that any genetic differences inside the Homo Sapiens race.

There are many fairy-tales of trolls and giants and other semi-human beings in our folk-lore and in our conceptions, and it is my firm belief that all these conceptions are hereditary memories of the Neanderthals, with whom we shared Europe up until at least 38 000 years ago, which is the time that the youngest bones, found in a cave in Brittany, are dated to. This is just a very short time span in the prolonged perspective of ourselves on Earth, so these comrades of a brother human race have just recently left us. I do not know if Stockhausen has had any thoughts along these lines, but I sense – through my own reactions to “
Hymnen” – that there is a mournful adieu to these extinct fellow men of a neighboring human race in the fabric of “Hymnen”, in addition to all these other aspects of the multifaceted music. It is to say that now we are alone – the only human race – and what do we do with our loneliness? Do we even consciously realize our loneliness as a race… or is it just on a subliminal level we feel this?

It is indeed interesting how some of Stockhausen’s musical compositions may affect you! I take these influences, instigations, of a work of art very seriously, since I believe that it is only through art and the introspection in art that something really substantial and important can be conveyed and understood about our existence in this world or ours.

Stockhausen began collecting national anthems as early as 1964, ordering them from radio stations internationally, from the German Radio Institute in Frankfurt, from the radio department of UNESCO in Paris and other sources. In the two loose-leaf notebooks where he kept notes for “
Hymnen” as the work progressed, he noted different characteristics of the different anthem recordings, like “choir with orchestra”, “country combo”, “many young bright voices” and so on, as a basis for the continuing work.
He also scribbled down “general composition criteria” about the dramatics of the piece, such as “sudden rushing noise breaking into anthem”, “breaking up anthem in short time”, “stutter with irregular ritardando”, “pull the rest of the tape jerkily along the head of the tape recorder” etcetera.
Then follow, in Stockhausen’s notes for “
Hymnen”, “formulations”. In the CD booklet Stockhausen exemplifies with 8 categories, and you have to keep in mind the different relations that the territories of the different countries here have with each other; successive (collage) / simultaneous (polyphonic) / successive and simultaneous:

1. Star forms
2. Plural forms
3. Dualistic
4. Monistic
5. Only with upbeats
6. Only with beginnings
7. Only with endings
8. Only with beginnings and endings

For a more detailed explanation of the formulations and categories above I direct the listeners to the CD booklet or to Stockhausen’s “
Texte zur Musik”.

In the notebook Stockhausen sketches 8 kinds of spatial projections, as well as 30 possibilities of transformations.
Finally 12 parts designated as collages (that were realized) are listed in the “
Hymnen” notebook 1, with indications as to where they would appear in notebook 2, where the 4 “regions” were described, like this:

Col 1 (USA) in Region III
Col 2 (Germany) in Region II

and so on.

This was the basic ordering of the material, which then was treated in a number of ways. It is important to point out that – even though Stockhausen here mentions “collages” – “
Hymnen” as such is not a collage. Simply constructing a collage would never have allowed Stockhausen the effects that “Hymnen” presents, even remotely. He says in the booklet that “the point is to find compositional processes of confrontations and mixtures of style – of intermodulations – in which styles are not simply mixed together into a hodge podge, but rather in which different characters modulate each other and through this elevate each other and sharpen their originality”.
A little later in the same text in the CD booklet Stockhausen goes on: “
The past is the past, useless unless it is renewed in the context of these concepts of the present”. Further ahead in the text he says: “Through this I wish to say that one must be capable of hearing the music of the past in a new way each time, through that which is daily experienced”. And a little further ahead he continues: “Thus, it only makes sense to experience national anthems in my composition HYMNEN if they have this freshness for the listener, which an old object takes on when it is experienced again after one has dwelled in times and spaces which have basically changed oneself. Then, after returning to Earth from spiritual space flights, old objects which seemed useless and banal before, seem magically new. Only then does it make sense to retain such objects. If this does not happen, it is better to forget them. One is only as old as one is young”.

The citations above clearly outlines a similarity between John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen in this respect, since Cage repeatedly has spelled out that records of music, for example, have no significance unless they are used in new combinations, as parts of something new. I know that Stockhausen does not go to such lengths in this (and probably Cage didn’t either; just proving a point…), but you have to admit that these giants probably could agree pretty well on this issue.

Heath Kit; sine- & rectangular generator
(Photo: Annelise Löffler)

The electronic equipment that Stockhausen used at the Studio for Electronic Music at the WDR is listed in the CD booklet as the following:

Generators: sine-wave, rectangular, saw-tooth, noise generators.

Filters: octave, third, radio drama (W49) filters.

Tape recorders: numerous mono, 2-track and 4-track tape recorders. Among them were one 2-track and one 4-track recorder with continuously variable tape speeds and a Springer tape recorder with a rotating 6-fold playback head.

One rotation table which Stockhausen built for the realization of “

Adjustable detector amplifier (feedback filter, type UBM)
(Photo: Annelise Löffler)

Not all of the anthems used are recordings of actual performances of anthems, or samplings of those. The Russian anthem was realized from pure electronic sounds. Stockhausen explains that he produced the 112 chords 4-track. Each note, he says, was a sine-wave, which he distorted to an overtone-rich spectrum. Further processing involved a steep octave filter, measuring and splicing of tapes, spatial distribution and sound modulation. I recommend anyone especially interested in the intense artistic work behind the sound-web of “Hymnen” to study Stockhausen’s explanation in the booklet of the process leading up to the end result of the Russian anthem, since Stockhausen indicates that this description might “give an idea of the special kind of realization process used for this work, which is so completely different from the realization processes of the earlier electronic compositions”.

Stockhausen & David Johnson at the WDR 1967
(Photo: Klaus Eschen)

It should be underlined that the anthems are so finely interwoven in the overall sound pattern, and treated in so many ways, appearing within or around so many other events - like some spoken parts, a recorded discussion between Stockhausen and David Johnson, breathing sounds, short-wave static, sine-wave sounds, modulated sounds, fragments of a political student demonstration, fractions of other traditional musics besides anthems and so on forever – that they sort of just add the almost subliminal feeling of recognition, right through the maze of sounds, in a perhaps shamanistic, even altruistic, sense.
Even so, some people, for example Maurice Flevret, who attended the premier of the work in Köln, regarded “
Hymnen” as a work of social realism, because there were repeated occurrences of the Internationale in it! This may seem absurd today, but in those revolutionary days of Europe – especially in Germany and France with icons like Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Rudi Dutschke, eventually leading up to the desperate forming of the Red Army Faction (Baader–Meinhof) – a conclusion like that wasn’t that far-fetched. Add to that the unrighteous and absurd Vietnam War, where the land of Coca Cola spread death far and wide with agent orange and napalm for the pure Dinky Toys pleasure of it, and you’ll appreciate the social unrest and the outcry of the young better. The only leader in the West who really spoke out against the American Holocaust in Vietnam was Olof Palme, and since that flaming criticism came right out of the family, it hurt the American administration all the more.

Sinewave beat frequency oscillator & low frequency generator
(Photo: Annelise Löffler)

The repetition of the word “rouge” – also appearing in other linguistic guises – may have caused the feeling of a socialistic plight behind the composition, even though Stockhausen’s plight has always been much wider and deeper than that. These days this “rouge” thing reminds me mostly of the sound poetry of French banker Bernard Heidsieck, or his even more insane sound poetry colleague Henri Chopin, who in fact himself recorded a piece called “Rouge” (1956).

"The electronic parts of “
Hymnen” may well have inspired many later composers of electro-acoustics. I can recognize a couple of examples right off, by just listening to “Hymnen”. One Swedish composer of electro-acoustics, in fact the foremost Swedish composer in the genre – Rolf Enström – has a passage in his fantastic “Slutförbannelser” – “Final Curses” (1981) – that resembles tracks 49, 50 and 51 of CD 2 of “Hymnen”, where a long descending chord of massive overtones stretches out. This ever-descending trick is even more out-spoken in a piece by Claude Risset called “Computer Suite from Little Boy” (1968), maybe also inspired by Stockhausen.
I also recently heard Rolf Enström explain in an interview that he heard Stockhausen the first time at the library of his hometown Södertälje, Sweden, when he was just 12 years old. He had found a recording of “
Kontakte” in the listening department, and when the library attendant unwillingly let the needle down in the groove, explaining to the little kid that this really wasn’t music, but something else, young Enström got the kick of his life as “Kontakte” took off through the earphones. Without that first encounter with adventurous sound we might not have had a composer like Rolf Enström in Sweden! Gratitude is extended to the reluctant librarian, who none the less let Enström hear “Kontakte”, even though it wasn’t “music”!

The beginning of CD 2 (“Region III”) has also had a recognizable imprint on later compositions by others, as I can detect remnants of this part of “
Hymnen” in Gilius van Bergeijk’s “Over de Dood en de Tijd” (An Homage to Franz Schubert) (1980).

The WDR Studio for Electronic Music, Cologne,
at the time of HYMNEN

The second version of “Hymnen” is the version for electronic and concrete music with soloists. Stockhausen wanted the instrumentalists (piano, tam-tam, electric viola, electronium, filters & potentiometers) to underline and comment on “individual chords, noses, figures, motifs, melody fragments, thus lending relief and plasticity to the loudspeaker sound…” Stockhausen supplied a set of rules which the instrumentalists were to follow. In later years – 70s and 80s – other ensembles performed “Hymnen”, but often to the dismay of the composer, since the performances were nothing like the way he had wanted them to be. Accordingly Stockhausen had to forbid anybody that hadn’t rehearsed “Hymnen” with him to his approval to participate in a performance. Stockhausen hasn’t written a definite score for the soloist version of “Hymnen”. Performances and recordings have been the result of Stockhausen’s verbal instructions and corrections during rehearsals.

The soloist version in this CD-box is a skillful performance, which adds a lot to the original composition.

Stockhausen connected seven insertions at the end of “
Hymnen”, in “region IV”, to the breathing that goes on there. These insertions are described as musical reminiscences, appearing in a dreamy, memorizing way. Stockhausen says that the insertions “are presented like sound pictures, around which a frame is formed and in which the abstract electronic chords increasingly cross through the realistic sound scenes”.

I’m sure many of us have experienced those young years of short-wave browsing, when we sat up all evening in our rooms, into the night, turning the dials of our short-wave and AM receivers, catching glimpses of countries across the oceans, on the other side of the globe, where voices appeared, faded out and reappeared, speaking languages we never heard of. Maybe some of us went further and started DX-ing, i.e. listening to identifiable stations, and reporting to them about the quality of the transmissions, establishing new connections across the globe through letters. In my youth this was true, and I went even one step further, starting to correspond with pen pals, until – when I was 13 - I regularly corresponded with about forty people spread from Korea to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to South Africa, Mauritius, New Zealand, Jamaica and Scotland. Eventually I decorated a whole wall of my room in the house way out in the Swedish countryside with envelopes from all over the world. The memory of that wall, as well as the memory of the smell of those old radio sets, stay clear until this day, and I can vividly recall the smell of soldering, as my older brother – a technician – mended broken radios and other equipment. I was 12 – 14 years old, and the years were 1961 – 1963. I had no knowledge of Stockhausen at that time, and not until 1967 – when I was 18 – did a knowledgeable record store assistant in the little rural town of Nyköping, Sweden try to sell me a
Deutsche Grammophon LP of “Gesang der Jünglinge”, and that was my first Stockhausen encounter – but Stockhausen was already on the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper”, and I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz.

These memories from my youth of an international out-reach – that I probably share with many people of the same generation – fit right into my notions when listening to “
Hymnen”. Already at that young age I had that magic feeling of all those countries, all those peoples, through the sounds out of the radio, often distributing these national anthems through various types of short-wave and AM static. I recognize “Hymnen” – the feeling – through this, but the clarity and power of the feelings that “Hymnen” conveys really catches me off-guard, surprises me! And please keep me surprised, Professor! Keep me on my toes! Keep on keeping on!


Volume 11