Stockhausen Edition no. 29
(Der Jahreslauf)

Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Der Jahreslauf” for orchestra & tape (1977).
Wilhelm Neuhaus [harmonium], Günter Hempel [harmonium], Harald Hoeren [harmonium], David Gray [anvil; here a cast-iron tube], Kurt Nitschke [piccolo], Hans-Martin Müller [piccolo], Josef Heck [piccolo], Martin Schulz [bongo], Hugo Read [soprano saxophone], Gerhard Veek [soprano saxophone], Norbert Stein [soprano saxophone], Christoph Caskel [bass drum], Annemarie Bohne [harpsichord], Theodor Ross [guitar], Bernadette Read [female voice], Volker Müller [sound engineer], Karlheinz Stockhausen [geisha bells, male voice, musical direction & sound projection].
(In later performances the harmoniums have been replaced by synthesizers, and the harpsichord with a synthesizer-sampler combination)
Stockhausen 29. Duration: 46:07.

Stockhausen composed “Der Jahreslauf” while in Japan on a commission from the National Theatre in Tokyo in 1977. The commission involved composing a piece for Gagaku orchestra and dancers. Japan has meant a lot to Stockhausen in his compositional work. We might for example think about the important and beautiful work “Tele-Musik” which he realized in Tokyo in 1966. Let’s not forget, either, the World Fair in Osaka in 1970 and the continuous performances of Stockhausen works there for months!
Maybe it isn’t by pure chance, then, that Stockhausen, when he was on this commission in Japan to compose “
Der Jahreslauf”, received from the angels the super-formula for his immense opera cycle “Licht”, which was to occupy him thereafter. The first version of “Der Jahreslauf” later became Act 1 of “Dienstag aus Licht” (“Tuesday from Light”).

Stockhausen at temple garden in Kyoto October 1977
(Photo: Suzanne Stephens)

The traditional Japanese music, which can be traced all the way back to the 2nd century A.D., may be divided into five main periods: prehistoric, antique, medieval, modern and contemporary. Popular music and folk music are not included in this, but only the traditional music. Some of the developments that have taken place during these periods are still alive and vibrant to this day.
The prehistoric era (2nd – 7th centuries A.D.) holds the indigenous musical forms, which stem from a time when no contact had been made with continental Chinese music.
The antique period includes the Nara (645 – 794) and the Heian (794 – 1185) epochs, introducing Chinese continental music, especially Gagaku music (learned instrumental music which could include dance and song) and Shômyô (Buddhist liturgical chant).
The medieval era introduces a native music, as heard in the Wasan (Buddhist chants in Japanese), the Heikyoku (Heike epic songs and recitations accompanied by the biwa) and the (theatrical music that is sung, dialogued, pantomimed and danced).
In the modern period, beginning in the Momoyama epoch (1673) and lasting until the Meiji restoration (1868) a new music designed for and popular with the majority of the population, played on koto (13-string sitar), shakuhachi (5-hole vertical bamboo flute), satsuma-biwa (song accompanied by the biwa) plus songs accompanied by the shamisen (3-string lute).
After the Meiji restoration Japanese music was transformed yet another time, to include Occidental influences which by now have been assimilated into Japanese music.

The Gagaku music is the oldest harmonic music known to us. The term “Gagaku” signifies a music that is “refined, noble and just”. Yà Yuè in China, A-ak in Korea and Gagaku in Japan have both profane and ritual functions, but the directions in which this music with a common origin has developed in China, Korea and Japan has caused musical evolvements that make it hard to deduce by ear the three forms to a common musical ancestry.
In Japan Gagaku music also includes the Shintoist cult music Mikagura, in addition to learned profane music. This profane music is divided into three forms; instrumental (Kangen), dance music (Bugaku) and vocal music (Uta-mono).
The traditional Gagaku ensemble usually consists of 16 musicians playing 3 flutes (Ryûteki or Komabue), 3 oboes (Hichiriki), 3 mouth-organs (Shô), 2 4-string lutes (Biwa), 2 13-string sitars (Koto), a small gong (Shôko), a large drum (Taiko) and a drum played with sticks, usually played by the leader of the orchestra. In a Japanese Gagaku performance each instrument has a predetermined function. The flutes and oboes play the heterophonic melody, and may – but are not required to – harmonize with the mouth organs. The biwas and kotos perform melodic formulas, which are transposable according to the mood. The gong and the drum struck with sticks indicate a periodicity according to the measure of Occidental music, while the large drum beats the time of the large periodicity.

When dipping into the forth-welling waves of the music of “Der Jahreslauf” for orchestra and tape I discovered that Stockhausen has been able to retain the feeling and the auditive vibrancy of Gagaku music, though he doesn’t even use the traditional Japanese instruments in this recording! It is the more revealing to realize that Stockhausen doesn’t simply make a carbon copy of a Gagaku ensemble in motion, or even an imitative mimicry, but that he – through skill, assimilation, meditation; probably realization of visions occurring in dreams too – manages to make his very own composition that moves gracefully in the Gagaku atmosphere, with great respect for a very old tradition. This is Stockhausen spirit and sound circling and spiraling through an Eastern world of thought and insights, with the spices and fragrances of millennia refining the air through which the musical compressions travel to reach our tympanic membranes to be transformed into electrical impulses traveling up our nerves projecting dreamy, encoded, age-old images in our inner hall of visions, where Life and World is revealed to us in symbolic forms and gestures.

Stockhausen has composed a version of “
Der Jahreslauf” for 4 dancers/mimes, an actor, 3 mimes, a little girl, a beautiful woman, Gagaku orchestra, tape and a sound projectionist. This is the version that was commissioned by the Japanese National Theater in Tokyo. It was performed in that fashion in Tokyo in the fall of 1977, adopting a Nô actor for the acting part.
The version on this CD –
Volume 29 of the Stockhausen Edition – is a recording of the concert version for European instruments and tape, made in Cologne in February of 1979.
Instead of the Japanese instruments Stockhausen here uses 3 harmoniums (sounding like mouth-organs), an anvil (here a cast-iron tube), 3 piccolos, 3 soprano saxophones, a bass drum, a harpsichord and a guitar. (In later performances the harmoniums have been replaced by synthesizers, and the harpsichord with a synthesizer-sampler combination).
It is amazing how well this instrumentation blooms and flowers in a Gagaku atmosphere!

There are many Stockhausian specialties inside this music, of course, that may startle anyone who isn’t very accustomed to the doings of the Professor. At a certain instance the mighty roar of a lion is appearing (resembling, it seems, the masks of a Nô theater performance), while at another point of the piece a motorcycle is rumbling its engine!

Stockhausen rehearsing "Der Jahreslauf"
at the Opéra Comique, Paris 1979

Stockhausen talks about the meaning of these “anomalities” in “Texte zur Musik” Volume 4, in a commentary to “Der Jahreslauf”.
He says: “
When I get visions like Jahreslauf, I just make a note of them and take them as they are. Only when I tell others about them, or when they experience a premier, I get in a spot when they all ask: ‘What does that mean?’. That was the case this time too [concerning ‘Der Jahreslauf’]. All my Japanese co-workers asked for the significance of each detail. However, I didn’t have words myself to describe what each and every occurrence of my vision meant. Generally there is a rather false conception of an artist, assuming that he constructs symbols from abstract ideas. That is not the case with me. I function to a great degree as a medium. Something comes to mind, and I write it down. Sometimes I laugh at myself or get surprised or doubt myself, but I know that there are countless ways of interpreting such musical symbols; that is infinite. […] A work of art is equivocal and secretive. The illness of today, having to have everything explained, to pedagogize all art, really is unworthy of a free, imaginative individual. Even a work of art dies, if you dissect it to explain it.”

Der Jahreslauf” is divided into temptations, incitements and tutti.
The temptations contain musical interruptions of musically foreign sounds, such as a ship’s bell, a table bell, car and/or motorcycle horns, rattling, entertainment music and so forth.
The incitements are applause, a lion’s roar, a child’s voice, thunderclaps.
When the interruptions emerge the music comes to a halt, soaring soundlessly and apprehensively above a soft harmonium chord.

Stockhausen says in “
Texte zur Musik” that he thinks the most important aspect of “Der Jahreslauf” is the experience of the four time-layers. The work depicts millenniums (3 harmoniums), centuries (anvil [a cast-iron tube in this recording] and 3 piccolos), decades (bongo and 3 soprano saxophones) and years (bass drum with harpsichord and guitar).

The temptations stop the flow of time, the music, while the incitements get it all going again, and this is the visible (audible) conflict or opposed forces of “
Der Jahreslauf”; its force field.


The music starts with a tape part, displaying the tingling of geisha bells, increasing in volume. Stockhausen himself played and recorded these bells, and ordered them on his tape.
Footsteps appear. The footsteps are those of the musicians, entering stage from the left. Their clothing consists of white or blue tops and black trousers or skirts. When they have placed themselves in a predetermined irregular order, the geisha bells are faded, and the bass drummer starts with a high upbeat.

The music here is magnetic, forcefully applied, with the flutes painting small figures in minute motions on a backdrop of the slower and more gravitational overall might of the musical web. This is the first Tutti, and it’s a brainstormer of a section, with the harmoniums providing long threads of tones above which the flutes flutter like upset butterflies, while the drum beats below with the extra texture of the harpsichord and the guitar beat time in a relentless movement of might, piggybacking on Time itself.
Even though this music is mighty, it is dreamy too. It is moving through a dreamy landscape in a forceful sleepwalking way, and it seems completely unstoppable, just rolling and rolling forth in calm and dreamy waves of the most beautiful – but a little scary – music of Eastern flavor.


Suddenly a ship’s bell starts ringing aloud, as if to call attention to something important; as an alarm. The music stops (though it had appeared so invincible just before) except the everlasting tone of a harmonium stretching out across the silences.
Footsteps are heard. A close, clear and distinct male voice appears (Stockhausen). The musicians hereafter (through all scenes) jointly – simultaneously – follow each movement on stage with their heads.
The male voice – on tape, not from anyone on stage, but projected as if spoken from a certain position – speaks:
“Flowers for the year-runner”. After a long pause the voice establishes: “He does not want them”.
(A play of words is at hand here too, in German. “
Jahreslauf” means “the course of the years”, but “lauf” in German also means “race; a race”. “Laufen” means to run. Hence the figurative transfer to “run”; “the year-runner” and so forth. “Course” in English can mean something almost similar, but not quite)
The male voice returns: “Flowers for the decade-runner”. After a pause: “Neither does he”.
The voice returns a third and a fourth time, trying to give flowers to the century-runner and the millennium-runner, neither of which accepts the gift. One can hear – but not see, since it is on tape – how a bouquet of flowers is dropped onto the floor. The sound then moves diagonally across the stage, while the musicians – still silenced - hypnotically follow this movement with their heads.


Rapid steps of a child who rushes in. A girl’s voice urges people present to applaud, to get the music moving again. She claps her hands, urging: “Applause!” When there is no response she repeats, adding to her urging: “Applause for the artists!” and then directly, begging: “Please applaud, so that it can continue!” Now she gets a response, as the others present (on the tape) join in the applause. (Stockhausen remarks in the booklet that the audience of “
Jahreslauf” performances usually joins in the applause at this stage.)

The bass drum player gives the downbeat, and the music continues. This is the second Tutti, shorter than the first one, but just as mighty, until it suddenly – temporarily - leaves the sounding space to a piccolo flute solo accompanied by a harmonium and a timid metallic percussion for about 2 and a half minutes. The piccolo performs a fluttering, birdlike, searching melody, sometimes hesitating, sometimes more profoundly intent, now and then punctuated by drumbeats and at some point fondled by a guitar fragment.
The solo piccolo then moves into the third Tutti, which is a group solo of the saxophones, though the music continues to utilize the piccolo and other instruments.


A table bell rings steadily for a while, and the music with the exception of the harmoniums halt, as a male voice (Stockhausen) again starts talking on the tape: “A cook – with exquisite food”.


The roar of a lion moves across the stage back and forth. After some time the harpsichord gives the downbeat, and the lion’s roar is gradually faded out. The music continues once again!

For a while at the beginning of this part – a duo for harpsichord and guitar – the lion’s roar is heard simultaneously, making this a trio of a kind that I’ve never heard before, and which makes me really jolly glad and happy about the sometimes hilarious whims of Professor Stockhausen. Don’t misinterpret me; the trio of a lion, a harpsichord and a guitar really works; it’s just surprising to me, and elating!

The bongo and the bass drum is also heard, and the harmoniums, and as the lion leaves the company a purely instrumental section encompasses us. The harpsichord gets increasingly frantic, out of the preceding, rather introverted, progression of the duo, giving me some associations to the way Finnish harpsichordist Jukka Tiensuu plays Michel Corrette’s “
Combat naval” or Antonio Soler’s “Fandango”. The bass drum is tighter, more frequent here, giving the sound a medieval touch. The composition then moves into the fourth Tutti with a duo of the harpsichord and the guitar; a very lively section. The harmoniums move at times in the fashion of a big and angry swarm of bees, while the harpsichord paints rolling circles of brittle tones. The harmoniums at times sound like the accordion of Pauline Oliveros in “Roots of the Moment”, and the fabric sometimes thickens to a dense web of sound, only to thin out in an elastic way, to show some transparency. At this stage Western art music and Eastern tradition has been blended to such an extent that they’ve both moved over into a state that cannot be determined as either; into a Stockhausen state of world music, of Stockhausenesque world music!


The music is interrupted by car horns honking and a motorcycle bursting onto stage (on tape). Again the music, except the harmoniums, gets silenced. The motorcycle stands still with motor running, until the engine dies down. Only the car horns keep going, in four different pitches, but the motorcycle starts up and dies down once again.


A girl comes skipping playfully, singing-humming to herself (on tape). She says: “For the winner of the course of the years; 10 000 marks! Please continue to play!” When she gets no response she repeats the annunciation and the request with still more zeal.
The bass drum player starts again, and the music continues as the motorcycle starts and wrooms off into the distance. That is Tutti no. 5, which transforms into a group-solo of the saxophones, playing a seemingly down-trodden melody of melancholy and after-thought, even though it slowly takes on the guise of modern or semi-modern entertainment music, like 1940’s dance hall atmospheres, though never really breaking in to it.
The following three events are soprano saxophone solos performing a 1st, 2nd and 3rd formula accompanied by harmoniums, bongo etcetera. At certain points the harmoniums sound like saxophones, and the gentle, golden color of the saxophone covers the environment with a shiny film.


Old hat entertainment, music hall or American 1940’s dance hall music – domesticated swing! – starts playing. As before, the harmoniums keep playing their millennium part, but all other music is abruptly halted. After a while the male voice utters, chuckling: “Stark naked!” The percussionists begin playing a dance rhythm.


A thunderclap hits hard as the sound of a thunderstorm is projected. The musicians – all of them – break out in very loud playing. This is Tutti no. 6. The storm slowly and gradually dies down into calmness. The storm can be sensed in the distance for a while, as the calm after-storm music slowly turns like a prism being circled gently under the sun, giving off its colorful splendor of different wavelengths.

The music works itself into a renewed fury as it – liberated of the threatening storm interruption - reaches the final crescendo.
A final, held chord then ends in silence as the composition reaches its end, which is where the music continues in the sounds inside yourself (blood streaming through your veins, heart pumping, breathe oozing up and down your respiratory channels) and the sounds around you (the computer humming, the birds singing outside your window as the sun after the rain shower lights up the drops hanging from the leaves in myriads of reflections, children playing in the yard, someone biking by on her way from the grocery store, and so on, for ever and ever…)