Stockhausens Klavierstücke: A world of crystalline light in a wooden Karelian church with high windows, or the filtered rays of photons through the walls of an ice castle in Kiruna, Lapland; the tones of the grand piano affect my senses like the energy of light, like cascades of light, in a brilliance of a cold climate, where the fine nuances of thought and mind are necessities for survival.
These works and in the oeuvre of Karlheinz Stockhausen not only these works are investigations into the inner reaches of tonal ethics, of a musical and broadly humane morality that spills over into other disciplines of human spiritual endeavors. These Klavierstücke bring me associations to the water stairs or the eurhythmy halls of the Rudolf Steiner seminars, and yes, its on the level with for example Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that Stockhausen must be appreciated, in a richness of introspection and expression that borders on the unfathomable.
There are different basic ways of listening to these works, and they may successfully be combined, to give the fullest experience. On the one hand you have the barren, intellectual analysis of the construction of the pieces, with an added musicologically scientific approach as to the skeleton of the gesture. On the other hand you have the intuitive, atmospheric sensuality, in which Klavierstücke emerges out of the subconscious, where true art has its workings, in a place and time before definition, before materialization, before judgements of genre and style, before logical or even automatic reactions and responses. I believe in fact, Im sure that these seemingly opposite approaches toward the art of Stockhausens Klavierstücke are the yin and yang of the experience of this musical richness, and that you in fact need both aspects, if youre going to take the auditive experience seriously. Art is the finest and truest expression of the human spirit, and so taking art seriously is just taking yourself and your life seriously, by giving it indisputable value. If art then is the truest expression of us as creative beings, then these Klavierstücke, with their massive complexity and brilliance of creative expression, is one of the finest statements made on the modern grand piano.
Karlheinz Stockhausen is letting the waves of universal creativity flow freely through his being, filtering the energies through his very own personality, with its refined artistic and musical genius, towards these emergences in the physical world of intricate and crystalline sound patterns. This process of human creativity is true for any creative person, in any discipline, but it is rarely so clearly manifested as in the case of Stockhausen and his enormous output, always of the highest artistic quality and personal integrity.
The composition of the pieces took place in 1952 (I IV), in 1954 & 1955 (V VIII), in 1954, completed in 1961 (IX & X), in 1956 (XI), in 1978 1981 (XII, a piano version of Act 1, Scene 3 from Donnerstag aus Licht), in 1981 1983 (XIII, which is a piano solo version of Lucifers Dream for bass and piano from Scene 1 of Samstag aus Licht), and in 1984 1986 (XIV, which is a piano solo version of a sub-scene from Act 2 of Montag aus Licht, in its solo piano version dedicated to Pierre Boulez on his 60th birthday).
Much has been published about the piano pieces Klavierstücke in Stockhausens ten volumes of Texte zur Musik, which currently are being translated into English. These volumes can of course be ordered from Stockhausen-Verlag.
As always with the CD-volumes emerging from the Stockhausen-Verlag, the booklets that accompany the CDs are highly informative and detailed, bringing an extra quality and an extra pleasure to these releases. Selected comments on the different parts of Klavierstücke, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, can be read in the booklet that comes with this triple-CD-box.
Some of the later piano pieces in this collection are somewhat more spectacular, given the special performance instructions that Stockhausen requires. Klavierstück XIII the version for piano solo of Lucifers Dream - is, with its normally about thirty-five minutes duration, the longest of these pieces. This piece requires the musician to whisper (flüstern), make voiceless calls (stimmlos rufen), make vocal noise (Stimm-Geräusch), make voiced whisper (stimmhaft flüstern), and whistle (pfeifen). In addition to these exercises a number other instructions concerning the performance situation are to be taken into account. All this added activity makes for a very exciting performance, should one be able to attend one live.
It is amazing to learn that Stockhausen in 1952 actually devised a plan for 21 Piano Pieces, of which 14 were composed until 1986. These long-term plans and follow-throughs surely make Stockhausen a one-of-a-kind composer, and as we well know, this planning process is paralleled in, for example, Licht and other undertakings. One would only wish that a person of this stature would have much more time than just an ordinary lifetime to see his projects in art through.
Id like to cite a passage out of the CD booklet, where Stockhausen writes about the piano pieces:
Through this process, he becomes aware that this music trains a new kind of human being, who he has not yet become and who has not yet existed on this planet: a human being who can not only experience music which is similar to heartbeats and breathing and walking and running and hammering and sawing and swimming and bicycle riding and dancing and sexing, but who can participate in the spatial and temporal differences, leaps, curves, changes of direction in involuntary melodies, rhythms, dynamics which, up to now, would have been considered superhuman
The pianist on these crucial recordings is the fairly young Ellen Corver, whos been studying Stockhausens Klavierstücke and other piano music by the Maestro for more than 20 years, and who now has recorded them in a close collaboration with him. She is, since 1992, a piano professor at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.
For sure, music isnt just music, if anyone still had that notion. In fact, even old Arthur Schopenhauer said in his Welt als Wille und Vorstellung that music is a picture of the World Will Weltwille itself. In this were almost down to the Ding an sich. The more you look, the more you see, and the more there is to still find. This is true of these piano pieces too.