Monday, February 2, 2015

Stockhausen: Life and Work by Karl H. Worner

Stockhausen: Life and Work by Karl H. Worner. Paperback book published by Faber & Faber 1973, 270 pages with some black and white photographs.

The aim of this book is to present the non-technical ‘background’ to Stockhausen. Background it must remain, for there can be no foreground but the music—a music whose understanding and enjoyment presupposes nothing that can be learnt through words. Yet this is by no means a monochrome or indistinct background. For one thing, the characteristic ideas expressed by the composer encompass many areas of thought, both concrete and abstract. For another thing, Stockhausen never for long remains unconscious of the need to find outlets for his creative will, and it is with such a will that he wields his words; rarely content merely to describe or merely to argue, his verbal style becomes a direct form of expression, often seeking out and exploring regions quite its own. And finally, there emerges from this ‘background’ a kind of spiritual biography, revealing the most striking contours in the mentality of an artist whose energetic pioneering has never blighted his musical sensitivity.” From the introduction.

Yep, Stockhausen was a real barrel of laughs. ...but then again, I don't think that he ever passed himself off as a being a funny sort of guy and if you've ever listened to any of his work I think most of you will agree that it is fairly intense stuff and not really a barrel of laughs... The introduction above comments that Stockhausens music is “a music whose understanding and enjoyment presupposes nothing that can be learnt through words”. I think this means that if you read this book you will learn nothing and that only a listen will give you an idea of what this bloke was all about. So have a listen...

I've listened and enjoyed Karlheinz's work for many years now and I've even attended a live performance of his tape music* here in Australia. I guess you could say that I have an appreciation of his work, or at least some of his work. A friend passed on a CD of his Helicopter String Quartet a number of years ago and I can honestly say I have only ever listened to it the once. I found the concept whilst intriguing just that little bit too absurd for my appreciation... and I didn't think it sounded that great either.

So when I found a book about “one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries”, I couldn't resist picking it up. Not that I thought it would initiate a buying frenzy amongst my customers, particularly considering the large rips to the front cover which look like someone has removed a large price sticker or some such adhesive. No, this was more of a cultural purchase. Often I buy this sort of stuff on a misguided hunch that there is some interest, somewhere. The truth is I have no idea if a slightly dated and worn book about Mr Stockhausen is of interest to the wider book buyer public... but it should be.

* A live concert mix of multichannel sounds, originally recorded by the man himself

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