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9.8.05

Stockhausen and the Number 6

Other Articles:

Charles T. Downey, Stockhausen Rising in Milan (Ionarts, May 10, 2005)

Barry Didcock, The Man Who Fell to Earth - Karlheinz Stockhausen, Madman or Genius? (The Glasgow Sunday Herald, March 27, 2005)

Charles T. Downey, Fiat Lux, Stockhausen Dixit (Ionarts, October 16, 2004)

Robert Hilfery, "The Greatest Work of Art in the Entire Cosmos" (Andante.com, September 2001)
Pierre Gervasoni has published a long interview with modern composer Karlheinz Stockhausen ("J'ai créé une tradition de la précision d'exécution", August 9) in Le Monde. The discussion took place at Stockhausen's home in Cologne, which he designed and helped build (my translation):
Do your house's dimensions have any symbolic meaning?

No, not all. Well, it is true that the architecture is based on the hexagon, like the hives of bees, and that the number 6 has played an important role in my compositions. When you consider, for example, that six is the sum of 1+2+3, you get a structure much more solid than one based on four, for example.

How many children do you have?

Six. But that was not a conscious choice! Anyway, getting back to the house, each room is a subdivision of a hexagone. Also, all the windows were built with a 60°ree; angle, which makes a truly extraordinary reflection of light. In the evening, in the kitchen or in my office, the trees of the surrounding forest and the plants in the garden are reflected on the windows in such a way that you can't tell where the house stops and nature begins. [...]

Since your scores are so precise, can you imagine that performers could execute them correctly today without your help?

This is pure hypothesis because, for us musicians, there has always been a tradition. If performers were to decide to perform one of my works, they would be completely stupid not to speak with the people who have already played it with me and not to contact me in order to work from the recordings I have made, for years, on 16-track tape, which allow you to hear each part separately and sometimes even to have a click-track with it to help you perform the tempos exactly. I have created a tradition in precise execution that makes for a very good school. [...]

The perception of your words has sometimes required some explanation. This was the case regarding your response, sharp, it must be said, to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

That was a mean ploy by a man, a radio journalist in Hamburg, who wanted to take revenge on the festival that had invited me. He cut off the beginning of the sentence, where I was saying that Lucifer had manifested himself in New York and thus made me come off, with his personal remarks, like a supporter of Bin Laden! The evening that the show was broadcast, the Hamburg cultural representative, worried in the week before local elections, came to tell me that they had to cancel my four concerts. Then the director of a foundation, presider over by former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, shared with me his fear of diplomatic complications with the United States and Israel if they went ahead with my concerts. They had all become crazy! No one even tried to find out exactly what I had said.
If you don't remember it, Stockhausen was quoted as saying that the September 11 attacks were "the greatest possible work of art in the entire cosmos . . . Compared to this, we are nothing as composers." I was not particularly upset by his remarks at the time (read the whole quotation that appeared then, not just this little tag), and his explanation of what happened seems plausible enough.

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