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Stockhausen, Stimmung, Theatre of Voices, P. Hillier
(September 11, 2007)

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It is hard to imagine adding anything to what Marion Lignana Rosenberg (AKA Vilaine Fille) wrote about this new release in her lovely and pithy review (Time Out New York, September 6). Some pieces composed in the 20th century have simply become classics and merit continued performance and rethinking. Like Luciano Berio's ground-breaking Sinfonia (1967-1969), Karlheinz Stockhausen's Stimmung could only have been composed, as it was, in 1968, and it sums up in many ways the groovy experimental spirit of the Age of Aquarius (I can hear the universe tuning, man). Like the Collegium Vocale Köln, who premiered Stimmung, and Singcircle, who recorded it in the 1980s, Paul Hillier has led the six singers of his group Theatre of Voices in the creation of a new version of the work, the score of which leaves many compositional decisions up to the performers. In an article in The Guardian ('I felt a controlling hand taking over', September 28) Paul Hillier wrote about just how much control Stockhausen wanted to give up.

Other Reviews:

Joshua Kosman, Stockhausen (San Francisco Chronicle, September 2)

Marion Lignana Rosenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen (Time Out New York, September 6)

Greg Sandow, The Magic of Stockhausen's 'Stimmung' (Wall Street Journal, September 20)
The piece involves six unaccompanied, amplified singers, seated in a circle, experimenting with the sonorities of the overtone series (in this case, built over the fundamental note of B-flat), using random syllables, the names of the weekdays, mysterious names of deities, and some English and German text. Is it a coincidence that Sesame Street and the Muppets were pioneered in the same era? With a few subtle changes, portions of Stimmung could easily morph into a Sesame spot ("M-, Mi-, Mitt ... W-, Wo-, Woch ... Mittwoch!"). This release is not for the timid or reactionary, but it is a beautiful performance of an experimental classic, puzzlingly weird and musically profound, in a pure sense. (On a side note, did no one consider the irony of releasing this album in the United States on September 11, given Stockhausen's infamous comments, admittedly taken out of context, about the September 11 attacks being "the greatest possible work of art in the entire cosmos"?)

Harmonia Mundi HMU 807408


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for the shout-out! And, wow, this music just blows the old caboche into smithereens.

Auguri, mlr/vf

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks so much for reading! It is good to have one's caboche undone now and then, isn't it? Ça nous fait du bien.

Happy San Francesco, too!

jfl said...

Stimmung always gets me in the mood! ;-)

jfl said...

Hey... is someone going to comment on my joke, or what. It's a musicologist-department knee-slapper, for crying out loud. :-)

Charles T. Downey said...

Bwa! *snort*

jfl said...


jfl said...

Also, I just heard that thing in surround sound (SACD) - and it blows your mind. Wow... it might make people want to listen to it who don't even like the music. Can't afford surround sound myself, of course... but this is one of the finest arguments for it... rear speakers being used on equal par with front speakers (not just for 'ambience') - you are surrounded by the music as should be.

Charles T. Downey said...

I bet that would be a nice way to hear this piece, as if you are seated in the middle of the circle of singers. Cool.

Charles T. Downey said...

Actually, to be nerdy enough, it would have to be:

Stimmung always gets me in the mode!

jfl said...

Sorry... *that* one... that's that just says a lot about the difference of our focus, I think. :-)

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes! As if we needed actual proof -- which hardly seems likely -- I am nerdier than Jens. Woo!

Gee, now I feel kinda sad. :-)

jfl said...

The fact that we can amuse ourselves for 11 posts on word-plays on a Stockhausen work alone speaks sad volumes about our nerdieness. These are the outer margins of nerd-dom where others have probably long stopped trying to distinguish between who's nerdier, still. (It's just that "mode" eliminates the word-play a little, don't you think?)

Charles T. Downey said...

True enough, that.