STOCKHAUSEN: Kontra-punkte; Refrain; Zeitmasze; Schlagtrio – Ensemble Recherche/ Rupert Huber, conductor – Wergo 67172, 52:12 *****: [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi]
Those who read this site frequently will know my caution and aversion to much of what passes as modern music these days, especially those composers who insist on retrying the old and venerable avantgarde from the 1950s which has now been so thoroughly rejected by most of the musical public. But when I was in the midst of all of this stuff (early seventies) there was a need to make a fairly thorough examination of much of this music, if for no other reason than to reject it. In Stockhausen’s case this may seem self-evident, but it’s not; indeed, despite some of the cosmic mystical theories of the man and his attempt to put these philosophical premises into musical action (I cannot remember which album it was, but I distinctly remember some guy hammering nails into wood all through one of the earlier pieces) he also had some very interesting and long-lasting works that continue to amaze. Anyone who has developed a love of Elliot Carter’s music by necessity has to have at least a deep respect for the achievements of Karlheinz Stockhausen.
But like John Cage, one can legitimately ask whether in the end Stockhausen was a composer or theorist that used music as his platform. He continued his idea of art as something almost inherent to humanity by its very existence, and he was simply illuminating what was already there. This was to have tragic consequences for him in September of 2001 when he described the horrors of 9/11 in terms of live performance art, causing a festival to be canceled and his daughter to practically renounce him. But taken in context I believe he was misunderstood, and was speaking from his philosophical/artistic vantage point in an objective manner when the rest of the world had been quite sensitized to think in a completely subjective manner. Regardless, his influence continues with concerts and recordings and even a website,
and his cult grows.
But we have to evaluate him as a musician. There are many masterpieces; Mantra and Stimmung come to my mind as exceptional works, and the ones found on this disc are also important early pieces (the first nine years of his compositional career). These are chamber works for various small ensembles (Kontra-punkte is for ten instruments, while Zeitmasze is for woodwind quintet with English horn substituting for horn) all focusing more or less on the ultimate idea of the serialization of each component of the musical process. The Darmstadt school only took Webern’s ideas and magnified them, after all. But the music here has a quiet beauty and inner harmoniousness that I simply don’t hear in many modern imitators.
This is not for everyone, or even most people, and I recognize that. But if you are wondering whether anything good ever came from the movement, this disc is a good place to start. Performances are exemplary, captured in terrific sonic ambiance.
— Steven Ritter