PRINT March 2008



Was it only yesterday that I heard pieces like Momente (1961–64), Stimmung (1968), and Hymnen (1966–67) for the first time? By then, Gruppen (1955–57) and Kontakte (1958–60) had already been accepted into the canon of contemporary masterpieces.

For me, almost a working life away now, these were the pieces that stirred and furnished my interest in contemporary music. As each new piece arrived in the ’60s, there was an unquenchable thirst to discover what this great mind would think of next. Each live performance he supervised was a unique experience, his personality and aura always visible. These were the stepstones of my entrance to the new-music world—experiences so strong they forced me in the direction of giving life to new music rather than spending my life in a “classical” museum.

I spent many years trying to extract a string quartet from Stockhausen—one that could become part of our repertoire and be performed in the major concert halls of the world. I inspired him to think seriously about this idea, and this gave way to the craziest and most extraordinary concept for any piece that could have been thought of. It could only have come from Stockhausen. Certainly such a piece, with its intricate dialogue of quartet writing laid beneath a carpet of helicopter sounds, could only have come from this master. I will never forget the many hours we spent together rehearsing and discussing every detail of the score, preparing ourselves for this absolutely singular and unprecedented chamber-music experience, performing in separate helicopters and not being able to hear each other play! The preparation and eventual premiere of the work in Amsterdam in 1995 brought me much closer to the man and the composer, revealing not only his insight as a musician but also his tender human qualities.

It was with great sadness that I heard of Stockhausen’s death last week. Not only the new-music world but all of us have lost a great artist, without whom the twentieth century would have been a much poorer place.

Irvine Arditti is the founder and first violinist of the Arditti String Quartet.