PRINT March 2008


KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN was a great pioneer of sound. He lived, produced, explored, invented, manipulated, and organized it with almost insolent energy and audacity. His ability to vibrate with sound was communicative, and he must be considered one of the preeminent voyagers in our acoustic adventure.

When electroacoustic music was in its infancy, Stockhausen created his brilliant masterpiece Kontakte (1958–60), deploying still-primitive means to open the way to the unheard-of, and to space. With the same radicalism, he seized any instrument or acoustic resource within his reach—whether the orchestra, as in his impressive Gruppen (1955–57); the piano (which he reinvented), as in the Klavierstücke; shortwaves, as in Kurzwellen (1969); or raw materials such as wood, as in Herbstmusik (1974)—using them as he pleased to create new universes. In this way, he made the most of his opportunities, and the organizer in him articulated and structured it all. He thus produced his theses on a new musical organization in a very demonstrative way.

Two questions often arise: one about the limits of a preestablished form, and one about the irregularity of an abundant production that went off in every direction. Starting in the 1970s, this serialist of the early years would orient his language toward a hypermelodism, ultimately producing a Gesamtkunstwerk—LICHT (1977–2003)—whose composition would take practically the rest of his life. One might, then, ask if a systematic and globalizing vision and a certain autarchy did not definitively stifle the phenomenal explosion of creativity that defined the Stockhausen of the ’50s and ’60s, that ever-ebullient adolescent, one of the great creators of his time.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a concert pianist, has worked closely with Pierre Boulez, György Kurtág, György Ligeti, and other composers.