What is Stockhausen's legacy?






Karlheinz Stockhausen is one of the most important composers of the post war era. He is partially responsible for the creation of the post war modernist music.   But what is his true legacy? Was he the leading composer in his field?

Did he invent the 'timbralist' idea of generating music from a single sound? Well, he did accomplish that concept with "Stimmung'' (Voice) which is completely designed around the single chord of a B flat ninth. But he wasn't the first.  Giacinto Scelsi wrote "Quatro pezzi per orchestre" which is based a single note per movement and that work was written in 1959.



Quatro pezzi per orchestre - Scelsi

I seriously doubt whether Stockhausen knew about Scelsi's achievement when he wrote Stimmung in 1977.

Perhaps one of his greatest works  is "Gruppen'' (Groups) composed for three orchestras. Did it change the way we use the orchestra?  He was a pioneer, especially in the early stages of his profession career as a composer; writing for larger orchestras that used unusual combinations. But unfortunately, as vast financial investments received diminishing returns, the use of the orchestra dwindled. Most of modern music is written for much smaller forces.


Did his electronic compositions change the way we think about music?  Stockhausen mixed music with real sounds. His 1956 "Gesang der J√ľnglinge'' (Song of the Youths) combined electronics with voices. "Kontakte'' (Contacts) of 1960 was one of the first compositions to mix live instruments with prerecorded material.  He was an electronic pioneer, using synthesizers long before other people were interested in them. Of course, the concept of electronic music did not begin with him.  Pierre Henri Marie Schaeffer must have had an enormous influence on Stockhausen's electronic output.



Pierre Henri Marie Schaeffer


Did the "Licht" series of operas 'out do' Wagner? Did they determine the future of opera?  I don't think so.  They are highly unique art-works and they are unlikely to be a platform of inspiration because of their individuality.  Some composers have tried to write longer works but I do not believe it will become the trend.

So what is Stockhausen's legacy?  Well, he is not always the first composer to initiate a new direction in modern music but he is the main figure in establishing most of the key trends.  What he achieved with modern music, Beethoven accomplished with the symphony -  set the highest standards for future composers.

Modern Orchestral Music

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