The recent crop of scholarship on Karlheinz Stockhausen is turning out to be exceptionally abundant. Along with Jerome Kohl’s long-awaited book on the early wind quintet Zeitmasse (Karlheinz Stockhausen: Zeitmasse [Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2017]), Thomas Ulrich recently published a sizable study of the seven Licht operas (Stockhausens Zyklus Licht: ein Opernführer [Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2017]). Adding to this bounty is this new volume of essays. Its editors, Imke Misch and M. J. Grant, have [End Page 281] themselves published a considerable amount of research on Stockhausen, and Misch has extensive experience working for the composer’s foundation in Kürten, Germany. Their volume, entitled The Musical Legacy of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Looking Back and Forward, is an uneven but welcome contribution to the harvest.
A compilation of papers read in 2011 at the Stockhausen Concerts and Courses Kürten workshop, the book brings together a roster of mostly European scholars. The papers range considerably in length, depth, and ambition, as did the presentations at the conference. It is probably for good reason that a considerable amount of time elapsed between the conference and the publication: the papers presented in 2011 varied across the board, and while certain studies underwent major improvements, others were omitted completely in the publication. Many of the essays are quite short and present merely tentative beginnings of larger research projects. It is worth noting that if these projects were to be followed through more comprehensively, many would surely bear even greater fruit.
Nevertheless, the volume brings together some excellent research. Among the most important papers is the first contribution, by Mark Delaere. An expert on the extensive correspondence between Stockhausen and Karel Goeyvaerts, which consists of about 175 letters written between 1951 and 1958, Delaere shows how the two young composers shared an enthusiasm for new music and a deep devotion to Catholicism. Among the three principal themes running through the correspondence are “the concept of static music, the quest for absolute purity, and theological justification” (p. 23). Electronics could, in theory, provide the composers with the means to produce static music, a kind of sound that would be “congruent with the stasis of absolute Being” (p. 24). The compositional quest for “absolute purity” justified the use of the sine tone, a strangely disembodied sound without any overtones. Unlike Goeyvaerts, Stockhausen soon abandoned use of the sine tone, turning instead to the use of more complex sounds and the famous “insertion,” or Einschub (the focus of another essay in the collection). Goeyvaert’s avoidance of tones other than the sine wave left him with far fewer options, and ultimately his music has not stood the test of time as well as that of Stockhausen. Even more than these two goals, what set Goeyvaerts and Stockhausen “light years” apart from their other young European colleagues was their religious fervor (p. 32). While Stockhausen never abandoned his belief that music could convey a profound theological message, the correspondence seems to indicate that Goeyvaerts was the more ardent believer of the pair. It would be fascinating to tell the story of the origins of European serialism by fully exploring its theological foundations, but such a history would almost surely fracture the neat historical narrative that has become all too customary in textbooks.
An essay by Gustavo Oliveira Alfaix Assis evaluates the concept of the Einschub in Stockhausen’s music. This practice introduces a spontaneous, unforeseen element into the music; it is something outside of the original form-plan. Stockhausen used the Einschub to add an element of organicism to the work, in such a way that the musical composition would resemble aspects of a biological system. But Assis undercuts his claim that Stockhausen’s Einschübe function “much as ‘chaos’ does in nature” in the very next text he quotes, in which Stockhausen explains that the insertion—while unplanned—is nevertheless a kind of musical event “that had been missing” and therefore was a “necessary addition to an organism” (p. 83). Hermann Conen...