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GESANG DREAM: FUNCTIONS OF FAITH IN STOCKHAUSEN’S ELECTRIC MASS ROSS WALLACE CHAIT OLLOWING THE PREMIERE of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge, electroacoustic music rapidly progressed beyond the stigmas that held the schools of musique concrète and elektronische Musik at odds. The piece was a catalyst in getting a collaborative realm of music that combined purely synthetic sounds with those collected from the outside world underway. These kinds of combinations came to define late-twentieth-century new music. Gesang der Jünglinge was to be the first ever electronic Mass, and was inspired by the German composer’s complex relationship with the Catholic church. “I found that ideology was something I couldn’t rely on, and that I should attach myself to the divine. Of my own choice I first became a practicing Catholic,”1 he explained. Completed in 1956, the piece was met with acclaim from both the community of fellow composers and the broader public. Its premiere was described as “a watershed event,” according to John Smalley’s analysis from 2000, explaining how “Stockhausen’s electronic and spatial innovations did not go unnoticed .”2 The most well-known token of Stockhausen’s subsequent F 186 Perspectives of New Music esteem was his 1967 appearance on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. More significantly though, this piece had major implications for the stylistic possibilities of art music in the late twentieth century, and created a new place for faith and Christian traditionalism in the world of the avant-garde. ON GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE AND THE COLOGNE CATHEDRAL In Gesang der Jünglinge, Stockhausen combines synthetic sine tones, impulse sonorities, and isolated blips3 with samples of a young male vocalist, in a manner that brings the purity of new electronics (birthed and bred by the school of elektronische Musik) together with the inviting familiarity of Christian tradition. The combination proved remarkable in its musical re-imagining of modernist tendency in the twentieth century. Gesang der Jünglinge is a tumultuous sonic experience , often basking in abrasive timbres and cathartic noise. Elsewhere, powerfully sparse textures toe the line between audibility and silence. Despite these off-beat sonorities, the piece was indeed inspired by Stockhausen’s faith in Christ and knowledge of Christian liturgy. It was therefore a tragic disappointment to the composer when the Cologne Cathedral, in the immediate vicinity of his birthplace, rejected the request to premiere Gesang der Jünglinge in the church. Their refusal was supposedly based on a notion that the five loudspeakers through which the music was played were not permitted in a church.4 However, based on historical studies of liturgical tradition , it seems this decision indeed could have been inspired by more complicated oversights. Because of its implications for the advancement of electronic music, scholarly writing on the piece has fixated in large part on technological innovation. Therefore, inquiry into the presence and treatment of the Christian music and overall religious foundations has been overlooked. This analysis will investigate a history of church music traditions, relational theories of text and liturgy, and Stockhausen’s personal narrative as a Catholic and a man of faith in order to rethink Gesang der Jünglinge as music for the church, and determine whether the Cologne Cathedral was justified in their decision to reject the piece. A MAN OF FAITH In the early to mid 1950s, when composing Gesang der Jünglinge, Stockhausen’s lifestyle was guided by an uncompromising Catholic Gesang Dream: Functions of Faith in Stockhausen’s Electric Mass 187 persuasion. He viewed his musical practice as a God-given opportunity to justly express the faith that informed both his philosophical thinking and his relationship with music. Discussing this piece specifically, he spoke to the complex amalgamation of words and sounds, explaining how “Whenever language emerges momentarily from the sound signals of the music, it praises God.”5 This understanding of vocal music’s spiritual affect was nothing new to Christian composers. Dr. Steven Plank describes how this phenomenon of singing was “a manifestation of a balanced wholeness in the presence of God”6 and had been treated as such for preceding centuries before the composition of Gesang...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-7180
Print ISSN
0031-6016
Pages
pp. 185-196
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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