Clavier Music 1992

Translated by Jerome Kohl
Perspectives of New Music, vol. 31, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 136-149

(Lecture, spoken spontaneously on October 24th 1992, 5:00 to 6:15 p.m. at the auditorium of the Pädagogische Hochschule in Weingarten. Majella Stockhausen played the KLAVIERSTÜCKE V and VII. In the evening she played, in a concert which began at 8:00 p.m., KLAVIERSTÜCKE V - VII - XI; in a concert on the previous day, she had played KLAVIERSTÜCKE III and IX. The lecture was transcribed in November 1992 from a tape recording .)

Webmaster's Note: This Text Is Included In the Stockhausen Complete Edition CD Number 42

I wish you all good evening. Welcome. A lecture about clavier music has been announced. I suggest that you move as close as possible to the piano, so that you can hear better. We will wait a moment.

[Several listeners come from the back rows toward the front, where there are still vacant places.]

I would like to say a few preliminary words about this: during my studies as a pianist I saw a picture from the peak period of European clavier music: Liszt at the Piano, after a painting by Joseph Danhuser. Laying on a carpet, George Sand leaned against the grand piano, and a number of poets stood and sat next to the piano, ears turned to the instrument. The situation is comparable with people today who wear earphones and completely immerse themselves in the music. Listeners to new piano music of that time could not get close enough to the soundboard, in order to experience what the pianist experiences.

So, I was asked to say something about clavier music, which I have never done before in such a general fashion. Majella, my daughter, is here with me. She will play this evening in a concert the three KLAVIERSTÜCKE V - VII - XI. To date, I have composed fifteen Klavierstücke, eleven from 1952 to 1956, two of which were not completed until 1961. These are now some forty years old. There are some of later origin: the KLAVIERSTÜCKE XII, XIII and XIV, from the years 1979, 1981 and 1984. The 15th is not yet a year old. It is no longer named simply KLAVIERSTÜCK (Clavier Piece), but rather SYNTHI-FOU (KLAVIERSTÜCK XV). A Synthi-Fou is crazy about synthesizers, like my twenty-five-year-old son Simon, who plays this piece for octophonic electronic music and synthesizer. The electronic music is played back over eight loudspeakers, which are arranged in a cube around the listeners. Sounds move round about, diagonally, from above to below, and below to above, in eight simultaneous layers with various rates of speed. And Synthi-Fou plays – on four keyboards and with nine pedals – a new music.

The development of clavier music, which is about four hundred years old, appears something like this: beginning from the harpsichord and clavichord, it develops through the Kielflügel , Hammerklavier, fortepiano, and modern piano, to the synthesizer – and apparently will continue as long as people have ten fingers. What Simon plays, for example in KLAVIERSTÜCK XV, with his ten fingers and two feet, is no longer merely that which is determined by the muscles of his body. Sometimes when he touches a key, he launches a whole sequence, with speeds, tempo alterations, timbre sequences, and amplitude curves which could not possibly have been played on earlier keyboard instruments.

The KLAVIERSTÜCKE V, VII and XI you will hear later this evening. We will see how far we get in the present lecture. I think it is reasonable to remain together until about a quarter past six. Perhaps we can also hear the KLAVIERSTÜCK XI. In any case, Majella will first play number five, and then I will say something about it. You may of course ask questions, if there is something you wish to know.

For about four hundred years clavier music in Europe – and not perhaps in Africa or India or Japan or China – has had in each period of history particular characteristics. I was born at a time when Stravinsky had already written his piano compositions; I wrote the examination paper for my teaching degree on Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and for a full year examined every note in the piece; as a student, I played piano music by Schoenberg, Bartók, Hessenberg, and Hindemith. After this generation of composers, I myself have written nearly four hours of piano music.

Today I see the development this way: piano music has come to an end and something quite different is coming. I sense it clearly: with the claviers made up to this time, there is nothing new to discover any more.

But what was there still to be discovered at the time I was just setting out? An example: at that time I had scarcely any money, so I bought myself a Steinway upright piano and had fitted to it three pedals as well as dampers in the highest octave up to the highest C, since I wanted, by all means, to compose durations which could be damped in this register as well, so that their lengths could be measured and they would not simply go on ringing, as is still invariably the case with all of today's grand pianos. So, that was a special piano, because I believed the piano to be capable of further technical development. I was also very interested in the possibility of mounting a microphone on every string of the piano, so that the sounds of a piano could hopefully be made to move all around in space, as in the electronic music which I was at that same time writing and realising; each individual sound, every timbre, could be influenced and altered through auxiliary equipment. Today there exist such half-electronified pianos. Yamaha makes a grand piano of this sort. Meanwhile, instruments may be purchased which have keyboards and look like a concert grand, but can be programmed with a variety of timbres. Such instruments are even capable of sounding like a grand piano – and in fact so authentically that in a demonstration I could not myself differentiate the sound from that of a really good concert grand. The sounds of Blüthner, Bechstein, and Steinway grand pianos can be imitated with such a Yamaha grand. In acoustics an enormous electronic development has taken place, and this is now in full swing.

What else might still have been possible, besides this extension that I wanted into another one-and-a-half octaves of damping? I had an old Grotrian Steinweg grand in my workroom. Its sound had an enormous resonance, especially in the upper register. At times I would place my head really close over the strings, and I composed what I heard inside my grand piano into some pieces. Then later, when such a piece was played in a concert hall on an ordinary Steinway grand, I no longer heard at all what I had heard while composing. This also applies to the pieces that you are about to hear: I heard unbelievably beautiful overtones, which just do not emerge very well from the inflexible Concert Steinway. Today's grand pianos are built for large halls, have sharp attack characteristics, and the resonance is not long enough in the high registers.

On the one hand, instrumental construction has again and again influenced the evolution of clavier music. On the other hand, the language of the dance forms of the Virginalists evolved through the Baroque period – in their suites of various stylised dances, inventions, preludes and fugues – to the sonata, which at first also consisted of stylised dance movements: fast movement, slow movement, medium-fast, and then again fast movement, with many repetitions in the last movement; increasingly pronounced development of motives and themes. In Romanticism and Impressionism, piano compositions in general were not so much oriented toward thematic development, but rather toward song forms, sound facets, virtuoso etudes, mood painting. In Impressionist piano music, pitch successions occur which can no longer quite be followed by the ear; this bestows something glittery, shimmering, whirring, rustling on the sound, so that for the first time in the history of clavier music it is possible to listen into sound complexes which are composed as an organic shape, and have an animated inner life.

So, I was familiar with this kind of music, and also played it. I am thinking now of some pieces by Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg. There was also grandiose piano music, which no longer took into account if one was able to innerly dance or sing along with it. Virtuoso music showed everything that can be done by a person who is a very devil of a pianist. You certainly know musical pieces which, in places, go to extremes of physical limits and which still today are regarded with astonishment, as something which only a virtuoso can do, when performing conjuring tricks on the piano. This virtuoso music lives on as one variant of European clavier music. You will not find this in my Klavierstücke this afternoon.

Right from the beginning, virtuosity as such did not interest me, by the way. Oh, sometimes there may be something very rapid and dense, but that is always balanced through all gradations of movement and repose. What I was more keenly interested in were dynamic degrees, which I wanted to differentiate much more finely than in all earlier music. From the very softest to the very loudest, seven or eight degrees, exactly prescribed, sometimes in direct succession; not as waves with crescendos and decrescendos, but with the loudness changing from one note to the next.

The second thing was that the successions of notes move over the entire seven-and-a-half-octave range of the piano from the lowest to the highest register, sometimes in giant leaps, and indeed more electrifying than in all earlier music of our century, which I knew from the Second Vienna School or Bartók; such truly large and unexpected leaps, that the listener is thrown about in a musical space which no one had ever experienced before. One indeed listens with the intervals – moves along with the notes. So: differentiation of the dynamics, expansion of the intervals.

The third thing which had interested me right from the start, and which still today unabatedly fascinates me (there are trends which never cease through all the evolution of music), is to risk stretching the difference between short and long ever more in the direction of the long – and sometimes also in the direction of the short. In KLAVIERSTÜCK V you will hear how a central pitch is sometimes struck with a very rapid group of little satellites surrounding it, sustained with the pedal as a coloration of this central pitch, like moons around planets and planets around a sun. A specific timbre tints such a "head" – or core – of a sound structure, by means of the intervals of the notes which ring together. In KLAVIERSTÜCK XI, there often appear next to a fermata the words "long" or "very long" – as long as the piano's resonance lasts. A piano tone has by nature a fading dynamic curve – the lower the longer, the higher the shorter. For this reason the historical clavier, too, is insufficient. The durations in the music, which I otherwise compose (with electronic means, for example), are freely stretchable, so that notes also permit crescendos and decrescendos with an internal development of timbre, and one can listen into the sound, as if into a body. This is not possible on a clavier. Once a note has been struck, it rings and fades according to its own rules, so at that point it is no longer possible to change anything. Of course, some tricks can be employed – which you will also hear: while pressing down keys silently, higher notes can be struck so that the silently pressed keys' strings, which are longer, vibrate sympathetically and allow the struck notes to resound afterward, as resonance tones. Such techniques also permit a listening into sounds and sound complexes, but this is of course very limited.

In my Klavierstücke you experience something different from stylised dance and song music. It is also not comparable to music by Bartók, Stravinsky, or Schoenberg – if some of you recall Schoenberg's piano pieces Op. 23 or Op. 33, they still contain disguised dance forms. My Klavierstücke are not aiming for human corporeal rhythms – rhythms which correspond to the movements of the human body – but there exists rather a great irregularity between short and long with all the intermediate steps, in order to open up an experiential space into which the listener must first enter, if he is to experience such music – where he will not simply rediscover himself with his feelings. There is a mystery – very interesting –, a goal for the constant evolution of language.

Besides all this, you will notice in this music as in no other that from time to time you hear quite long separations: a sound structure hangs in the air, one listens to it as it rings, it has a rather long echoing duration and an ending point, or two ending points, and then silence follows. One has time in which to reflect: What was that, really? How was that, then? So recalling, cognition, of the figures is required in this music, not recognition. In earlier music a figure appears, it is repeated, transposed or shortened or lengthened, elaborated. Such things don't exist in my Klavierstücke. There is no motivic or thematic work. So, there is no recounting of a story, but instead shapes are formed which are unique. It is necessary to register them innerly rather quickly, recording like a tape recorder, so that an event will not be lost, if possible. Thus one also passes experientially very rapidly through transformations.

Long durations of reverberation and silences between events provide opportunities for recalling the events, for perceiving in the course of a Klavierstück many events of various kinds, and for moving through a zone of feelings and thoughts in a no man's land.

Let's just now hear KLAVIERSTÜCK V. Then perhaps you may wish to say something.

Man in the audience [in the first row]: You have suggested a great opportunity. Perhaps you are only waiting for an echo. Is it possible for something to come from us?

Stockhausen: What is possible? Something from you?

Man in audience: Yes.

Stockhausen: Let Majella first play once.

Man in audience: No, you have mentioned it yourself.

Stockhausen: Yes, you may say something about it afterwards. Now let's listen to KLAVIERSTÜCK V.

Which Klavierstücke can you play, then? Can you play one of the pieces?

Man in the audience: We have a misunderstanding. You mentioned the historical picture from the last century. I thought you might offer an opportunity.

Stockhausen: Oh, I see! To lie under the piano! [General laughter]

Man in audience: To be closer to it.

Stockhausen: Yes, how shall we manage this, then? [some words are drowned out by laughter.] You are already very close. [jokingly:] An already highly privileged person wants even more!

But we will now hear KLAVIERSTÜCK V, from the year 1954. I had already begun to sketch out GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE (electronic music), which will be performed tomorrow evening, and the Electronic STUDY I (1953) and STUDY II (1954) had been realised. Nevertheless, the piano fascinated me.

[Performance of KLAVIERSTÜCK V]

As you perhaps have heard, it is not perfectly plausible for this piece to be regarded as the next stage in the development of piano music, following that piano music which had been composed previously. I have mentioned some names. What you still experience today in piano recitals is mostly music which was written a long time ago and only nowadays in large measure is taken in by music lovers. This kind of music was once restricted to certain groups within society. Famous touring soloists could only be heard by those small parties of people who had the opportunity of being invited into small recital spaces, until gradually larger concert halls were built.

All clavier music written before mine was grounded in the assumption that innumerable people played the piano. My six children have all learned to play the piano, too, as well as a second instrument. My son Markus – many of you heard him as a trumpeter in yesterday's concert and will hear him again today – has become a trumpeter, but he too began by playing the piano. Majella learned to play the violin from the age of six to twelve, and since her ninth year piano as well. My daughter Christel has become a flutist. At the age of six she learned recorder, from the age of eight, the piano, from her twelfth until her fifteenth year she played violoncello and piano, and from the age of fifteen she learned transverse flute, but also studied the piano further as a secondary instrument during the six years of her conservatory flute instruction

I am one of four children of a village schoolmaster who had scarcely any money; nevertheless, he somehow managed to scrape together the two marks per week for my piano lessons, and sometimes I had to earn the money myself by working after school. My father could play only on the black keys. He came from a small farmers family. His mother gave him a piano. It meant selling a cow, which was a gigantic expense for the whole family, drawing protests from his three siblings. He wanted me to have piano lessons no matter what. Oh, there were many of the usual difficulties involved: because I was not keen to play the piano, but would rather have read stories about the Indians of the Wild West, I would play with only one hand while reading Nevertheless, I finally did study piano at the music conservatory. I want to say that many people, who were in no way involved with music through a professional education, used to play piano in the past. That is scarcely ever the case now, unfortunately. Very few people today regularly play the piano, since they own radios, televisions, or record players, and no longer have to practice in order to acquaint themselves with music. In the old days, in order to hear something, you had to practice it yourself. Or there was someone in the family who could play. Most European music for the piano was written for the circle of people who could themselves play the piano well, who therefore expertly judged piano music and could perform it. A touring virtuoso could of course do these things still better, and so could expect that many in his audience understood him and also knew just what the refinements and particularities of a pianist were, since the listeners themselves had experience with this same music. But now that's all in the past.

Well, what will happen next? When one of my Klavierstücke was premiered, I could have really expected that it would be obvious that, forty years later, thousands of people would be playing KLAVIER-STÜCK V. This is not the case. I know, indeed, how much demand there is for the scores: they are scarcely ever purchased. Only a very few of the known pianists play this music. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

So you see, an enormous change has taken place. Where things will actually go, no one knows. I hope that many young people, who no longer play the piano, will be allowed to have a synthesizer, and learn to play it. My son Simon, whom I mentioned at the start, obtained his first synthesizer at the age of nine, and, to go with it, good loudspeakers, a microphone, a tape recorder and a mixer as well. He had two record players, a cassette player, a radio, and could listen to all the world's music. So could each of my children. But a synthesizer – only Markus and Simon wanted this.

Synthesizer playing has "arrived", it's already evident. There are clubs of synthesizer players, who produce their own pieces, exchange them amongst themselves, engage in competitions. A new generation is coming, which once again plays keyboard instruments. But the keys mean something radically different than they did at the beginning of my education. Synthesizers and samplers are no longer dependent on finger dexterity – I suggested this just a moment ago. The force of striking a key doesn't any longer necessarily have anything to do with loudness, but instead can – according to the programming – bring about timbre alterations, or degrees of amplitude and frequency modulation; or a note may begin at some point to vibrate more or less rapidly, responding to the key pressure, like the Bebung on clavichords in the Baroque. Bach had such an instrument, on which the key pressure had a quite definite function for vibrations within the sound.

After a period of crisis of the contact between composed music and audiences it could be that many people one day will say to themselves: "Passivity is no longer sufficient for me; I want to know how these sounds are produced and what is sensed when moving the body with the music, living with the sound, reaching into the sound and participating in forming it." I believe that someone can only properly perceive piano music, sympathise with it, when he himself plays the piano or has played piano for a longer time, however well or poorly. For this reason I have also written an accompanying text for recordings of my piano music, suggesting that you should close your eyes while listening, imagining yourself to be sitting at a keyboard – or in fact sit down at a piano – and try to play along synchronous with the pianist who is recorded on the disc and is being played back over the loudspeakers, and to do this even hundreds of times, until you realise what the pianist actually can and does do, in order to produce this music. Only then does one get a feeling for what clavier music is, anyhow. Just how irregular the motions in KLAVIERSTÜCK V are, for example, in comparison with all previous European music, can only be understood then. Such a high degree of irregularity is a characteristic which no music had previously had. In our time, irregularity has become important in many areas. We realise only now how the predominantly periodic meters and rhythms of traditional music are based in primitive body rhythms. Many internal vibrations in the body – you know that every organ has its own pulsation and rhythm – are much more complicated, however. Irregularity can be discerned by accurately comparing the heart-rhythm, brain-rhythm, lung-rhythm, walking-rhythm, eyelid-rhythm. You must then make yourself aware of five body rhythms simultaneously. If you electronically amplify them, you will be astonished at the polyrhythmic processes that are constantly occurring in the body. The basic rhythms of traditional musical education were clapping, walking, running, moving the fingers – which all occur between about fourteen finger movements per second up to attack intervals of about two seconds. Really calm tempos, such as deep inhaling and exhaling – for example, M.M. = 10, or six seconds per beat – didn't occur in music at all.

Now, before we hear KLAVIERSTÜCK VII, in which we again meet with something completely different, I will ask whether anyone would like to say something about KLAVIERSTÜCK V. I don't see any hands – – ah, there's one!

Woman in the audience: The question occurs to me, if we were to hear it in respect to Webern or Schoenberg, whether this piano piece couldn't be somehow influenced by serialism?

Stockhausen: These two did not compose serially, but rather with twelve-tone rows. What I am trying to explain to you is that in my pieces serial compositional rules are also employed for the dynamic distinctions; likewise with the durations, and even – as you will have observed – for the organisation of the two-, three-, and fourfold-deep sound layering: for example, a loud head-figure is struck, then is taken away; from behind it emerges a second layer; from behind that a third. Serial music is, simply, more than just composition with pitch series. It is true that nothing simply comes out of the blue. For instance, the Second Viennese School drew on a Renaissance technique, in which fixed, preestablished patterns of durations and of pitches were used, in the manner of Indian music, with its talas and ragas.

KLAVIERSTÜCK VII has the following criteria: You will hear at the beginning a C#. It comes back several times. This C# is coloured each time with a different resonance. With an instrument like the piano, which really has no very great timbral differentiation, I had sought ever since the first pieces – KLAVIERSTÜCKE I, II, III, IV, V, which all came into being in close chronological succession – to compose timbral differences. I have already suggested that if the keys are silently depressed, the dampers of sympathetic strings can be released or they may be raised through use of the middle pedal and be set into vibration by striking dampened strings. In this way numerous timbres can be created for the same pitch, which could otherwise be achieved only with an orchestra of different instruments, or by the mixture of varied instruments. Since here with the piano – as with pastel drawings or lithographs – we are dealing with a very limited world (and that is surely the case in the piano's world, with its particular attack characteristics), much finer nuances can be heard than when the colours are richer. In scoring for orchestra, timbral differences are much more evident, but for that very reason also coarser. You will hear in KLAVIERSTÜCK VII not only the first C# with various tone colours, but in the course of time a series of pitches. Each pitch is composed more or less frequently with quite unpredictable durations and intervals of entry, each time with a different colouring. You will notice this at once with the second or third attack of such a note: the point is the coloration. That is an important discovery, and it will always remain a true discovery for piano music. KLAVIERSTÜCK VII naturally sounds especially well when one is quite close to the soundboard. For this reason, in larger halls I amplify the piano pieces over loudspeakers using two microphones, but when this is done, the sound must nevertheless always emanate from the direction of the piano.

Majella will now play KLAVIERSTÜCK VII.

[Performance of KLAVIERSTÜCK VII]

[During the performance, the bells of the basilica across the street began to peal persistently.]

That is really an unforeseen event: we simply have not heard the piece at all. As a result of the periodic repetitions of the notes of the bells, which are louder than the piano, an utterly false impression is received. Precisely what I was intending – namely non-periodicity – was destroyed by the periodicity of the pealing. Therefore we have not heard my composition at all, but instead something very odd. I, at any rate, had very strange feelings about the rhythmic – how should I put it? – lack of imagination of such bells. It would of course be possible to make something very interesting out of them through the use of modern devices: if, for example, the pitches were to fluctuate upwards and downwards micro-intervallically with up to thirteen steps within the space of a major second, like in some compositions which you will hear this evening: in PIETÀ, which Markus will play, or tomorrow evening in AVE. It would of course be easy to arrange for the bell notes to fluctuate very gradually up and down, by means of an electronic transposition device, so that the sound could become truly fascinating, instead of just simply [Stockhausen sings, imitating a bell]: "Come now, come now, come now" This obtrusive repetition is penetrating.

I think we should play KLAVIERSTÜCK VII one more time. But I will return beforehand to the mixing console in the middle of the hall: I will try and see if I can bring out the overtones more strongly. In all piano music one should really hear what the pianist hears.

[Second performance of KLAVIERSTÜCK VII]

If you detach yourself from the idea that this music was composed by a particular person, and for a moment consider everything from a more distant perspective in time, as things will appear in 170 years (the way we hear Schubert's music today), then you will have very different ideas about the spirit out of which new music has arisen. I believe that the time in which these clavier pieces appeared had a very special spirit, which is irretrievable and also unrepeatable. These pieces will be interpreted as a withdrawal to the essential, after enormously excessive emotional piano music, as drawings in the air of vibrations, as a retraction of all subjective burdens, psychological emotionality; as a new listening into the interior of vibrations, a recollecting of figures, and listening into the silence. That is something quite unique. This has not necessarily only something to do with me, but also with the best abstract drawings and paintings from that time. One day it will be recognised as a needle's eye in history, before much material was once again employed. If you see today's painting, sculpture, architecture, as a mix of all styles of the past – as collages, often very clamorous, penetratingly loud – then you know what I mean. What is coming out of America is most especially marked by an unspeakable neoprimitivism. Surely it should give cause for thought how such a thing could ever have come about after "Abstract Art". It no longer has anything to do with me personally, it also has nothing to do – as I have said – with the end of European piano music in a large process of metamorphosis to a new epoch of keyboard music, which is now slowly beginning; but instead it has to do with the spirit which has manifested itself in the abstract new music, announced by the composer Anton Webern, who was a European haiku poet; who composed small, condensed forms of real audible transparency, with a very reduced structure: delicate, very subtle, completely poetic. And now we have once again, in all its prolixity and vulgarity, the trend to the minimalistic, full of atrocious sequences of periodic hammering – hours long, loud, barbaric. As if mankind had again lowered itself to a rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic level where the most elemental impulses are expatiated on.

I ask you to perceive all the music which you hear in our concerts of these few days as symbols of spiritual utterances, connected to particular ideals, so that mankind will forever remember this particular kind of spirituality, which has been expressed in tones.

I would like to forgo playing KLAVIERSTÜCK XI just now. It lasts twelve minutes, and now it is about a quarter past six. You may, of course, hear this piece tonight. We are left with the thoughts that clavier music, as a branch of European music, represents the intimate and the especially subtle, and after a long epoch it has lead from the structural, the polyphonic (Well-tempered Clavier, first and second parts), through gigantically explosive music and music of intense self-expression, then for a moment in history to pure clavier music in a new musical period, before the mechanical clavier was displaced by the electronic clavier. If you meditate on this for a bit, then I will have fulfilled the purpose of our meeting, and I thank you all cordially for your attention.

"Immediately following the "Clavier Music" article in this volume of Perspectives, readers will find "Octophony: Electronic Music from Tuesday from Light", also by Karlheinz and also translated by me. (That's on pp. 150-170, and includes six sample pages from the score.) This translation also is found in the preface to the score of Octophony." -Jerome Kohl