/ 8 December 2007

Prolific music modernist dies aged 79

Karlheinz Stockhausen, a controversial giant of musical modernism whose works were seldom embraced by mainstream concert audiences, died on Wednesday at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany, at the age of 79 , it was announced on Friday.

Prolific, whether in fashion or out of it, he composed 362 works, including the world’s longest opera, Licht, a sequence of seven pieces, one for every day of the week. The work lasts 29 hours. News of his death was released by the clarinettist Suzanne Stephens and flautist Kathinka Pasveer, two ”companions” who had been associated with him for more than 30 years and performed many of his works.

”In friendship and gratitude for everything that he has given to us personally and to humanity through his love and his music, we bid farewell to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who lived to bring celestial music to humans, and human music to the celestial beings, so that man may listen to God and God may hear His children,” they said.

”On December 5, he ascended with joy through heaven’s door in order to continue to compose in paradise with cosmic pulses in eternal harmony.”

They added that they would continue to protect Stockhausen’s music. Their farewell was appropriate for a composer who never courted popularity or convention and in his later years continued to plough a lonely furrow.

Born in 1928 in a village near Cologne, he trained with the Swiss composer Frank Martin before making one of the key decisions of his life: he headed to Paris in 1952 to study with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud.

Works hailed by enthusiasts (among them The Beatles, who included him on the cover of the Sergeant Pepper album) as masterpieces included Gruppen (1955-57). The work is written for 109 players divided into three groups laid out before and to either side of the audience.

Stimmung, his 70-minute piece for six voices, was said by Paul Hillier — whose new recording of it was released last month — to have ”completely refashioned the very idea of what a vocal ensemble might do and be”.

Reviewing the disc, Guardian music critic Andrew Clements described the work as ”a vast elaboration of a single six-note chord based on the overtones of the note B flat” and added: ”Stimmung is one of the masterpieces of the last half-century. Like all the greatest music it is unclassifiable — part meditation, part gigantic motet, part phonetic game — and totally resistant to imitation.”

Stockhausen embraced the new world of electronics. In a studio at the Paris Technical College he laboured to produce ”a structure, to be realised in an étude, that was already worked into the micro-dimension of a single sound, so that in every moment, however small, the overall principle of my idea would be present”.

He also developed his own take on serialism and declared in the early 1970s that ”serial thinking is something that’s come into our consciousness and will be there for ever; it’s relativity and nothing else … it’s a spiritual and democratic attitude toward the world”.

The world moved on, but Stockhausen refused to have anything to do with minimalists and postmodernists. And they chose to have nothing to do with him. — Guardian Unlimited Â