Printer Friendly



FOR APPROXIMATELY SIX MONTHS during the academic year 1966-67, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen was in residence at the Davis campus of the University of California, near Sacramento. During those six months he became quite visible in the San Francisco area. He was often seen at arts events of various sorts, where a following gathered around him; these public appearances were reported from time to time in the press. But Stockhausen was also active on campus, where he held weekly three-hour seminars for young composers. This article is a reminiscence of those seminars and a discussion of their impact on one of its members. It is based on what I hope are accurate memories, but not on any notes taken at the time, which have disappeared.

The seminar met every Thursday afternoon, with two exceptions: a three-week period when Stockhausen was on a lecture tour (he made up the missed seminars with three exhausting six-hour meetings), and school vacations. Although the seminar began at the opening of the fall academic quarter, Stockhausen did not arrive until several weeks later. In the interim, composer Larry Austin--then a regular faculty member at Davis--offered us an overview of Stockhausen's compositions.

There were ten seminar participants.[1] Four of us--Rolf Gehlhaar (who subsequently returned to his native Germany to become Stockhausen's assistant), Alden Jenks, Will Johnson, and I--were graduate students at the university's Berkeley campus.[2] Gerald (Shep) Shapiro was a graduate student at Mills College. The remaining participants were from Davis: three graduate students--John Dinwiddie, Stanley Lunetta, and Dary John Mizelle--and two undergraduates--Mark Riener and Julian Woodruff.

We came from diverse aesthetic backgrounds. Lunetta and Mizelle (and to a lesser extent Dinwiddie, who was in his first year of graduate study and had recently completed his undergraduate work at the decidedly more conservative music department in Berkeley) worked within an experimental aesthetic, derived through Austin from John Cage.[3] Those of us from Berkeley had for the most part been studying composition with Seymour Shifrin and/or Andrew Imbrie and analysis with David Lewin and/or Arnold Elston and hence were involved with what today would be called an "uptown" aesthetic.

Although Stockhausen seemed essentially out of sympathy with all these aesthetic positions, he acted the role not of the autocratic German but of an open-minded, laissez-faire Californian. He minimized his criticisms of compositional styles in favor of comments on individual works. His attempt to adopt the cultural values and even lifestyle of his host region was evident as soon as we met him: in an orderly and efficient Germanic manner, he had memorized our names and seemed to know which faces belonged to which names, but--like a typical Californian-- he used first names and insisted that we call him "Karlheinz." This we did, although with some awkwardness. Karlheinz played his part to the hilt, including sometimes going out for a beer with us after seminar meetings. His perfect English, with just a trace of what sounded like a British accent, added to the informality, as did his attire: at every seminar meeting he wore the same tan corduroy sport jacket and pink and white striped shirt.

As a laid-back Californian, Karlheinz was not about to condemn our compositional styles out of hand. He showed some interest in what we were doing and in why we were doing it. When the undergraduate Mark Riener early on presented a piece in what was a vaguely Hindemithian style, for example, the snobbish graduate students snickered amongst themselves, but Karlheinz enthused, "That is wonderful! I am amazed that you are still able to write like that! People will try to take that away from you, but don't let them!" [4]


The seminar meetings normally had three parts. Karlheinz would spend some time analyzing one of his works, he would listen to and look at our works in progress, and--no doubt the most valuable part--he would sit back, close his eyes, and free associate about ideas for compositions. These thoughts sometimes revolved around concepts he later developed, but other times they were unrelated to his current or subsequent compositions.

The analyses of his works were in the tradition of the Darmstadtoriented periodical Die Reihe. This European-style analysis laid out compositional processes, whereas the American-style analysis with which most of us were familiar tried to explain how an ideal listener would "hear" a piece (i.e., comprehend its structures). Those of us from Berkeley were studying analysis as well with composer Jean-Claude Eloy, who was spending the first of two and a half years at Berkeley (and whose own encounter with Stockhausen in California had a profound impact on his subsequent work). As a former student of Boulez, Eloy also espoused the European brand of analysis. The contrast between the two approaches to analysis--one of which tried to answer the question "how was it made?" (quite apart from how it sounded) and the other of which considered "how does it sound?" (quite apart from what techniques or games the composer consciously employed)--sparked many student debates about the meaning and purpose of analyzing scores.

Most of Karlheinz's analyses eventually found their way into print, in one fashion or another, but in 1966-67 much of this material was not readily available. We were thus intrigued to learn firsthand how a piece like Telemusik had been conceived and constructed. We were also interested to learn of Karlheinz's dialectic interplay between precompositional calculation and contextual intuition. We were charmed by the well-known story of how he had made one of his early Electronic Studies, in which he had found the results of complex calculations musically rather dry, so he played back the tape at one end of a resonant basement and rerecorded it at the other end, thereby obscuring the results of timbral determinations but simultaneously rendering the sonorous palette richer.

Karlheinz analyzed portions of Momente which was then still in progress, although some preliminary versions had been performed and recorded. He did not mention the rumored autobiographical nature of the work, with its M, D, and K moment-types standing respectively for Mary Bauermeister (the painter he was involved with at the time and whom he married during their stay in California), Doris (his former wife), and Karlheinz.

The analyses were interspersed with other personal anecdotes. He told us of the time when as a teenager he was persuaded to go deer hunting. He came face to face with a deer in the woods. Karlheinz raised his rifle and stared into the deer's eyes. He could not bring himself to pull the trigger. That incident seemed to have great symbolic resonance for the young man. karlheinz also told us about his student days, including making money by playing cocktail piano in bars. At one point he referred to having learned a work of Bach, and we naive students were actually surprised to learn that the great avant-gardist had had a traditional musical education! He also told the story (confirmed several years later by Feldman) of how he attended a performance of a work of Morton Feldman by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. When Bernstein signalled for the composer to stand up, Karlheinz leaped to his feet before Feldman could move, prankishly stealing the composer's bow. He repeated this gesture until Fe ldman cried, "Karlheinz, please! My mother is here!"

One day he tried out the performance instructions of a work--I believe it was Plus-Minus--that was in final preparation for publication. He asked us to study the written instructions (the English version) and to prepare to perform the piece. We did what he wanted as best we could, but he was annoyed that we did it wrong: he blamed us rather than the instructions!

The free associations about pieces and procedures were amazing feats of intellectual virtuosity. I wish they had been recorded. His ideas flowed so fast and were so fertile that writing them down inevitably meant missing half of them, so I gave up note taking, much to my later regret. But I did pick up some ideas that subsequently became important to me. One was the moment concept. [5] Another was the idea of directional progression in each parameter. [6] More fundamental was the notion that each of the parameters of music could be structured independently, even if the structuring principles were isomorphic.

I recall that during one of these meditations on compositional technique Karlheinz shared with us some original ideas for a piece he was going to compose on commission from the New York Philharmonic, a work he never completed. He swore us to secrecy about what he was about to tell. The topic came up because he had been discussing duration and tempo. He did not approve of scores in which durations were given in seconds, as some of us had done in our works. For example, a score might indicate that a certain repetition should go on for fifteen seconds, or that the performer should progress from soft to loud over the course of twenty seconds. Karlheinz felt that such indications were arbitrary and had no life. He much preferred building into music some expression of human capabilities or limitations, such as instructing a wind player to continue as long as possible on one breath, or using the tempo marking "as fast as possible" for a passage of varying technical difficulty, so that the rhythms would be the resul t not of some duration or tempo imposed from without but rather of how fast the particular performer could play the passage.

This discussion led to a more general consideration of including not only compositional processes but also performing processes in the music. Karlheinz was considering building into the New York Philharmonic piece the process of learning to play an instrument. He was thinking of asking members of the orchestra to trade instruments and give each other lessons on how to play--during the actual performance. Thus he hoped to capture the special sound of a beginner struggling to produce a decent sound on an instrument. He was also thinking of having these lessons take place a few weeks before the performance and filming them. The film would then become part of the performance, along with a demonstration of how much the players had achieved in a few weeks of playing a foreign instrument. Karlheinz went on from this idea to ruminate on the intermingling of past and present that would be suggested by the film within the piece.


Over the course of the seminar, we were to compose two works, each to a specific set of constraints. The first was a solo piano piece. Karlheinz presented the project as a study in musical shapes and their interaction. He said he had gotten the idea from the writings and paintings of Paul Klee. Karlheinz wanted us to think of shapes as the building blocks of our pieces, rather than conceiving our music in terms of themes, motives, harmonies, melodies, or rhythms. Once we had set up our basic shapes, we were to plan how they might influence one another. This process, he suggested, went beyond traditional development and variation, in that it involved not simply the transformation of one idea into another but the mutual interpenetration of two ideas in order to produce a new idea, related to but distinct from both. He cautioned us not to use too obvious consistency in other parameters, so that the piece would be clearly about gestural shapes rather than consistent pitches, figures, or rhythms.

Karlheinz gave us six basic shapes, shown graphically in Example 1. The first shape represents some number of events (in the graph three, but in actuality any number would suffice) that begin together and end separately.

"Events" most likely were pitches or simple chords, because more complex events would be the result of interacting shapes. Because of the decay quality of the piano sonority, Karlheinz suggested that we might want to decorate the end of an event with some grace notes, to mark the cessation of sound. The second shape is in effect the retrograde of the first: several events beginning separately and ending together. The third shape consists of several shapes starting and stopping together. One might wonder why shape 3 is not considered a shape 1 overlapped with a shape 2. The answer is that this exercise was not about simple succession or overlapping of shapes but about their interaction, about their mutual influence in producing something more imaginative than simple succession.

Shape 4 consists of several contiguous events, and shape 5 consists of several successive events separated by silences. Again, the ends of events could be delineated with grace-note figures. The final shape consists of some continuum of sound (possibly just a single long note), against which several (not necessarily three) individual sounds are played.

The piece was supposed to expose the basic shapes at the opening, and then to begin to create new shapes that resulted from the influence of one shape on another. Some sample composite shapes are shown in Example 2. Notice that the idea of "influence" is noncommutative: the influence of shape 1 on shape 5, for example, is not the same as the influence of shape 5 on shape 1. We were supposed to move to ever greater degrees of complexity of influence, and then to return to the basic shapes (not necessarily articulated with similar pitches, registers, timbres, dynamics, or rhythms) at the end. Karlheinz mentioned in passing that he had used this procedure to create Klavierstuck V, but I have not been able to trace this model in very much of the finished score.

Karlheinz wanted us to show our works in progress each week, and he insisted that they be presented not just as scores but also as sound. Faculty musicologist Marvin Tartak) an excellent pianist and sight reader, was pressed into service. Each week he read through all the works in progress, after which Karlheinz offered comments and criticisms. He was usually quite supportive and interested in our solutions to the problem he had presented. I do not remember many of the pieces, but one was Stanley Lunetta's imaginative Piano Music. [7] My piece was Music for Piano, Number 1, premiered by John Dinwiddie in Berkeley on 27 May 1968. John's own piece involved some amazing sounds obtained by rubbing a plastic container on the strings of the piano.

After the Christmas break, the seminar resumed. Karlheinz began talking about mobile form, in which the sections of a work could be put together in different orders on different occasions. He had composed several mobile forms himself, most notably Klavierstuck XI and the considerably more complex Momente. At first the idea of mobile form struck some of us as rather arbitrary, or as a self-conscious attempt to be different for its own sake.

But then Karlheinz offered a thoughtful rationale for mobile form, and with it a formidable compositional challenge. He said he wanted to hear a piece in which he could tell on only one listening, without seeing the score, that it was a mobile form. At first this ideal seemed utterly impossible, but Karlheinz suggested setting up mutually independent directional motions in each musical parameter. Several directional processes could be initiated in one section, but each of them would be completed in a different section. At most only one of these different sections would immediately follow the initial section in a given performance. Which section came next would vary from one performance to the next.

Many years later, in my book The Time of Music, I offered this hypothetical and simplified example. [8] Consider a passage A that grows continually softer. Passage B, which is pianissimo, can function as the goal of passage A even if B does not follow A immediately. Suppose furthermore that A is also becoming continually more dense texturally. Then either passage B (soft and, let us assume, sparse) or some passage C (loud and dense) can serve as a goal of A. Passage A progresses in two directions at once, either of which may or may not lead immediately to a goal. The performer would have the choice of following A with either B or C (or neither). The clarity of the directional processes and the unmistakability of their goals should presumably be recognizable regardless of the actual order of presentation. Thus not only can passages progress in more than one direction at once but also their continuations need not follow them directly. [9]

Our mobile pieces were to be for small mixed ensembles that could be found at Davis. The challenge of writing a complex ensemble piece in a short time was considerable, and some of our pieces were never completed. Karlheinz exhibited little sympathy for those of us who failed to finish. My piece, Obstacles, was scored for trumpet, trombone, and piano. It followed the format graphed in Example 3. I discuss it because it nicely demonstrates the kind of musical thinking Karlheinz encouraged. There are four beginning sections--Al, A2, A3, and A4--each commencing with a distinctive opening gesture, or incipit, that ends with an interruption, or obstacle. There are two continuing sections--B1 and B2--each having an obstacle shortly after the beginning. There is a central section C with an obstacle. Then there are two continuations--D1 and D2--and finally four concluding sections--El, E2, E3, and E4.

In a given performance, the performers first play the four incipits, separated by long silences, in any order. Each incipit ends abruptly when the players encounter an unexpected obstacle (marked "O" in Example 3). They then return to any one of the beginning A sections and play from its incipit through the obstacle into the appropriate continuation B1 or B2. They must stop when they hit the obstacle in the B section. After a pause, they return to the opening section paired with the one originally taken: A2 if they began with Al, Al if they began with A2, A3 if they began with A4, and A4 if they began with A3. They play through, reaching the same obstacle in B again but this time not stopping. They continue through into the middle section C, hitting its obstacle and stopping. After a pause, they return to an A section not yet played and continue through into the alternative B section, hitting its obstacle. After another pause, they return to the one remaining A section, play through it into the appropriate B section, and through it into the middle section C, this time continuing through the obstacle into one of the D sections and then into one of the final E sections to an ending. After a pause they go back to a prominent return point (marked "r" in Example 3) toward the end of Dl or D2 (whichever has recently been played) and continue into the other possible ending. After yet another pause, the players go back to the return point near the end of C and continue into whichever D section has not yet been played, and on to a third possible ending. After a pause, they resume at the return point in the more recently played D and play through to the remaining ending. After a pause, all four ending gestures are played in some order, separated by silences.

The danger with such a form is that its symmetry is immediately evident to the eye, which can take it in all at once, but not to the ear. When the structure unfolds in time, however, it is a rather different thing from what its visual representation implics. Therefore, in order to articulate the motions from section to section and the returns after obstacles, I placed directional processes into such parameters such as density, register, sound vs. silence, dynamics, and so on. Karlheinz seemed to like the general idea. He made one interesting suggestion, though: after each obstacle the music should linger a second or two, as if broken but not yet silenced.

Several of our mobile forms were performed at Davis in the spring of 1967 as part of an annual symposium of composers studying at campuses in the western states. Obstacles was premiered on 31 March 1967 by Fred Lange (trumpet), Dary John Mizelle (trombone), and Robert Bloch (primarily a violinist but here playing piano). Karlheinz attended some of the concerts but did not enter into many discussions. Our controversial pieces provoked some heated debates among the participants. To most of them, our pieces seemed counter to two prevailing aesthetics: not only to a deep-seated conservatism many of the students from other campuses espoused but also to a lingering modernism by which other students sought to preserve a forward-looking spirit. None of these students seemed particularly impressed with our attempts to redefine musical form by means of interacting shapes or mobile forms or directional processes. In addition to ubiquitous conservative influences such as Harris and Copland, the modernist spirit of Strav insky, Schoenberg, and Sessions still loomed over these young composers from California and Utah. Stockhausen represented a way of thinking very different from both of these aesthetics. One rallying cry of Karlheinz's students was the high value placed on the new. He had told us that what he looked for most in a new piece was to be amazed, to be shown something utterly new and previously unheard. Reacting against the idea of linear continuity through history, he called for every work to be a break with tradition, to be unrelated to other works of the past or present. Hence he rejected historical continuity of any sort, whether tied to conservatism or linked to modernism. Such ideas were seductive in 1967, and we eagerly embraced them and trumpeted them to our skeptical colleagues from other universities. In today's climate of intertextuality these notions seem rather quaint, but they meant a lot to those of us living and working in the radical cultural and artistic climate of the Bay Area in the sixties.


Stockhausen's impact on the Bay Area was considerable. His jamming sessions with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park are well known. The San Francisco Symphony also took an interest in Karlheinz, but did not perform any of his major works (although other performing organizations managed to do so). They decided instead to present Stan Lunetta's spirited if not terribly accurate performance of the solo percussion piece Zyklus, followed by an "Evening with Stockhausen." Both events were presented as part of the Symphony's annual Musica Viva series, which was a week of new music concerts curated by Aaron Copland (who was only occasionally in attendance). The Evening with Stockhausen took place in the War Memorial Opera House (then the Symphony's main concert venue). Karlheinz gave a lengthy lecture on Momente, after which he showed a film about the work. His lecture was curiously awkward. It had none of the personal anecdotes that he had shared when discussing Momente in seminar, such as the sto ry of how eager soprano Martina Arroyo had been to sing in Momente but how after she had become famous her managers forbade her to sing any more Stockhausen for fear of ruining her voice.

The Symphony, eager to publicize this event widely, had held a press conference about a month ahead of time. Since I was writing the Symphony's program notes, I was invited to attend this conference, which took place at Scoma's restaurant. There I saw a more public side of Karlheinz. He was most skillful at impressing the reporters and the Symphony administrators not only with his intellectual prowess but also with the force of his magnetic personality.

In order to write my program notes for the Evening with Stockhausen, I needed some specific information. I telephoned Karlheinz, who asked me to come to the apartment he shared with Mary Bauermeister in Sausalito. I was nervous about intruding on their personal life, but I was curious to see their residence. He had told the seminar a lot about Bauermeister's art, including its profound influence on him. She had made a series of paintings in which lenses--sometimes painted, sometimes real--were placed over diverse objects, distorting them in numerous ways. Karlheinz was fascinated with the idea of distorting something in a recognizable way, and placing the distortion into juxtaposition with undistorted versions.

I was eager to see Bauermeister, who only occasionally went to Davis. She was a physically as well as intellectually imposing figure, whom we in the seminar had privately nicknamed "Stockhilde." My wife Norma and I went to their apartment, high on a hill. Karlheinz and Bauermeister were hospitable. The walls were covered with reproductions of her paintings and with photos, some nude, of her.

Musically more memorable than the Evening with Stockhausen was the Oakland Symphony's performance of Mixtur. [10] Gerhard Samuel's orchestra did not have the polish of its sister ensemble across the Bay, but its programs were invariably exciting. Gerhard programmed four important and complex pieces on the same concert: Debussy's Jeux, Stockhausen's Mixtur the Mozart C-Minor Piano Concerto, and Beethoven's A-Major Symphony. Signs were held up to inform the audience which moment of Mixtur was being played. Dressed in white lab coats, members of the Tape Music Center at Mills College provided the ring modulation.

Karlheinz left California shortly after the end of the seminar. The members of the seminar were invited to a farewell costume party on a houseboat in Sausalito Bay. Costumes were supposed to represent the future. Will Johnson and I, along with our wives, decided to wrap ourselves in endless streams of paper covered with numbers. Our prediction of the coming ubiquity of the computer seems to have been on target. We did not know most of the people at the party, other than the seminar participants and Karlheinz and Bauermeister. I do not remember what they wore, but I believe they were not in costume. The rock music was deafening, and Karlheinz seemed alternately to appreciate it and to be bewildered by it.


I have often wondered what his six months in California meant to Karlheinz. He became a cultural hero in San Francisco for a short time but was then all but forgotten, except as a composer whose recorded music was enjoyed by a few devotees. Live performances of his works remained rare. Karlheinz did have a profound impact on many of the seminar participants, although the nature of that influence surely differed from student to student. I have already suggested how his musical thinking helped shape my own ideas, but I should also like to describe briefly his influence on my composing.

I was simultaneously studying with Karlheinz and Andrew Imbrie: upon returning home from my Karlheinz seminar on Thursday, I would shift gears and compose music for my upcoming Monday seminar with Andy, after which I would

again shift gears and work on my piano piece or mobile form for Karlheinz. I had many discussions about these two very different musical minds, both of whom had little interest in or respect for the other (although I did see them meet, reasonably cordially). What this multiple-personality educational experience did for me, ultimately, was to plant a seed that grew into my current penchant for musical pluralism. I was intrigued by the different kinds of music and values my two teachers offered, and I was comfortable trying them both out at once. Obstacles is utterly unlike the piece I was composing simultaneously for the Imbrie seminar, Music for Piano, Number 2. From this contrast of opposites came other dichotomies that I continued to relish. Eventually--many years later--I found myself w riting music that happily included different styles and even different value systems at once.

The most important thing I learned from Karlheinz was to take chances, to push toward extremes, and to have the courage to follow musical ideas to and even beyond their implied limits. This valuable lesson transcends considerations of style and hence is as relevant to my current postmodernist music as it was to my sixties' modernism.

People hearing my music today are surprised to learn that I studied with Stockhausen. That fact is a tribute to him as a teacher. He did not try to impose a compositional style on us, but encouraged us to remain as open-minded as he was to all sorts of ideas. His mind was like a sponge, absorbing everything with which it came into contact. Therein lies perhaps his greatest value as a teacher, a value few would suspect him of having (and perhaps a value he adopted only while living the life of a Californian): he showed his students how to be open to all kinds of ideas and music, to reject nothing out of hand, and to find something useful in the most unlikely places. I hope that my own teaching perpetuates something of the openness I learned from Karlheinz in California.


(1.) Karl Worner claims that there were twelve participants, but his list includes only eight names. See Karl H. Worner, Stockhausen: Life and Works (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973), 239 and 249.

(2.) Ironically, one of our fellow graduate students at Berkeley--John (Jack) McGuire--had gotten a grant that year to study in Europe, hoping to work with Stockhausen, who turned out to be in California! McGuire did eventually study under Stockhausen in Cologne, becoming his assistant at the WDR Electronic Music Studio.

(3.) Although there were faculty composers at Davis (e.g., Richard Swift and Jerome Rosen) who had a considerably different orientation from Austin's, at this time most if not all of the graduate students gravitated toward Austin's outspoken avant-gardism.

(4.) Karlheinz's exhortation apparently did not persuade Riener to stick with this style. He joined ranks with the other members of the Davis avant-garde when he produced Phlegethon, a composition for burning pieces of Handi-Wrap attached to wire coat hangers. The plastic eventually falls sonorously into pans of water. See Mark Riener, "Phlegethon," Source: Music of the Avant Garde 7 (January 1970): 53. The work is recorded on Source Record Number 3.

(5.) See Jonathan D. Kramer, The Time of Music (New York: Schirmer Books, 1988), 50-54 and 201-20.

(6.) It is interesting to note that the idea of making the directional processes of composing audible in the finished product was being explored simultaneously, and apparently independently, by Stockhausen and by Steve Reich.

(7.) Stanley Lunetta, "Piano Music," Source: Music of the Avant Garde 2 (July 1967): 57-67.

(8.) The Time of Music, 46.

(9.) It is possible to see in this composition assignment the origin of my idea of multiply directed linear time, as developed in The Time of Music.

(10.) Since Karl Worner lists the world premiere of Mixtur as taking place in Germany in August 1967, it is possible that the Oakland Symphony performed the work the season after Stockhausen's visit to California. See Worner, 29.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Perspectives of New Music
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:musical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen
Publication:Perspectives of New Music
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jan 1, 1998

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters