Overview of the Stockhausen Composition and Interpretation Courses
by Thomas Connally and Stephen Truelove

The Stockhausen Composition and Interpretation Courses present a rare opportunity for music lovers - both musicians and non-musicians - to study, hear, and perform the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Each summer, approximately 120 people, from every continent on Earth, converge upon the small town of Kürten, Germany, creating an international community of forward-looking musicians, musicologists, educators, dancers, technicians, writers, directors, and visionaries from a variety of fields.

Each day of the courses is filled with activity from morning until late at night. Composers, musicologists, and anyone interested in examining Stockhausen's music in depth attend the composition and analysis seminars conducted daily by the composer, where both the technical and philosophical underpinnings of the works are discussed. Faculty members and special guest participants offer additional seminars nearly every day, covering both technical analysis, as well as the advanced instrumental techniques most pieces require.

Instrumental, vocal, and dance interpreters have the invaluable opportunity to study and perform Stockhausen's music under the direct supervision of the faculty members, who have worked with Stockhausen for years, and for whom many of the works were composed and dedicated. Non-performing participants, composers, and musicologists, may also attend the various instrumental master classes and gain first-hand insight into the extended techniques called for in Stockhausen's scores. Interpreters who have mastered a piece are chosen to perform in one or more of the three participants' concerts, rehearsing and working directly with the composer, challenging themselves to achieve the highest possible level of performance. A lucky few snare one of the cash prizes offered for the best performances, as judged by Stockhausen.

At night, concerts of numerous Stockhausen works are given by the faculty, allowing participants to experience the music with all the technical, scenic, and special performance-practice elements that comprise the works. These concerts are in addition to and alternate with the evening concerts given by course participants. Stockhausen performs the sound projection and lighting for each concert. Performers, wired with contact microphones with transmitters, send the music to Stockhausen's mixing desk, where it is then broadcast throughout the hall into a multi-channel sound space surrounding the audience, with speakers distributed on the floors and near the ceiling throughout the hall.

Stockhausen's rehearsals for these concerts - open each day to course participants - provide a model for aspiring composers, conductors, and technicians to learn techniques for efficiently rehearsing and directing works of extreme musical, theatrical, and technical complexity.

Through the generosity of spirit - and hard work - of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the faculty, and the members of the Stockhausen-Verlag, participants are offered the chance not only to study, experience, and perform Stockhausen's works, but to achieve within themselves the degree of discipline and inspiration called for by this music.

Composition and Analysis Seminars

A major focal point of the courses is the composition and analysis seminars, conducted each day by Stockhausen. Open to attendance by composers, musicians, musicologists, and anyone interested in the myriad elements that comprise Stockhausen's works, the seminars offer an opportunity for in-depth analysis unavailable anywhere else. The seminars afford a glimpse into the fascinating trajectory of a Stockhausen composition - from its genesis in the composer's imagination and spirit, to its realization in sound and scene.

This year, the topic of the composition seminars will be LICHT-BILDER (LIGHT-PICTURES), from the opera SONTAG aus LICHT (SUNDAY from LIGHT). This analysis promises to provide insights into Stockhausen's technique of "formula composition" - the compositional basis for the entire LICHT cycle.

At the end of each seminar, Stockhausen takes questions from the participants. In past courses discussions have encompassed technical aspects of the music, as well as more general philosophical topics - always resulting in a vigorous and intriguing exchange between the composer and the participants.

In addition to the seminars conducted by Stockhausen, other "satellite" seminars are held throughout the week, including analysis classes by special guest faculty members, and seminars by the faculty interpreters. Last year, for example, faculty member and synthesizer-player Antonio Pérez Abellán conducted a seminar in which he demonstrated in detail his creation of the synthesized sounds for the work LICHTER-WASSER (LIGHTS-WATERS). This year, renowned musicologist Richard Toop will conduct analysis seminars, covering a number of works from Stockhausen's oeuvre.

A library of all Stockhausen's scores and CDs is available to students for study or purchase, and numerous exhibits of texts, concert programmes, CDs, scores, costumes, and props are displayed around the campus. Last year, some of the amazing costumes used in the opera FREITAG aus LICHT (FRIDAY from LIGHT) were exhibited.

Faculty and Participant Concerts

While most music can be readily experienced by simply popping a CD into your stereo, Stockhausen's works represent a special case. Many of his compositions involve spatialization of the music through a multi-channel sound system; special technical, lighting, and scenic apparatus; dance, movement, and gestures by the performers; and an exceptionally high degree of accuracy in tempo and intonation. It is only when all these elements are present that one can experience the totality of these works.

Thus, each evening during the courses concerts are performed, allowing attendees (particularly the many participants from outside of Europe) the rare opportunity to hear the music under ideal conditions, as it was intended by the composer.

Every other evening a concert is given by the master class faculty, utilizing the immense, spatialized sound system and lighting installed in the auditorium. Participants hear the compositions performed by master musicians who have dedicated years, in collaboration with the composer, to the perfection of these works

Each year the faculty concerts bring world premieres of new Stockhausen music. Three world premieres are scheduled for the 2002 Courses: EUROPA-GRUSS (EUROPE GREETING), for winds and synthesizer, STOP und START (STOP and START) for 6 instrumental groups, and STRAHLEN (RAYS), for a percussionist and tape.

In addition, every morning during the courses, the rehearsals for the evening's concert take place. Here, course attendees can glimpse first-hand the degree of preparation necessary to perform this music successfully, and observe the interaction of the performers and technicians with the composer. Anyone involved in rehearsing, conducting, or theatrical direction can learn a lot here.

Three participants' concerts take place on the other nights, allowing musicians in the master classes to perform under the direct supervision of the composer.

Master Classes and Performance Competition for Interpreters

For interpreters undertaking to perform Stockhausen's music, perhaps the key component of the courses is the priceless opportunity to study the works with the master class faculty, all of whom have spent years performing and perfecting the works with the composer. Performance practice of Stockhausen's music (especially the music of the opera cycle LICHT) requires performers to move in space with their instruments, using gestures, dance, mime, facial expressions, and other related performance aspects unique to each piece.

Intensive individual preparation with the faculty takes place throughout the week. The professionalism, and almost super-human level of musicianship demonstrated by the faculty members serves as a model for the student musicians, inspiring them to reach beyond the limits of what they thought was possible on their instrument.

Since many of the works require more than one player, students frequently collaborate, forming ensembles, and creating personal and professional relationships that last well beyond the length of the courses.

Students who have mastered a piece are given the chance to perform in the participants' concerts. Students perform the music in collaboration with the composer, with all the equipment, lighting, costumes and other components needed for the composition.

The skill level demonstrated by the participants over the years (many of whom are professional musicians from around the world) has been amazing, comparing favorably with the faculty members. The best interpreters in these concerts are awarded three prizes of 3750 Euro, 2500 Euro, and 1250 Euro.

Housing and Fees

The participant fee for the courses is only 360 Euro ($468 US), which includes all master classes, rehearsals, concerts and special events, as well as a huge catered banquet dinner the final evening of the courses. There are approximately 30 families and individuals in the Kuerten community who help to provide private housing for the many participants. There are also 12 hotels with single or double rooms, and 13 apartment owners with vacation apartments available, making attendance at the Stockhausen Courses 2005 very affordable.

A Global Center for New Music

Over the 5 years the courses have been held, the community of faculty and participants have created a global center dedicated to the advancement and evolution of music and artistic consciousness. The Stockhausen Composition and Interpretation Courses present an unparalleled opportunity to study and experience the works of one of the most influential composers in the history of Western art music - whose innovations of the 50s, 60s and 70s are as influential today as the works he now creates will be for the future. The courses inspire the participants to continue the search - initiated by Stockhausen - for new worlds and new possibilities, in both sound and spirit.