I was mildly astonished to read on the BBC website yesterday that a six-hour helicopter opera (helicoptera?) won a Royal Philharmonic Society award. Of course, a cynic (moi?) would say that the article only made the website because of the length and the helicopters, and I am afraid that my view is hardened by the fact that there is no mention of the composer in the article.
Of course, a well versed modern composer will tell you that Mittwoch is part of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s monumental Licht cycle, and it is a real shame that he is not mentioned in this piece, although an earlier article does discuss him in great detail. I mentioned his piece Stimmung very recently in a post, and, as a student, was agog at his works up to the late sixties or so, after which I found it progressively more difficult to keep up.
Stockhausen was a huge influence on musicians looking for some street cred in the 60s, and there he is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, chin in hand and fifth from the left in the back row, the use of his image the product of some rather fevered back and forth about permission. The Beatles took all his fiddling with radios on board, as did George Martin, of course, and the rest is well known.
When I clicked on the earlier story about Mittwoch I was delighted to find not only much more about Stockhausen, but also a picture of Jennymay Logan, with whom I used to teach, ready for take off. Stockhausen is described in that article as “a dazzlingly brilliant man…articulate beyond belief, fertile, with a mercurial, wicked sense of humour and limitless imagination”, although I note that the photo used of him shows him looking just a touch deranged. No surprises there, then.
I have heard some wonderful stories about Stockhausen from people who have worked with him, and came very close to the great man himself about ten years ago when I was asked a question about him I simply could not answer. One of my students asked, semi-jokingly, what music Stockhausen’s phone made when it rang. I thought I’d rise to the challenge and in any case was curious myself, so wrote to the Stockhausen Verlag and, a few weeks later, received a large package of wonderful promotional material, as well as a personal note from one of his assistants with the answer to my question.
Stockhausen shuffled off this mortal coil in 2007 and went back to Sirius, apparently, but there is no escaping the monumental significance of those works from the 50s and 60s. Sadly, it seems that unless he can be characterised in some kind of mad-professor way he does not deserve a mention, even when one of his most extraordinary projects, love it or hate it, comes to fruition. Had one of those helicopters broken down you can bet we would have heard all about it…