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December 10 , 2007

On Karlheinz Stockhausen

With the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen on December 5, European music lost one of its great innovators, a composer who truly created his own universe and a musician whose influence radiated in all directions, transcending the limitations of style category.
An influence on music at ECM, too, on many levels - the electronic music of his “Gesang der Jünglinge” creating new possibilities for the sculpting of pure sound, bringing both a spatial and an emotional dimension to it, and the ‘intuitive music’ of “Aus den sieben Tagen” establishing frameworks for improvisers... the list could certainly go on.

Stockhausen once described his own life as 25 years of discovery followed by 25 years of working with what has been discovered. Like the rest of the ‘avant-garde’, he too, had to catch up with his inventions. Occupied with his massive opera cycle “Licht” in the last decades of his life, Stockhausen saw many of his important recordings drift out of print, amongst them the albums for Deutsche Grammophon. These were subsequently reissued by the Stockhausen Verlag and, though hard to find in the world’s record stores, are available by mail order from www.stockhausen.org, where memorials can also be read.

One of the composer’s rare latter-day collaborations with another label was with ECM, for the 1989 recording “Michaels Reise”, the ‘touring version’ of ‘Michaels Reise um die Erde’ from Act II of the opera “Donnerstag aus Licht”. The recording - realized with a family cast including Stockhausen’s sons Markus (trumpet) and Simon (synthesizer), and companions Suzanne Stephens (basset horn) and Kathinka Pasveer (alto flute), and with the composer himself as recording director and sound projectionist - was issued by ECM New Series in 1992. It is, happily, still in print. As the Los Angeles Reader wrote, “Michaels Journey is music and art that will likely live for centuries...”