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Stockhausen: Klavierstücke Nos 1-11/Mikrophonie Nos 1 & 2

Karlheinz Stockhausen , Herbert Schernaus , Aloys Kontarsky , Alfred Alings , Johannes Fritsch , et al. Audio CD

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Disc: 1
1. Klavierstuck 1
2. Klavierstuck 2
3. Klavierstuck 3
4. Klavierstuck 4
5. Klavierstuck 5
6. Klavierstuck 6
7. Klavierstuck 7
8. Klavierstuck 8
9. Klavierstuck 9
10. Klavierstuck 11
Disc: 2
1. Klavierstuck 10
2. Mikrophonie 1
3. Mikrophonie 2

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential recording of a monumental collection 4 Sep 2008
By Gaetano - Published on Amazon.com
Famously quoted by Stockhausen as `... my drawings...' these pieces were composed between Stockhausen's fledgling years as a student in Germany and his rise and permanence to international infamy as a bizarre musical personality of dazzling compositional virtuosity primarily of timber, spatial organization and electronics.

Expanding the boundaries of what were perennially perceived `pianistic' in the 19th century (its orchestral range in pitch, dynamics and extreme responsiveness), Stockhausen revisited and utilized unique strengths of the instrument such as applying distinct dynamics simultaneously on separate horizontal lines and redefined what was considered one of the instrument's ultimate deficiency as a non sustaining instrument into a unique strength - epitomized by the gradual, continuous decay of thunderous, complex clusters down to a single note in Klavierstuck X. Stockhausen was interested in the musical contrast and orchestration of extremes, both simultaneously and as they evolved through the entire piece.

The particular milestone of this creative collection is the aforementioned Klavierstuck X. Lasting between 22 to 25 minutes, `organized sound' with assigned, specific numerical values act as agents that explore through maximum chaos and violence, austere Webernian simplicity and serenity, and everything in between. Similar to how Beethoven's Fifth symphony blazed through the transition from darkness of the first movement to the incandescent fourth impelled primarily by the modulation from a minor to major key, it follows a very specific but convoluted overall musical scheme that plays on volume, tempo fluctuations and flirtatious oscillation within the boundary of what we consider noise and 'clean' notes produced by a musical instrument.

Any rendition must be supported by superb acoustics, and this is where surprisingly, Kontarsky's 1965 analog version reins supreme over the other easily accessible, digital Henck recording of the 80's. Henck's razor sharp cluster glissandos display more violence pivotal to the enjoyment of this work, but none of the indescribable effect as the clusters decompose continuously from opacity to transparency can be heard. An eerie and unexciting dead silence immediately follows the clusters with the absence of the crucial in-between. Without the aurally perceivable transition between the extreme contrasts, this piece cannot be fully appreciated.

Cited by Ian Pace as one of the transcendentally difficult works, one must substitute the traditional habit of searching for harmony and counterpoint to that of enjoying musical gestures for their own sake. Perhaps no piano work in the second half of the twentieth century has been wildly inventive as this. Maurizio Pollini recognizes it as an accomplishment equal to the monumental efforts of the great 19th and early 20th century composers, rivaled only by Boulez amongst his contemporaries. Kontarsky's recording is also accompanied by Stockhausen's humorous and meticulous observations on Kontarsky's gastronomical preoccupation and its supposed effect on the entire recording process. The price is reasonable and well worth what can only be coined a ride. Get it while you can!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars vintage materials,wonderful 23 Dec 2005
By scarecrow - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
you may recall or own the early vinyl from the late Sixties on CBS, a Box set of Kontarsky also playing these first 11 piano pieces, the latter ones 12 through 15 were subterranean objects utilized as particle-like accompaniments for Stockhausen's opera for each day of the Week :Licht:(#13 klavierstuck with Bass Voice of Lucifer added).
The first four piano pieces here function within an evolution, for one can decipher one,if one chooses. These were written still under the tutelage in Paris of his teacher Messiaen, and explored a harsh pointillism,not like Webern in the least,but struck from that expressive conceptual vein, "punkte", or "points",were the paradigm of the day, Cage and Boulez soon had works as well; deeply cold,auspicious and strident piercing differing registers with many times the spatial distribution that coincided with the dynamics; softer tones played pianissimo,or gradations of it, p,pp,ppp,pppp,ppppp were in a distance, louder tones,f or ff,or fff,or ffff, sfz, or sffz were in front of you.There is an overwhelming aggressive dimension to the young Stockhausen still to these early pieces,almost machine-like,all-encompassing, third person; yet they do have points of beauty of the clean,clangorous crisp,and threadbare lines,single and multiple atonal tones exposed, tossed again into all registers, as # 2 and 3.The rhythmic configurations were the most difficult yet seen with dotted-values tied, with a virtuosic demeanor,short fragmented thunderous bursts,impenetrable at times.
Also the piano resonance has a marvelous mystery in Stockhausen,nothing extended yet as harmonics, as if these pieces have a trajectory all their own without history or points of reference outside them.Although at this time Stockhausen was very much interested in communication theory, the science of numbers and densities,pre-e;electropnic thinking; the existential angst(also of this post-war period) and extra-musical dimensions was left to his creative colleagues as Berio,Penderecki and Nono to decipher.
With piano piece #5 we have now "groups" of tones that are explored, harmonies to be heard, non-functional,again the free resonant canvas of timbre; and then tempi,always again with a virtuosic demeanor soliciting almost constant metronomic changes,pulse transformations in gradations,slow-fast-slow,slow fast,slow, in #6 Stockhausen provides a graph above the piano system to chart these tempi changes to act as a visual guide for the pianist, 45 at the top of this graph and 185 at the bottom.,#7 then has an abundance of harmonics to explore and this is the most beautiful (within this context) of the lot,#8,and #9,is/was the most widely played with the incessant reiteration of chords,"groups" with sharp chordal punctuations, attacks all explore then differing resonant chambers, as repeated tones, and beautiful harmonics,this as the focus for the entire work with again dynamics explored. Not until #10 is where the pianist plays with white gloves with the fingers cut out at the tips, to expose the flesh this to negotiate/elicit the multitudes of glissandi, with overwhelming forearm and palm clusters, groups, and "groups of groups" of tones now further accretes into cascades and mountains of piano resonances, still defined and shaped within a rhythmic scheme. Then #11 is the indeterminate one mobile,something wrought from John Cage an early mentor; where musical fragments are places on a large page, 2 feet by 3 feet, and the pianist must decide the routes and pathways takened. Kontarsky plays all these these very well,and had worked with the composer closely as well as publically performing them numerously throughout Europe, the reading here is sort of centrist not overly engaging but allowing the densities,attacks,points and registers to be and ring as they were intended.I prefer Rzewski in #10 only better for the electricity he seems to bring to his tone and resonant trajectory.

The Mikrophonie as well is here an early piece of live electronics, a genre that is quite commonplace now; where contact mikes and hand-held microphones are places close to the surface of a very large 8 Foot Tam-Tam,then with chalk placed on toilet paper cartridges,the player slowly glides this over the surface with the elctronics picking up gorgeous tones,overtones and detritus of timbre,also harmonics are elicited from this wonder of an instrument, You need four players here, two manning the Tam-Tam and two on electronics to distribute the timbres within the audience places.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars for Mikrophonie II 21 May 2008
By William Michaels - Published on Amazon.com
Although I am indifferent to Stockhausen's piano music and only moderately interested in Mikrophonie I, Mikrophonie II is a masterpiece, I would say the greatest electronic (or partially electronic) piece ever written, and possibly Stockhausen's best (though there is plenty of competition). It is like an Anselm Kiefer painting in sound, with all of the brutalities, longings, and woes of Germany depicted in an amazingly compact, rich 15 minutes. 15 minutes of fame indeed!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of Music and the Last Composer? 28 Jun 2014
By Quinton Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, what's in a name? The deep-voiced legato of his fused first and middle names contrasting with the sharp and staccato last. Committed to astrology as he was in his later years, he could have seen works like his "Momente" and both "Mikrophonies" written in his stars. His influence on both "serious" and "popular" music is immense, and his DNA is deeply integrated in our musical fabric. When it comes to Stockhausen the man, his legacy continues in more circumstantial evidence. First and foremost he is part of the group picture gracing Sgt. Pepper's, thanks to the fab four's exploration of his electronic innovations. Secondly, there are the free-style philosophical musings on the 9-11 attacks, marred by a complete and utter disregard for political sensitivity or correctness. Finally, there is the cute Glenn Gould Karlheinz Kloppweiser parody, in which the pianist engages with himself in a dialog with a long-wigged, tie dye and vest clad composer, described as "brilliant reductionist", about an upcoming documentary entitled "voyage to the void". Karlheinz remarks: "...my work is concerned with the resonance of silence..but more with German silence which is of course organic as opposed to French silence which is ornamental."

Stockhausen's Klavierstücke are products of his formative years. He writes: "Despite - or rather because of - the importance of tonal color compositions in my electronic music, orchestral and vocal works, I have from time to time concentrated on Klavierstücke; on composing for one instrument, for ten fingers, with meticulous nuances of instrumental tone and structure."

Calling Stockhausen a "mad scientist" would be a misnomer. He represents a composite of a free and open-minded explorer of the (pre)-Age of Aquarious and a meticulous rocket engineer. I will always remember a hilarious newspaper report of a rare master class that the composer gave in the eighties at the Hague conservatory. The students had learned a couple of compositions and he "guided them". From the very beginning things went awry. Even in cacophonic multi-instrumental pieces the composer spotted every single wrong note with computer-like precision. Amazed as they were by his super-human detection, his insistence on perfection rubbed them the wrong way. A frustrated student countered that she did not understand the importance of precision in his "random" note eruptions. Der Meister was not pleased, and never returned.

The Klavierstücke were recorded in 1965 by the super-human Aloys Kontarsky under strict supervision of the composer. Fortunately, the recording represented the state-of-the-art and thanks to Sony's sbm remastering the sound is slightly dated, but still offers outstanding dynamics and timbral accuracy.

I appreciated Stockhausen more than a decade before I did Mozart. He offers a strange and alien world of sound, but within it a very sensitive German expressionist soul speaks a personal language. All piano pieces are based on clear cut principles and are the process of deeply intelligent design and significant number crunching. The scores are of an in their time unprecedented level of precision that requires enormous study investment and provides the pianist very little leeway. Oh, what a joy it would be if we had Bach and Mozart scores that were this detailed! Yet, a comparison of Kontarsky, Henck and Pollini still reveals clear differences between performances. I once studied one of the simplest Klavierstücke and ended up wondering "wouldn't it be easier to have a pre-programmed player piano perform these pieces", but that will likely take the ghost out of these machines. And, even Stockhausen's notation remains an approximation, because he had to correct the Kontarsky's balanced chord use in No. IX. And, this recording reveals that the effects of this correction are not trivial.

Kontarsky's performance sets an eternal standard. As funny as Gould's mention of "organic and ornamental" silence may be, they touch upon an essential difference between e.g., Stockhausen and Boulez. Throughout his diverse oeuvre Boulez, whom I greatly admire, always carries an element of sensuality and willingness to please. When it comes to Stockhausen I always get a `this is my truth, you take it or you leave it" vibe. And, Kontarsky delivers it to a T. This recording is legendary, and for good reason.

As mentioned by a fellow reviewer, the liner notes in which the composer describes the pianist's diary and diet during the recordings are a hoot:

" []On the evening of November 14, after landing at Zürich airport, Kontarsky passed the time spent waiting for the bus with a Bloody Mary, and in the bar of the Gartenhotel, prepared himself for bed with two Haltengut Pilsners as a nightcap. On November 15 at noon, he ordered a salami omelet and High Grown Ceylon tea; in the evening in the Krone Hotel: bouillon with beef marrow, two baked fillets of sole, chipped veal in a herb sauce on spaghetti, ¼ lit. Johannesberg wine, one bottle of Hermiez mineral water and a hazel-nut desert. Then we went to the City-Lichtspiele [a cinema] where during the showing of Morituri he looked at me from time to time and rolled his eyes; I motioned in the direction of the exit three times, but he remained seated and shrugged with his right shoulder. After the film, he drank two John Haig "Red Label" whiskies on the rocks. []"
Whereas most performers dine lightly, Aloys and Alfons were infamous for the amounts of food and alcohol that they consumed before their concerts, which makes their super-human precision in killer scores the more amazing.

The Klavierstücke are complemented by Mikrophonie I and II. The quality of the sound is fine. It's unfortunate that these recordings are very much a product of the mixing panel, and no sense of "players seated in 3-dimensional space" is conveyed. Stockhausen describes the principle of Mikrophonie 2 as follows:

"The four microphones are individually connected to four ring modulators, to which the electrical output of the Hammond organ is likewise connected. These devices modulate the sounds produced by the choir members in such a way that the input frequencies are suppressed and the output is composed of the sums and differences of these input frequencies. This produces completely new total spectra with unusual, subharmonic colors."

This, of course, results in an almost random outcome that suggests something akin to Cage's "music of chance". Yet, it is clear that Cage's approach represents "letting things happen", whereas Stockhausen "makes things happen".

No matter what, both works are entertaining, thought provoking and ear-opening. They sound more dated than the Klavierstücke, but I continue to enjoy the type of Weimar Caberet spirit, with Age of Aquarius flavor.

The progress in science has greatly depended on technological innovation, fueled by theoretical physics/chemistry/biology, rooted in ever-evolving mathematics. The progress in music has been fueled in similar ways. The evolution of tunings, instruments, singing and instrumental techniques have been essential on the road from Ockeghem, through Beethoven and Wagner, arriving at Stockhausen and Boulez. In a sense, Stockhausen's transcendental influence on music is the highest level of success an artist might aspire to. Yet, it is sad that his own mileposts have been mostly forgotten.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mikrphonies are Stockhausen at his creative best 30 Oct 2010
By Chris Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Where the Klavierstücken are didactic and illuminate the composer's development over his years, the Mikrophonie are blazing, powerful works, breathtaking and powerful. As the Klavierstücken are as Beethoven's Quartets, Mikrophonie II correspond to the Ninth Symphony. Highly recommended listening, and as essential to a collection of contemporary music s Kurzwellen and the 1970 electronic pieces. Mikrophonie II is probably Karlheinz' best orchestral composition of his career.
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