LICHT (LIGHT)

DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT (© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
Stockhausen's LICHT Cycle: The Seven Days of the Week
     LICHT (Light) is Karlheinz Stockhausen's epic 29-hour work for vocal, instrumental and electronic forces, composed over a period of 26 years (starting from 1977). It is divided into 7 operatic presentations, with each one named after a day of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc). Though labelled "operas", practically speaking these staged productions have almost nothing in common with most traditional operas written in the last 200 years, and could even be viewed more accurately as thematically-linked, evening-length productions featuring electro-acoustic concert works driven by semi-narrative vocal elements.

     Plot-wise, individual Acts of an opera may not necessarily form a conventional story arc, and may only be narratively-connected through an inferred theme (heroism, motherhood, collaboration, love, war, etc). Although any staging of a LICHT opera will feature some extremely dramatic (and symbolic) stage design and costuming, the music and stage presentation of a LICHT opera is much more abstracted and atomized than what one would find in a Verdi or Wagner opera. One of the advantages of this kind of "anthology" approach is that each Act or Scene can also be arranged as an independent work, and even sequenced with non-LICHT pieces (this scenario occurs in several of the Stockhausen Edition CDs). Additionally, the libretto text is very often is made up of non-traditional grammar as well, and while the first opera (DONNERSTAG) is sung entirely in German, later opera "days" employ multiple world languages (even some which Stockhausen invented himself). However, despite the "modernist" elements, the cycle of works as a whole does describe the evolving relationship between 3 main characters: MICHAEL, EVE and LUCIFER. Over the 29 hours of LICHT these characters are introduced, come into conflict, face temptation and finally come into union.

MONTAG AUS LICHT (© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
MICHAEL, EVE, LUCIFER
     One way to enter the world of LICHT is to view the 7 operas as one epic drama involving the characters Michael, Eve and Lucifer. Michael is essentially the protagonist, and his journey starts with his childhood years in the the first opera, DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT. The second opera, SAMSTAG AUS LICHT, introduces Lucifer, who essentially represents a "conservative" point of view - stubborn and resistant to growth. Eve, the lover/mother figure, is portrayed "conceiving and giving birth" to Mankind in the third opera, MONTAG AUS LICHT.

     After these first three operas have each introduced the main characters, conflict arises in DIENSTAG AUS LICHT. This 4th opera depicts a "cosmic war" between Michael and Lucifer. LICHT's 5th installment, FREITAG AUS LICHT, replaces physical conflict with mental temptation, as Lucifer tries to seduce Eve away from Michael, using the "soft power" of a children's brigade. MITTWOCH AUS LICHT is the 6th opera, and here the characters settle their differences through dialogues on Earth and in deep space. The final opera is SONNTAG AUS LICHT, and in this final episode Michael and Eve complete their union in a symbolic marriage ceremony (Lucifer has left the stage by this point). Since LICHT is always characterized as a "cycle", it's probably not a huge stretch to imagine that Michael and Eve have a child which is next seen in DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT...

     It may also be interesting to note that over the course of the 7 operas of LICHT, the entities of Michael, Eve and Lucifer are realized in thematic solos, duos and a trio.

DONNERSTAG soloMICHAEL
SAMSTAGsoloLUCIFER
MONTAGsoloEVE
DIENSTAGduoMICHAEL LUCIFER
FREITAGduoEVE LUCIFER
MITTWOCHtrioMICHAELEVE LUCIFER
SONNTAGduoMICHAEL EVE


Seven Operas, One Super-Formula
     The 7 LICHT operas are built up from one overriding melodic/thematic backbone - the LICHT "super-formula". This 3-layered/3-voice "musical DNA sequence" coalesced in 1977, but the development of the instrumental forces (arrangements) of LICHT were largely left open, especially after the first opera was completed. Many times a scene or an act was designed as the result of a commission, or as a gift to one of his musical collaborators (or family members). What results is that each of the 7 operas has specific themes, but the realization of those themes can be very different from Act to Act. For example, MITTWOCH (Wednesday) includes helicopters in one scene, and a camel from space in another - and from a narrative standpoint they have no connection whatsoever. However some of the operas do have some more connective stage elements, especially if the theme is a very visual one. For example, MONTAG (Monday) revolves around a giant statue of a naked woman giving birth, and this statue remains on stage for the entirety of that day's opera. In FREITAG (Friday), bizarre otherworldly "mechani-couples" engage in sensual interplay during several electro-acoustic interludes ("Sound Scenes") throughout the entire opera.

     The musical element that truly ties the 7 operas together is the 1-minute long super-formula, which informs just about every note in the entire 29 hours. Just as all 7 operas feature the same 3 main characters, all 7 also feature the 3 layers of the LICHT super-formula on a musical level. However, the full super-formula is rarely played in a "straight", classically expository way, but is threaded throughout the work in various guises, sometimes in highly augmented or elaborated form (a separate article examines the genesis and application of the LICHT super-formula in detail). Between the extreme tempo manipulations applied to the super-formula and its inherent, highly "exotic" articulations (including "noise" elements), the super-formula never wears out its welcome, and most listeners may not even notice its frequent visitations on their initial forays into the LICHT cosmos.

DIENSTAG AUS LICHT (© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
LICHT: Modular Vehicles For Exploration
     As mentioned above, often times a scene from LICHT may have been composed to satisfy a commission (with prescribed instrumentation or choir groups). For over a quarter century, this circumstance allowed Stockhausen to continue exploring new and different avenues of composition during the assembly of each chapter of the LICHT narrative. Additionally, due to the modular nature of the Acts, Stockhausen had the opportunity to revisit and remount these scenes as independent concert works, sometimes modifying the original voicings to accommodate smaller chamber-size forces (for example, giving a vocal line to the piano right hand part). Other times, a melodic theme from one of the scenes may be rearranged with entirely new instrumentation and even elaborated upon with additional variations of the thematic material (for example the "LUCIFER dances" from SAMSTAG AUS LICHT).

     Although many LICHT scenes were prompted by commissions, the operas themselves are totally uncompromising in approach. Less texturally "harsh" than the late '60s/early '70s "process/plus-minus" pieces (KURZWELLEN, PROZESSION, SPIRAL, POLE, etc), Stockhausen nonetheless still challenges his listeners from a melodic/harmonic viewpoint. However, if one puts the time into them, the attentive and thoughtful listener will always be rewarded with new treasures upon repeated listenings. For live productions of course, the audience is also rewarded with Stockhausen's enigmatic, absurd, and often humorous visual imagination, including everything from a trapeze orchestra (ORCHESTRA FINALISTS) to Satanic stilt-men (LUCIFER'S DANCE) to inter-audience musical troop movements (INVASION – EXPLOSION). However for listeners at home, the site articles here (coupled with the ample photos in the CD booklets) will hopefully help point out some of the most important musical scenery along the way.

DIENSTAG AUS LICHT (© www.karlheinzstockhausen.org)
LICHT Structure
     The table below depicts the overall structure of the 7-opera LICHT cycle. Each opera is made up of two to four Acts/Scenes, and is book-ended by an opening "Greeting" and a closing "Farewell". These introductory and closing sequences sometimes act as "ambient background music" while the audience is arriving at or departing from the opera hall (for example, in MONTAG AUS LICHT). Other times these sections may be as substantial as any of the opera's main Acts (such as the case with LUCIFERs ABSCHIED).

The LICHT Cycle
DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT
Thursday From Light
Greeting
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Farewell
DONNERSTAGS GRUSS
Thursday
Greeting
MICHAELs JUGEND
Michael's Youth
MICHAELs REISE UM DIE ERDE
Michael's Journey Around The World
MICHAELs HEIMKEHR
Michael's
Homecoming
MICHAELs ABSCHIED
Michael's
Farewell
SAMSTAG AUS LICHT
Saturday From Light
Greeting
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Farewell
SAMSTAGS GRUSS
Saturday
Greeting
LUZIFERs TRAUM
Lucifer's
Dream
KATHINKAs GESANG
Kathinka's Chant
(as Lucifer's Requiem)
LUCIFERs TANZ
Lucifer's Dance
LUZIFERs ABSCHIED
Lucifer's
Farewell
MONTAG AUS LICHT
Monday From Light
Greeting
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Farewell
MONTAGS
GRUSS
Monday
Greeting
EVAs ERSTGEBURT
Eve's
1st Birth-Giving
EVAs ZWEITGEBURT
Eve's 2nd Birth-Giving
EVAs ZAUBER
Eve's Magic
MONTAGs ABSCHIED
Monday
Farewell
DIENSTAG AUS LICHT
Tuesday From Light
Greeting
Act 1
Act 2
DIENSTAGS GRUSS
Tuesday Greeting
JAHRESLAUF
Course of the Years
INVASION-EXPLOSION-ABSCHIED
Invasion - Explosion -
Farewell
FREITAG AUS LICHT
Friday From Light
Greeting
10 Real Scenes
12 Sound Scenes
Farewell
FREITAGS GRUSS
Friday
Greeting
FREITAG-VERSUCHUNG
Friday Temptation
PAARE vom FREITAG
Couples of Friday
FREITAGS ABSCHIED
Friday
Farewell
MITTWOCH AUS LICHT
Wednesday From Light
Greeting
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Farewell
MITTWOCHS GRUSS
Wednesday Greeting
WELT-PARLAMENT
World
Parliament
ORCHESTER-FINALISTEN
Orchestra
Finalists
HELIKOPTER-STREICH
QUARTET
Helicopter
String Quartet
MICHAELION
MITTWOCHs ABSCHIED
Wednesday Farewell
SONNTAG AUS LICHT
Sunday From Light
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Scene 5
Farewell
LICHTER-WASSER (SONNTAGS GRUSS)
Light-Waters (Sunday Greeting)
ENGEL-PROZESSIONEN
Angel
Processions
LICHT-BILDER
Light-Pictures
DÜFTE-ZEICHEN
Scents-Signs
HOCH-ZEITEN
High Times (Marriages)
SONNTAGs ABSCHIED
Sunday
Farewell

LICHT Forces
The links below lead to brief synopses and breakdowns of the instrumental forces utilized in each work. 



Links:
Albrecht Moritz's Stockhausen Reviews
Bernard Pulham - LICHT Essays
Sonoloco Record Reviews
Wiki Entry on LICHT
Ian Parson's blog article and PBS LICHT broadcast
Malcolm Ball's interview with Stockhausen on LICHT (1997)
The Evolution of Macro- and Micro-Time Relations in Stockhausen's Recent Music (Jerome Kohl)
Into the Middleground: Formula Syntax in Stockhausen's Licht (Jerome Kohl)
Time and Light (Jerome Kohl) 

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