Friday, November 28, 2014


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5


2011 - from and_vfx blog
No. 77: LICHT-BILDER (Light Pictures)
3rd Scene of  
for tenor vocalist, trumpet with ring-modulation, basset-horn, and flute/alto flute with ring-modulation
(accompanied by video projection)
2002/2003 [~42']

          LICHT-BILDER (Light Pictures) is the 3rd Scene of Stockhausen's dramatic music work SONNTAG AUS LICHT (SUNDAY from LIGHT), which was the last-composed entry of his 7-part, 29-hour opera cycle LICHT (Light).  LICHT is a work for acoustic and electronic operatic forces, divided into the 7 days of the week (one opera for each day).  This opera cycle revolves around 3 archetype characters, MICHAEL, EVE and LUCIFER, and over the 29 hours each of these characters are introduced, come into conflict, face temptation and finally come into union.  The music is almost entirely based on a "super-formula", which is a 3-layered melodic-thematic representation of the 3 characters.  These formula-themes are together and separately threaded throughout the opera's vocal and instrumental fabric.  Story-wise, actors and narrative can (and often do) change from scene to scene, and the libretto text is sometimes made up of non-traditional grammar (or even purely phonetic sounds).

     SONNTAG (Sunday) is the Day of Mystical Union, specifically between MICHAEL and EVE.  The scenes in SONNTAG do not have a dramatic plot connecting them, instead the actual theme of union between the 2 characters is achieved through musical, visual, spatial and even olfactory means.  LICHT-BILDER is the 3rd scene of SONNTAG AUS LICHT.

     LICHT-BILDER was originally named "Venerations of EVA-Maria, 7 Healings, 7 Pictures of the Week Days", but was eventually changed to "Light Pictures", and it's main text instead became more concerned with describing "the essences of 7 large spheres of life" (each linked to a day of the week) and praising God.  The 7 days are characterized in 7 day-sections, with Thursday also divided into 7 subsections and Sunday into 4.  The vocal text of each of these sections begins with a different "veneration of God".  The MICHAEL/EVE unification aspect is represented by intertwining fragments of the MICHAEL and EVE formulas (melodic layers) from the LICHT super-formula.

     One of the main themes of LICHT-BILDER is "mirror reflections".  The interaction of the 4 players can be pictured as 2 people dancing, with their altered mirror reflections a few dance steps behind them.  In musical terms, the tenor vocalist's melodies are accompanied by the trumpet in a delayed and distorted imitation, and the trumpet is in turn immediately reflected by its own ring-modulation from the back of the auditorium (the delay time starts at 0 (unison), increases to a maximum delay and then returns to 0).  The bassett horn is accompanied by the delayed flute, which is also ring modulated (to be clear, none of these "delays" are through signal processing, they are actually scored). 

It might be interesting to consider that the whole idea of LIGHT PICTURES contains 
the retrograde character of photographs and also the perspective of pictures (delay scales).
 - Stockhausen

     The MICHAEL and EVE melodic formulas are chopped up and reordered backwards (retrograde), so these are also "reflection-melodies" (and the first time Stockhausen has used a retrograde form on the LICHT formula).  Finally, the melodic elements and vocal text are reflected in the movements of the soloists, which are also layered in forwards and backwards sequences.

Composition and Structure
     Like MANTRA and ZYKLUS, the architectural aspects of LICHT-BILDER are very interesting, but knowing them I think is not essential in order to enjoy the music (so it's just as well to just skip to my "Sound Impressions" at the end of this article).  But it does give alot of insight into how Stockhausen is able to grow an entire scene from just a minute's worth of melodic material.  In following the next paragraphs it's probably helpful to have my super-formula page handy...  (The following analysis is largely informed by Stockhausen's excellent 2005 Composition Course book on LICHT-BILDER).

Introductory Measures
     The layering of the stretched SONNTAG measures over the entire super-formula makes up the melodic material of the introduction (below on CD cover):
  • The bassett horn plays an augmented form of 5 measures (m.7-11) from the LICHT super-formula's MICHAEL layer.  Here I label this the "LICHT-BILDER from SONNTAG" excerpt (LBS) because Stockhausen temporally stretched the 3 SONNTAG measures (m.17-19) over the entire super-formula and then selected the corresponding LICHT-BILDER measures from the super-formula.
  • The flute plays the stretched MICHAEL layer (essentially 1 long pitch (F), but each measure here has different "approach" to the F).  I label this the "LICHT-BILDER from LICHT" excerpt (LBL) because Stockhausen compressed all 29 hours of LICHT on top of the super-formula and then selected the measures corresponding to the LICHT-BILDER scene from the super-formula.  This of course, is a very small excerpt - in fact, only 2 quarter notes.
  • The tenor sings the augmented LBS  EVE formula layer, but at the end joins the bassett horn (MICHAEL's LBS).
  • The trumpet plays the stretched LBL EVE formula, which hovers around G and G#.
CD Cover and introductory measures of LICHT-BILDER.
This fragment is also equivalent to the form scheme used to determine the
durations, transpositions and ring modulation tones of each day-sections.
     So just to reiterate, the very short LBL excerpt of the EVE and MICHAEL formulas is stretched out (through extreme augmentation) and layered on top of the LBS 5-measure excerpt.  The LBS excerpt comes from the middle of the super-formula because it's derived from an overlaying of only SONNTAG AUS LICHT (the 3 Sunday measures of the super-formula, m.17-19) stretched over the whole super-formula, and LICHT-BILDER is in the middle of SONNTAG.  The 2 quarter note long LBL excerpt (last 1/3 of m.17) comes from near the end of the full superformula because it's derived from an overlaying of all 29 hours of LICHT to get LICHT-BILDER (which is near the end of LICHT).  These 4 layers are all also slowed down to quarter-speed.

     The MICHAEL formula is also transposed down 3 steps, while the EVE layer is up 8 steps (this is because the MICHAEL LBL main note (F) is 3 steps up from the MICHAEL layer's initial note (D), and the EVE LBL main note (G) is 8 steps down from the EVE layer's initial note, C).  However, This is just another application of the super-formula to create contrast and variety and has nothing to do with "keys".

7 Days of the Week
     Stockhausen added up the first 7 numbers (from the 7 "days") of the Fibonacci sequence to get the value 53 (1 + 2 + 3 + 5 + 8 + 13 + 21).  He then divided the MICHAEL and EVE formulas into 53 connected fragments (the MICHAEL fragments are not always the same length as the EVE fragments).  Then he reordered these fragments in a backwards ("retrograde") sequence (fragment 53, 52, 51...3, 2, 1).

     On each day-section, the tenor and bassett horn take turns singing/playing these reordered fragments in a kind of overlapping dialogue, while their reflections (trumpet and flute) imitate them, at first in unison, but then falling farther and farther behind.  Eventually the reflections reach a maximum delay interval, after which they begin catching up to their partner.  There are roughly 4 cycles of this delay expansion and contraction in each formula traversal, and the cycles for the Tenor/Trumpet pair are not synchronous with the cycles for the Bassett Horn/Flute pair.  On some day-sections the Tenor/Trumpet pair plays the 53 EVE fragments and the Bassett Horn/Flute pair responds with the 53 MICHAEL fragments.  On other days the assignments are interchanged.  This "double delay-reflection" creates a 4-part polyphony which sometimes has elements of variation and canon structure.
Shown here are the last 4 measures of the MICHAEL and EVE formulas with Stockhausen's markings for LICHT-BILDER.
Green vertical dashes mark the 53 sections.  The numbers going from 0 up to 13 (or 20 for EVE) 
and then back down to 0 (reading right to left) are the delay values.
(from Stockhausen 2005 Composition Coursebook: Facsimile edition with sketches of LICHT - BILDER
Click to see the full LICHT super-formula with LICHT-BILDER markings)
     Each day-section also has a different register transposition for the MICHAEL and EVE layers, based on interval relationships between the initial pitches of the super-formula layers (in its original register, D and C) and 2 "guide scales".  The guide scale for the MICHAEL layer is the 3-step lower MICHAEL nuclear tone scale (16 notes, 1 for each section), and the guide scale for the EVE layer is the 13 main pitches from m. 7-11 in the MICHAEL formula (the 5-measure LBS excerpt, still 3 steps lower than the original).  EVE's guide scale is 13 notes because the 13th note is sustained for all 4 of Sunday's sections.  So, again, the transposition interval for each day-section comes from comparing each day's guide scale note with D (MICHAEL formula's first note) or C (EVE formula's first note). 

     For the Monday section, the Tenor/Trumpet pair starts with a pitch transposed (+m3rd) and augmented version of the 53rd EVE fragment.  The Bassett Horn/Flute pair responds with a similarly slowed and transposed (+m3rd) version of the 53rd MICHAEL fragment. The Tenor/Trumpet pair continue with the 52nd EVE fragment, the Bassett Horn/Flute the 52nd MICHAEL fragment, etc...  The Tuesday section has the same fragment sequences for the players, but a new transposition (EVE: +M6th/MICHAEL: -M2nd), the speed is faster and the delays are not the same exact intervals (though they still increase and then decrease).  The Wednesday section's main structural difference from the preceding patterns (besides tempo and transposition (EVE: +m2nd/MICHAEL: -m2nd) adjustments) is that the Bassett Horn/Flute pair starts, and the Tenor/Trumpet pair responds.  Thursday is divided into 7 subsections.  The Tenor/Trumpet and Bassett Horn/Flute couples take turns starting the subsections, but the duration of each is actually shorter than the original formulas, so some of the more "static" notes are skipped.  However each subsection has 11 dialogue pairs (11 "multi-fragments" each), and in each of the 7 subsections a different permutation of multi-fragments happens, each with their own register transpositions.
     Friday, Saturday and Sunday sections follow in similar fashion (each with their own tempo and pitch transposition modifications) and they are further described in the Stockhausen Courses 2005 Composition Class book (Facsimile edition with sketches of LICHT - BILDER)

Chloé L'Abbé (flute), Hubert Mayer (tenor), Fie Schouten (basset-horn), 2011
from and_vfx blog
Duos, Trios and Quartets
     Each of the day-sections also has duo, trio or quartet "inserts" where some voices briefly play in rhythmic unison. These unison parts were inserted in places where empty bars would result from the polyphonic arrangements of the fragments (for example during when the Bassett Horn/Flute pair is waiting while the Tenor/Trumpet pair play their fragment, or if the fragment has a rest).  The unison parts are derived from MICHAEL/EVE formula fragments. 
  • Monday - Bassett Horn & Flute Duos
  • Tuesday - Bassett Horn, Trumpet & Tenor Trios
  • Wednesday - Flute & Trumpet Duos
  • Thursday - Bassett Horn & Tenor Duos
  • Friday -  Bassett Horn, Flute and Tenor Trios
  • Saturday - Trumpet & Tenor Duos
  • Sunday -  Quartets
     In actuality there are many more unison duos than just these special inserts, since whenever the delay value is zero, the tenor and trumpet (or bassett horn and flute) automatically create a unison duo.  This happens 4 times (from 4 cycles) in each normal day-section.  Also most of the day-sections actually end in ensemble unison textures.

     Stockhausen had established that each quarter note in the LICHT super-formula (at tempo 60) is equal to 16 minutes in "real-time", so using this ratio the duration of LICHT-BILDER was initially calculated to be 32 minutes (the LBL excerpt is 2 quarter notes long).  The 32 minutes was divided into the 7 day-sections (proportional to 7 natural rhythmic divisions in the 5-measure LBS excerpt), and then the full MICHAEL and EVE formulas were speed-adjusted so that the 2 formulas would approximately fit each day-section.  The Thursday section is further divided up into 7 subsections with lengths proportional to a "MICHAEL rhythm" found in m.9 of MICHAEL's formula. 

Ring Modulation
     The trumpet and flute each get a different ring modulation "difference" tone in each day-section (ring modulation creates additional harmonies by adding and subtracting 2 different pitches - 1 is the acoustic pitch, and the other is played by a synthesizer).  The ring modulation difference tones for the flute are the notes of the MICHAEL nuclear tones (primary tone row of the MICHAEL formula).  The ring modulation tones for the trumpet are based on pitches from m.7-11 of the MICHAEL formula (the 5-measure LBS excerpt).  These are the same "guide scales" used to determine the formula transpositions.  In the Friday and Sunday day-sections the ring modulation tones from the MICHAEL and EVE formulas are exchanged, which increases dissonance in the reflected signals.

     The final step, and the most important, was to make this elaborate construction "musical". This part is not as simply explained :) as the above architectural structure, since it is more about adjusting rhythms and articulations to fit dramatic flow and balance.  In one of his British lectures Stockhausen implies that after all the sketch work is done, the actual realization of the notes and durations is where the "real work" begins.  Many of LICHT-BILDER's small-scale elements were adjusted when Stockhausen composed its full form, and further modified during rehearsals where he was able to immediately make adjustments to make the work more aesthetically interesting.  The melodic material is also altered to fit the soloists' movements (described below) through things like glissandi, augmentation and adding octave transpositions.

     The libretto sung by the tenor soloist is made up of non-grammatical words and phrases which praise God and correspond to the "essences of seven spheres of life".  The text for the beginning measures is "LIGHT PICTURES - 3rd Scene of SUNDAY FROM LIGHT".  The libretto continues as follows:
  • Monday (texts concerning stones, hills, water): PRAISE GOD - pyramids - stairs of stone - planet - rotations - fountain - avalanche - volcano - meteor - crater - whirlpool...etc.
  • Tuesday (texts concerning trees, plants, fruits): GLORIFY GOD - bellflower - common houseleek - rose bloom - daffodil - fir - golden chain - apple - snow-drop - nest spruce - lily of the valley - weeping willow...etc.
  • Wednesday (texts concerning animals): ALL ANIMALS REJOICE IN GOD - oyster - lion - lark - crab crayfish cribbily - zebra - bee - snake...etc.
  • Thursday is broken into 7 elements
    •  Water: Give thanks to GOD, rain - wasserfall waterfall - tau dew - comet komet - fog - cloud...etc.
    •  Earth: Give thanks to GOD, earth - plains - tundra - hillside - plateau - meteor...etc.
    • Air: Give thanks to GOD, air - draft - autumn storm - air shaft - wind tunnel - air pocket - tornado - hurricane...etc.
    • Ether: Give thanks to GOD, ether - crystal snow - space ship - moon - from east to west - prayer - rainbow - shooting star...etc.
    • Eros: Give thanks to GOD, Eros - Amor - Susani - cypress - fir tree - cedar - palm - ray of love - love - silver water - lingam yoni - caress - kiss...etc.
    • Fire: Give thanks to GOD, fire - sheet lightning - flame - blaze - glow - ashes - volcano...etc.
    • Pealing of Bells: Give thanks ringing of bells - Ave Maria - bell rope - pealing - sexton - church bells...etc.
  • Friday (texts concerning celestial bodies and star constellations): PRAISE GOD - Moon - Ursa Minor - Uranus - Phoenix - Phobos - Deimos - Sagittarius - Perseus...etc.
  • Saturday (human saints): PRAISE GOD saints - Mary - Elizabeth - Stephen - John - Peter...etc.
  • Saturday is broken into 4 sections: GOD in everything
    •  1 (houses of God, noble trees and animals): God's house - minster - dome - church - cathedral - mosque - cypress - fir tree...etc.
    • 2 (light, candle flame): candles - candlelight - eternal light - sunlight...etc.
    • 3 (the invisible, transcendental): invisible - holy - in prayer - presence...God's Day.
    • 4 (praying, Eva-Maria, LIGHT PICTURES - THOU): praying - glorifying - Mater - Ave - Sancta - Eva-Maria...GOD'S LIGHT PICTURES - THOU.

Live Performance
Marco Blaauw (trumpet), Hubert Mayer (tenor), Kathinka Pasveer (flute), Suzanne Stephens (basset-horn)
2004 Donaueschinger Music Festival World Premiere
(rehearsal photo Alain TAQUET)
     Each of the 4 soloists are amplified by speakers from above the stage.  The ring modulated signals from the trumpet and flute are projected from the rear of the auditorium, but at a lower volume than the stage speakers.  Up to 4 video screens (triangular in the premiere) are mounted above the soloists (though the content of the videos is left open).

     Like INORI and IN FREUNDSCHAFT (among many others), the soloists each have scored movements generally reflecting the melodic/rhythmic shapes being played or the text being sung. More specifically, each player has 53 movements per day-section (linked to the 53 formula fragments described earlier) with 9 movement types, with each section having a different type-distribution based on 7 permutations of the first 7 Fibonacci numbers.  These 53-movement sequences are then placed to fit with the melodic/thematic material (or the melodic material is adjusted to fit the movement).  The actual sequences change for each soloist and day-section based on different starting points and directions on a master sequence.  The movement types themselves are fairly open: go left, right, quick upward diagonal, rotate, etc...  The movement sequences for bassett horn and flute are in reverse of the sequences for tenor and trumpet (another reflection).

Beginning of Monday section.  The first measure is the 53rd EVE fragment (see previous sketch).  The 2nd measure is the 53rd MICHAEL fragment.  The 3rd measure is the 52nd EVE fragment, etc... The fragments are adjusted to match the movement sequences (see arrow markings).   The staff indicated by the "~" is the ring-modulation "difference tone".
Beginning of Tuesday section.  Same as above but note the changes of articulation to the fragments as well as the delayed reflections. 

Sound Impressions
     There are several ways to listen to LICHT-BILDER, but I personally like to hear it primarily as a dialogue between the tenor vocal and the bassett horn, with the slightly ring-modulated trumpet and flute being the Greek chorus (not to diminish their roles of course!).  The tenor and bassett horn seem to "con-verse" using the melodies of EVE and MICHAEL as language phrases, with each soloist learning and then later practicing his partner's language (this concept of meeting through language exchange extends as far back as the first LICHT opera, DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT).  The trumpet and flute re-learn and re-translate from the tenor and bassett horn. Alternatively, a listener can concentrate on the interaction between just the pair members (tenor and trumpet, for example) and appreciate the variations of the delayed imitations.  One could listen just to the tenor/trumpet lines, then to just the bassett horn/flute lines, and then to the quartet in total as a double delay dialogue.  On the CD recording the voices are arranged from left to right: trumpet - tenor - flute - bassett horn (just as in the photographs).

     Also, after one gets to know the EVE and MICHAEL formulas pretty well from the previous operas, it's very fresh to hear them in this backwards reordered form.  Since the melodic fragments are still intact, recognizable EVE and MICHAEL melodic motifs still surface, but in places which are unexpected (if one is very familiar with them from the previous operas).

     Another interesting thing here is that this scene actually encapsulates the 7 days of a week in a very true way.  Every day-section basically traverses the same retrograded MICHAEL and EVE melodic formulas from beginning to end, but each is also very different in the details.  A couple days like Thursday and Friday are "special days".  This is a good parallel with real life on a daily basis -  get up, go to work, have lunch, dinner, nightlife, sleep, enjoy a weekend break...  But every day is still different in the details (at least, hopefully!).

     For a more narrative-based appreciation of LICHT-BILDER, Albrecht Moritz' rundown (see link below) is excellent and points out lots of cool moments.  I didn't explore the text too much here, but it is covered in the LICHT-BILDER CD booklet as well as in the Moritz rundown and Stockhausen's introduction to the premiere(below).

LICHT-BILDER Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering 
Buy the Score
Stockhausen 2005 Composition Coursebook: Facsimile edition with sketches of LICHT - BILDER
Wiki Entry
Albrecht Moritz Rundown
Stockhausen's Introduction to LICHT-BILDER at the Rehearsals of the 2004 World Premiere
2004 Studio CCMIX Paris Premiere (excerpt)
2011 Musikfabric/Oper Köln SONNTAG Production
2011 Production Images and video from and_vfx
2011 Production Youtube clip
SONNTAG AUS LICHT in Rehearsal 1 (YouTube, German)
SONNTAG AUS LICHT in Rehearsal 2 (YouTube, English/German)
2011 SONNTAG AUS LICHT Production Dance Company Page

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