Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5


The BLUE line shows the "flight path" of the notes in the 1st MICHAEL Wave (M-Wave 1).
The GREEN line shows the flight path of the 1st EVE Wave (E-Wave 1).
CD 58 Cover (©

for soprano, tenor, and orchestra (29 instruments) with synthesizer
1998-99 [51']

     LICHTER-WASSER (LIGHT-WATERS) is the 1st 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 arc connecting them, instead the actual theme of union between the 2 characters is achieved through musical, visual, spatial and even olfactory means.

"...SUNDAY is the day of the mystical union of the cosmic mother EVE, 
and MICHAEL, the cosmo-creator, the ruler of the universe.  
This affects all areas: the atomic world, the minerals, the world of plants, 
of animals, of human beings, of the stars."
- Stockhausen, Lichte-Gestalten, 1998

     In LICHTER-WASSER, Stockhausen celebrates light and water, two primary ingredients for life to exist.   The vocal text describes the sun, planets and moons of the Solar System (names, characteristics, significances), and the melodic material travels through the performance hall in various differently-shaped "orbits" (sometimes disturbed by "flares" and "comets").  LICHTER-WASSER combines 4 basic principles which Stockhausen has been exploring since virtually the beginning of his mature period:
  • Changing sequences of timbral/instrumental colors
  • Durational (rhythmic) development of small and large structures
  • Positioning and movement of sounds in space
  • Inserts of "free" figures which break out of the formal design
     These elements are all explored in this piece, and so it requires some dedicated repeated listenings to completely absorb, though one can also easily appreciate it simply for it's purely emotional and lyric content.

MICHAEL and EVE Groups
     Originally commissioned by Southwest German Radio for performance at the Donaueschingen Festival, this work features 29 musicians spread throughout the performance space with the audience situated in wedges between them.  A tenor vocal soloist is associated with 17 musicians (the MICHAEL Group), each with a blue bowl next to them (blue being MICHAEL's color).  The MICHAEL Group has generally higher register instruments (flute, violin, etc...).  A soprano vocal soloist is associated with 12 other musicians (the EVE Group), each with a green bowl next to them (green being EVE's color).  This group has generally lower register instruments (bass clarinet, tube, etc...).  This initial division of the 29 musicians into 2 groups is not a strict one though, since often times a player from one camp will be "lent out" to the other (sometimes for spatial reasons).  In fact, it turns out that one member of each group actually gets used more by the other group than in it's own "official" group.

17 Treble Instruments
EVE Group
12 Bass Instruments
2 flutes 2 violas
oboe bass clarinet
clarinet 2 bassoons
Eb clarinet 2 horns
5 violins baritone sax
3 violas 2 trombones
2 trumpets euphonium
English horn tuba
tenor horn

The orientation of the musicians as seen from above the performance space is shown.
The audience sits in the wedges facing the center.
During the Waves, the formula notes ping-pong from instrument to instrument,
sometimes forming simple shapes through path repetition,
and sometimes like a pinball machine when less-repeated paths are taken.

Initial Duet & Entrance of the Musicians
     The work begins with an "Initial Duet" between the Tenor and Soprano accompanied by synthesizer.  The synth sounds are designed to represent specific MICHAEL and EVE timbres, which were initially developed during preparations for MITTWOCH AUS LICHT's 4th scene, MICHAELION.  The Tenor and Soprano use elaborated versions of the MICHAEL and EVE Nuclear formulas, respectively (below).  The Nuclear formulas are the MICHAEL and EVE formula-melodies from the LICHT super-formula in simplified form.
The Nuclear formulas of MICHAEL, EVE and LUCIFER with 17, 12 and 11 notes respectively.

     In the following "Entrance" phase, the Soprano (now singing the MICHAEL Nuclear formula) leads each of the 17 MICHAEL musicians to their places, and the Tenor (singing the EVE Nuclear formula) does the same for the 12 EVE musicians.  As the musicians are led to their assigned spots, the soprano or tenor lights that musician's candle (though some light their own candle), after which the instrumentalist then begins playing assigned pitches from the Nuclear formulas in free (but slow and sustained) rhythm.  The growing number of players and pitches eventually results in a thick 29-note chord, or a vertical harmony of the EVE and MICHAEL Nuclear tones (the tone row associated with each Nuclear formula).

MICHAEL formula
EVE formula
A variation of the MICHAEL formula occurs in each M-Wave.
A variation of the EVE formula occurs in each E-Wave.
(Click to enlarge)

Waves, Bridges and Comets
     Following a brief pause, each group plays 12 cycles of the MICHAEL and EVE formulas (above), which Stockhausen labels "Waves".  Each instrument only plays 1 note (or a short fragment) of a formula melody, and the next note is played by a different musician in turn.  In other words, the melody is essentially carried through the group in constantly changing instrumental timbres as the members of the the MICHAEL/EVE group "take turns" playing the notes of the MICHAEL/EVE formula (this is, in a way, a spatially-exploded cousin to Anton Webern's Symphony Opus 21, which also uses changing instrumental timbres to carry a double canon tone row).  In the Waves, some instruments double ("echo") the vocalists or other instruments for a short time.

Score - Bar 87

     The above score excerpt is the beginning of the first Wave pair.  The Tenor and Soprano lines are at the top and bottom.  The MICHAEL Wave (based on the MICHAEL formula) is below the Tenor staff ("Orch."), and the EVE Wave (based on the EVE formula) is above the Soprano staff.  The abbreviations above each of the 2 "Orch." staves indicate which instrument plays those notes.  The boxes above the instrument abbreviations show the relative positions of that instrument in space.  Even though this is the first Wave section, right away there are some "deviations" from the basic pattern: The EVE tuba starts the EVE Wave with a full phrase, almost "acting out" by grabbing a bunch of notes for itself (instead of just one like everyone else).  In the middle, an orchestral tutti chord "flares".  At around the same time a MICHAEL Eb clarinet (Kb) echoes flute 2 (F2), and then an EVE tuba (Tu) echoes trombone 2 (P2) and horn 2 (H2).  This first Wave essentially acts as a kind of "exposition" to the following 11 Waves.

     This 1st Wave has relatively straightforward MICHAEL and EVE formula versions, but in each Wave going forward the formulas are "gradually enlivened".  Stockhausen does this basically by adding more rhythmic elaboration to the original figures (subdividing the durations).  For example, a single held note played by one instrument in the initial Waves could be split into four or more notes of the same pitch and shared through four instruments.  Additionally, the register of each successive Wave is transposed to different pitches, following a sequence derived from the LICHT super-formula.  And finally, while progressing through the 12 waves, some of the MICHAEL formula phrases are further transposed to match EVE fragment pitches (ie - towards a "mystical union").

     Each individual wave has constantly changing tempos (12 "chromatic" steps from 47.5 to 90 bpm), but they generally speed up from Wave to Wave.  Since the MICHAEL and EVE Waves can have different average tempos, M-Waves 2 and 3 (MICHAEL's 2nd and 3rd Waves) finish at the same time as E-Wave 2 (EVE's 2nd Wave).  The Wave endings coincide like this 7 times, and after each of these junctions a "Bridge" occurs, which is a kind of classic Stockhausen "insert" (such as in many works like GRUPPEN, CARRÉ, MANTRA, etc..). In the inserts, Stockhausen incorporates "free" structures in order to break from the formal design.  During these Bridges, the tempos are much more stable and the texture is focused more on solos and homophonic textures (also making the timbral-spatial changes generally slower).  Oftentimes the vocal lines are doubled by instruments.  The melodic content of the Bridges is usually a preview of the newly-transposed formula elements to come in the following Wave (or Waves).  More importantly however, each Bridge features the gradual molding together of the simplified MICHAEL and EVE Nuclear formulas.  In the 1st Bridge, these two Nuclear formulas are heard as separate and distinct melodies, but by the 6th Bridge they have coalesced into 1 "united" Nuclear formula chord melody.

     Besides the tutti interruptions and "echoes", another additional factor are the "Comets", which are basically ensemble scalar or glissando passages (Stockhausen's sketches indicate "eruptions of scales").  These Comets become much more active after the 3rd Bridge.  

Announcements, Exit, & Final Duet
     After the 9th E-Wave (and 8th M-Wave) 3 "Announcements" occur.  The Announcements are basically vocal and synthesizer recitative structures with sung instructions for 12 musicians to "ascend" to the balcony (and later come back down), so that the 2-dimensional spatial paths can temporarily take on a 3-dimensional aspect (up/down).  The 3 Announcements are separated by 2 occurrences of the 4th Bridge which take advantage of this short 3-D moment.

     After the Waves/Bridges are over, an "Exit" occurs, where the musicians one-by-one are signaled by the singers to take a drink of water from their colored bowl and slowly leave the stage, all the while still playing (so in effect, LICHTER-WASSER begins with the lighting of candles and ends with the drinking of water).  After all the instrumentalists have left, the two vocalists engage in a "Final Duet" (now much more in "mystic union" than in the Initial Duet) supported only by synthesizer, while the 29 green and blue candles continue to burn.

Spatial Movement
On the CD cover (shown at top of this post) the "flight paths" of
M-Wave 1 and E-Wave 1 are shown (CD track 3).
Here, the top 2 diagrams are the paths of the 1st half of M-Wave 8 and
second half of E-Wave 8 (CD track 17), which are more chaotic.
The bottom 2 diagrams are the paths of the 2nd half of M-Wave 8 and
all of E-Wave 9 (CD track 18), which return to more repetitive shapes.
Stockhausen sketch from
     The instrumentalists are situated all around and throughout the audience space, so the passing of the Wave notes from 1 instrument to the next creates a surrounding and constantly-moving melody.  Since there are 2 formula melodies moving through space at the same time (the MICHAEL and EVE formulas) the 2 melodies could be seen as being in spatial counterpoint.  These spatial layers are designed somewhat to represent the rotations of the planets and moons of the Solar System (but obviously much faster!).  The speed of movement of the first Wave starts at roughly 20 mph, and in each following Wave it trends upwards until the average speed at Wave 11 is 108 mph (Wave 12 is actually even faster in spurts, but has interrupting chords which act as "speed bumps").  The 1st Wave uses the same basic shape (or path) over and over again (see CD cover at top), but later the shapes become less repetitive.  The shapes are basically composed based on Stockhausen's sense of balance and proportion, and not in any mathematically-ruled serial sequence (in fact KONTAKTE was the last time Stockhausen really used classical serial operations to determine spatial coordinates).  Sketches do indicate "increasing connection in space", which translates to shorter distances between "tagged" instruments.

     The synthesizer generally plays long 3-4 note drones (MICHAEL and EVE notes), sometimes with very long glissandi, and sometimes adding in a more articulated note or two into the Wave fabric. It drops out temporarily during the 5th Bridge.  During the performance, the sounds of the MICHAEL notes follow the Tenor in space, and the EVE notes parallel the soprano's position.  Stockhausen recommends that the sound mixer uses 4-channel joysticks to make these motions for the synth channels.

Listening Guide and Text
     At first listening, it may be difficult to follow the Waves if one is not familiar with the MICHAEL and EVE formulas.  It may be helpful to keep in mind that the higher register instruments (flutes, violins, oboe...) are often in the MICHAEL Group and the lower register ones (tuba, bass clarinet, baritone sax...) are usually in the EVE Group, though as mentioned earlier, alot of "sharing" goes on (violins 4 and 5 play in both roughly equally, tenor horn plays much more often in EVE than in it's own MICHAEL Group (Miller thesis)).
Musical Forces Text excerpts and general description Nuclear Formulas
and Space
The Tenor and Soprano duet, accompanied only by slow synth chords (synth tones continue throughout except for in the 5th Bridge). At the end the synth plays a slow rising glissando. SUNDAY FROM LIGHT, mystical union, 
Tenor: M1NF
Soprano: E1NF

2 M Nuclear tones above 
2 E Nuclear tones
The Tenor and Soprano sing while leading the orchestra musicians to their places, who begin playing individual assigned notes in free rhythm.  5 ensemble pauses occur during this slow growth towards a 29-note harmony (combined MICHAEL & EVE nuclear tones)

Form Structure of the MICHAEL & EVE Groups:
(Soprano is with the M (MICHAEL) Group, 
Tenor is with the E (EVE) Group)
SUNDAY FROM LIGHT, mystical union, 
Tenor &
MICHAEL group: 

Soprano &
EVE group: 
3 M-Wave
These are the slowest Waves and closest to the original formula versions.

The 1st half has 2 ensemble "flares" and a "tongue click cluster".
MISCHA day from LIGHT, You are sun, Light-spirit of our universe, creator renovator.

EVE of SUNDAY from LIGHT, you are moon-woman..
basic instrument sequence,
4 1st
This Bridge has a polyphonic texture.
Euphonium plays a brief solo.
Violin doubles the Soprano and
Horn doubles the Tenor.
Suns, planets and moons - Solar system of the Earth M2NF, 

E2 M-Wave 2 features a cluster of "kissing noises" and a short Clarinet solo.
M-Wave 3 is twice as fast as M-Wave 2.
Helios Sol - URIEL bless this Sun, 9 planet children (or 10?).  I give you all 61 moons - yes!

Mercury, first without moon, Hermes messenger of the Gods
E Group borrows an M instrument 2:01
6 M3 1:14
7 2nd
Overlapping solos based on the Nuclear formulas from Bassoon, Tuba, Oboe and Flute, with a supporting harmonized string figure.
Trumpet doubles the Soprano, and 
Bass Clarinet doubles the Tenor.
Mercury of the 2nd Heaven, Angel of Art in Yellow M4NF, 
8 M4 E3 M4 has a 2-note tremolo burst, and ends after a brief oboe outburst with a tremolo tail (hard to hear).

E4 has a falling Comet, a tremolo burst, and tongue clicks. It also has background solo figures with tremolo tails (E. horn, vln, clr).  E4 ends with a harmonized triad figure (before M5 starts).

M5 has a tongue click tutti. At this point the speed is audibly faster than the first Waves.
[This text describes Venus and the Earth.] M Group borrows an E instr.
E3 - slower spatial velocity, very few repeated paths, least # of moves

M5 has non-repetitive short moves and slower spatial velocity since the points are closer (less leaping)
9 E4 1:12
10 M5 1:22
11 3rd
Bassoon doubles Tenor, Flute doubles Soprano.
Several solos based on the Nuclear formulas overlap: violin and trombone, bassoon, viola, baritone sax, clarinet and bass clarinet
Holy be this Earth, human home, human world. M6-8NF, E5-9NF
Less spatial motion (solos have no motion)
12 M6 E5 M waves go up an octave, and E waves go down an octave.

M6: 1 rising/falling Comet
M7: Eb Clr  doubles Tenor, 1 Comet hits just before E6 begins
E6, E7: each have 1 Comet
E8: 2 Comets
M8: Violin doubles Tenor, and has a trilling Comet, a tremolo Comet with pulsing tail and a staccato Comet with a Bass Clarinet tail
E9: 1 big Comet cluster and then several small ones
[This text describes Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, as well has their respective moons.] M7 has a star shape, more repeating moves 
(see diagrams above)

Much more sharing of members occurs in E5-E9
13 M7  1:27
14 E6 1:39
15 E7 1:22
16 E8 1:34
17 M8 1:10
18 E9 1:05
19 1st
The Soprano sings solo, accompanied by glassy synth tones and wind timbres.

12 musicians ascend to the balcony to create a 3-dimensional spatial arena for the Waves to travel through.
As usual, of course, in our exceptional items, we have planned - composed - something special for you, so that you not only hear the tones trickling by like a string of pearls, but also experience something solid.  Ready?  Maestro, please! 1:22
20 4th
(1st time)
2 harmonized melodies (both balcony and floor ensembles) are periodically interrupted by 10 vertically-mirrored (normal and inverted) duo figures and solos (Comets), ending with applause. [This Bridge text reviews the previous stellar objects.] M9-10NF, 
21 2nd
The Soprano is again accompanied by glassy synth tones. After such rousing applause we will respond appropriately and - at no extra cost - will play this 4th Bridge of LIGHT-WATERS one more time.  Ready?  Maestroso, for the apotheosis of the millenium! 1:12
22 4th
(2nd time)
(repeat of previous 4th Bridge structure, 
this is a good second opportunity to count the 10 Comet pairs if you missed any the first time!)
MICHAEL Master, protect our solar system...Holy is the Earth where you teach Mankind...etc.
EVE Mary, bless the Sun, the Earth, planets, moons.  Holy is this Earth, school of Humanity...etc.
23 3rd
The Tenor and Soprano duet with synth tones.

The musicians on the balcony return to their original positions
You may all come down (All of you come down to us): (1st trumpet, clarinet, flute, 2nd trumpet, oboe, Eb clarinet), trombone one, English horn, tenor horn, bassoon (hurry up, we want to continue), euphonium, tuba.   

Well, my dears, what do you say to that?  Stockhausen, we can start!
24 M9 E10

(by this time the speed of the spatial movement is consistently very fast, with instrumental hand-offs even for 16th-note figures)

This block ends with a harmonized vocal glissando duet.
[This text describes Uranus and Neptune and their moons.  (MIRON is mentioned here.)] More repeating moves, esp. E10.   
M9 is still "star" shaped.   
M10 is 2 "circles", left and right
25 M10 1:45
26 5th
No synthesizer in this Bridge.
The 1st half has a harmonized low brass melody in the background, but is otherwise polyphonic.  The spatial tempo slows down briefly.
[Above continues.] M10NF, 
27 M11 E11 These Waves have the widest interval leaps and the fastest spatial motions.
(Actual speed is 103/108 mph, from Paul Miller's analysis. The tempo actually matches the true tempo of the LICHT super-formula.)
[Pluto and its moons are described here.]
28 6th
This Bridge is 1 united harmonized melody with no solos. 9 planets, plus moon of the Earth and the sun make 11.  We also count the 12th planet MICHEVA. M12NF, 
29 M12 E12 These rapid Waves are constantly interrupted by 72 Flares (3-7 note plucked/accented chords played by up to 12 players), occurring roughly every 1-4 seconds.

(30 7-note chords, 24 longer 3-notes chords, 18 other chords of mixed numbers of notes - Paul Miller)
...SUNDAY from LIGHT - Holiday of the mystical union of MICHAEL, EVA - festive day of the mystical uniting - Lights - Waters
E12 is a semi-retrograde shape from E11 (reverse direction)
A complex harmonized melody gradually shrinks in pitch range to B, as the musicians leave the space.  A few stray figures surface (clarinet, synth, violin, etc...).

(In the CD recording the musicians do not leave so there is no decrescendo)
[no vocal text] M1NF (vert.) & M13NF (horiz.) 
with E1NF & E12NF
The Tenor and Soprano have a final duet accompanied only by slow bending synth chords. [unknown language] M1NF, 
(The Nuclear formula and spatial analysis in the Nuclear Formulas and Space column above is based on Paul Miller's analysis in "Stockhausen and the Serial Shaping of Space".)

A simplified structure chart is shown below:

Live Performance

Sound Impressions
     Stockhausen's use of each instrument as its own spatial locus is his ultimate expression of spatial composition for live instruments, first explored in the 3 orchestras of GRUPPEN.  However I think some of the variety of the spatial paths is very hard to experience on a stereo recording (on CD).  Stockhausen recorded each of the 29 instruments and then mixed them down into 8 tracks.  These 8 tracks were then further mixed down to 2 track stereo.  The work is sometimes played as an 8-track tape, but obviously even then it doesn't compare to a live performance (so ask your local orchestra to program this work in the next season).

     Having said that, this work can be very enjoyable as a stereo recording of a fast-moving counterpoint work for chamber orchestra and 2 vocalists.   The Entrance and Exit sections each have a beautiful "gothic" texture to them, and despite their being so many notes in the stacked chords, they never really seem "dissonant".  The Waves get amazingly fast as they progress, and the level of skill of the musicians to synchronize at the higher speeds is really quite head-spinning (literally!).  The Bridges and Comets add welcome scenic stops to this whirling melodic and timbral roller-coaster.

LICHTER–WASSER Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Buy the Score
Wiki Entry
"Stockhausen and the Serial Shaping of Space" (Paul Miller 2009 thesis)
Generative processes in Stockhausen's Lichter Wasser (PDF, Bianchi 2013 thesis)
Adventure into Outer Space: Karlheinz Stockhausen's LICHTER-WASSER & the Analysis of Spatialized Music (Perpectives of New Music 50)
SONNTAG AUS LICHT in Rehearsal 1 (YouTube, German)
SONNTAG AUS LICHT in Rehearsal 2 (YouTube, English/German)
2011 Musikfabric/Oper Köln SONNTAG Production
2011 SONNTAG AUS LICHT Production Dance Company Page

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