Sunday, March 8, 2015


Milan Cathedral, where HIMMELFAHRT was premiered.
No. 81: KLANG 1st Hour: HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension)
for organ/synthesizer, soprano and tenor vocal soloists
2004, 2005 [37 min.]

      HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension) is the 1st "hour" of Stockhausen's originally-planned 24-part cycle KLANG ("SOUND") which is based on the 24 hours of the day.  HIMMELFAHRT, like the larger cycle itself,  has 24 "moments", which each have a different tempo.  The basic idea behind its composition is to give the right hand part these 24 tempo-based sections, and then at the same time give the left hand a different set of 24 sections, with a different sequence of tempos.  Additionally, the 24 sections do not change at the same time for both hands.  This creates a kind of "dialogue" between the left and right hand parts (as opposed to a traditional homophonic foreground/background texture).  The melodic material itself is derived from manipulations of a 24-note pitch row and uses a permutation technique based on repetition with addition/subtraction, with the repetitions bracketed by specific kinds of ornamentation or vocal parts.

     This work was originally requested by Don Luigi Garbini, a priest and organist associated with the Milan Cathedral, for the PAUSE contemporary music series organized by Artache.  It was eventually premiered there on Ascension Day, May 5, 2005, but this version had alot of problems because the organ sounds were not quite able to get the sounds that Stockhausen was looking for (many notes had strong unwanted overtones).  Eventually a synthesizer version with more refinement in the synth timbres was developed and premiered in 2006 at the Kürten Stockhausen Courses and Concerts.

Tempo Form Structure
CD Cover showing tempo structure of each hand
     The 24 tempos and sections for the right hand part are traced out in red in the graphic right (from the CD cover).  The left hand part's 24 sections/tempos are traced in blue.  The bar numbers for each section run along the top.  The actual tempos are indicated in the 1st column.

     The right hand tempo values correspond to the relative "heights" of the 24-note KLANG pitch row (which is shown down below).  In order to produce tempo "polyphony", Stockhausen reorganized the tempos for the left hand so that the first tempo starts near the center, and then following tempo numbers increasingly bounce ahead of and behind the midpoint.  After the outer tempo ranges are hit, the tempo value returns to the middle range to pick up a note it had previously skipped and finally repeats the first 4 tempo speeds (notice in the blue graph the last part is the same as the first part).

     The 24 sections are also organized into 12 "form phases" of 2 sections each (1/2, 3/4, 5/6, etc...).  These form phases are characterized by different levels of of rhythmic density based on duration values. To create the sequence of density levels for the right hand part, Stockhausen started by alternating extreme opposite values (very active, then slower) and slowly moving towards the middle values, but saving the highest density level for the last form phase (see chart below, column 7).  The form phases also assign a harmonic "mixture interval" (such as an organ mixture), which is a parallel pitch which colors that form phase. Additionally, Stockhausen assigned 3 "zones" where staccato, 'percussive' textures are emphasized.  The first zone affects the right hand only, the second - both hands, and the third, left hand only (see chart below, last column).

     In order to create polyphony and retain the architectural texture equally in both the right and left hand parts, Stockhausen created the left hand part by grafting on time-shifted measures from the right hand part, transposed and sometimes inverted. For example, the left hand's 1st measure is taken from measure 69 of the right hand and inverted (or, from a different point of view, you could say the right hand part is the delayed and inverted left hand part from 69 measures previous). The part of the left hand is basically created from 3 large swaths of the right hand part (see chart below, column 4).  However, because the tempos are not the same for the transplanted measures, they vary in length from the original right hand measures.

"Through the different simultaneous combinations of sections of the 2 parts, 
the same bars and rhythms appear generally in different tempi.  
This causes all sorts of arrangements of repeated rhythms in different registers and tempi."
- Stockhausen

     In the table below, the described structure of HIMMELFAHRT is summarized:
 CD Tracks (RH Tempo)


Starting Bar

LH bars
RH bars



1 = low
12 = high

2:19 1
69-161 (inverted)


2:02 27

1:32 43 61

1 RH
0:57 58
1:21 67 72 10
0:58 83
0:56 99 100
1:00 119

1:19 138 149 141

2:05 160 160

to end

166 162

1:44 184 185
3 LH & RH 195-245
0:59 201
1:27 215
216 8
2:06 228

1:40 245 4
0:52 267 267
1:29 281 281
0:43 301
0:47 314 319
5 LH
1:29 332
336 starting again from 62 but not invered


0:44 359
1:25 378

1:36 396 399
4:15 (final rin strike at 3:09) 414

The KLANG 24-note pitch row.  
The numbers above the staff indicate the chromatic scale value starting from middle C.
The numbers under the staff indicate the steps from one note to the next.
The 1st bar is an "ascending" figure.  The 2nd bar is in retrograde (backwards) of the 1st bar and transposed higher.
The 3rd bar is a tritone higher from the 2nd bar (with some octave shifts).  The 4th bar is a tritone lower from the 1st bar (with some octave shifts).
 Melodic Structure
     Each tempo section is created from a 2-octave deep 24-note pitch row (usually referred to as the "KLANG row").  The KLANG row "grows" through repetitions, beginning with just 1 note and "growing out" to all 24 notes (1...1 and 2...1, 2, and 3...1, 2, 3, and 4, etc..).  It then begins contracted repetitions by gradually eliminating notes from the beginning of the row.  Each "growth cycle" is marked by a "signal", which could be a pause, a percussion noise, a vocal part, etc... 
These are the first 15 measures of HIMMELFAHRT (from CD booklet).  
Each of the "signals" are colored in.

     In the excerpt at right (1st 15 measures of the right hand part), the "growth" from 1 note to 8 is shown, ie - E, then E and C, then E, C, and F, then E, C, F and D, etc...up to 8 notes at measure 14. The 8 associated signals are: pause, chord cluster, glissando (scale), chord, bamboo chimes, rin bowl, 1st Soprano event, and 1st Tenor event. Signal durations are free, but in practicality are actually restricted by the other hand's keyboard activities.  In addition to the ringing sounds of the rin bowls, metallic plates are also used to make gong-like sounds.   The signals occur in different sequences, but often a pause signal is used to mark the beginning of a new KLANG row repetition.

     After all 24 notes have been reached in a cycle, a subtraction (or consumption, as I think of it) process begins by leaving out the 1st note, then the 2nd note etc...until the last repetition is just the 24th note by itself.  This addition/consumption process then repeats an octave higher and in inverted form.  A 3rd process uses a retrograde (backwards) form of the KLANG pitch row (2, 1, then 3, 2, 1, then 4, 3, 2, 1, etc).  In general, one can think of the process (which is actually independently done for each keyboard playing hand part) as a series of melody variations that get longer and longer, and then shorter and shorter. 

     Despite these "formulaic" manipulations, Stockhausen generously massages the melodic and rhythmic shapes in the final score in order to imbue them with personality and spontaneity. Some of the kinds of alterations include octave changes, articulation changes, exchanges of pitches and durations, repetitions, rhythmic compression/expansion, additional pauses, etc... Study of the original sketches against the final score reveals much of Stockhausen's thought processes and stylistic choices.

Timbre, Percussion and Vocals
     Timbrally, there are 2 sets (high and low) of 24 "klangfarben" (tone colors/synth patches) employed in the synthesizer version of HIMMELFAHRT, designed/realized by Antonio Pérez Abellán.  The slower tempo sections use more complex overtone timbres than the faster tempo sections (which use simpler, "transparent" textures).  This basically makes HIMMELFAHRT into a work structured as 2 layers of 24 timbre-based sections (as well as tempo of course).  The Stockhausen Edition CD has an interesting feature in that it has samples of all 48 synthesizer sound timbres used, introduced by Stockhausen in German and English.  With the chart above, it's probably possible to compare each timbre to one of the 24 sections, though I haven't tried that myself.  Not only that, but I suppose one could play HIMMELFAHRT with the original synth timbres by sampling these CD tracks into one's own set up.

     Spread throughout the length of HIMMELFAHRT's 24 sections/"moments", several percussion-based signals are used (besides the clusters, glissandi, etc...): a Japanese rin bowl is struck 15 times, a bamboo chime is rattled 14 times (with free durations) and 3 metallic sound plates (which make soft gong-like sounds) are struck 16 times.  Vocally, the Tenor and Soprano each sing 16 signals (3 times together, other times mostly alternating, indicated in the table earlier).  The sung text is concerned with God, Jesus, Saint Michael, and Ascension to Heaven.

Live Performance
Randall Harlow, organ (and percussion); Teresa Hopkin, soprano; John Bigham, tenor; Steve Everett, sound distribution. North American premiere on pipe organ, Atlanta 2005.

Sound Impressions
     This is another case where my first time listening to an unfamiliar Stockhausen piece was a bit under-whelming, largely due to the synthesizer textures.  I recall that at first they seemed somewhat "thin", but over several listens, I began to get use to them and was able to somewhat appreciate the overtone structures in the individual timbres.  But more importantly, I began to hear the work as a dialogue between the 2 hands of the keyboardist, working through a 24-note melody-theme.  The compositional ideas described above are very fascinating (especially being that HIMMELFAHRT was Stockhausen's first post-LICHT work), but at the end of the day, the tempo scales and families of rhythmic densities are actually not as meaningful to me as the moment-to-moment interaction between the left and right hand parts.  The chart above illuminates some of the compositional design elements, but is probably not as useful as a "listening guide", since the seemingly-spontaneous dialogue between the 2 hands is not really shown (and it's probably best to just listen and not over-analyze that aspect anyways).

     The synth tones, percussion and vocal elements also add to this almost "fusion jazz improvisation" feel - though of course there are no jazz chords or melodies to be found here.  Perhaps another reason that jazz comes to mind is that the melodic figures in HIMMELFAHRT are consistently fleet-footed throughout, which is especially apparent after the sometimes thick, dense (but epic) architectural constructions in LICHT.  Also, since the KLANG pitch row can be thought of as as a kind of expanding/consumed "jazz head", it's interesting to compare the perception of a theme as it's "tail" grows, versus the same theme as it's "head" gets progressively consumed (this refers to the expanding and truncating nature of the theme repetitions).  It highlights (for me at least) how much more important the head is than the tail (no pun intended!).

     It should be noted that the analysis of the compositional elements of HIMMELFAHRT was greatly informed by Stockhausen's HIMMELFAHRT composition course book (and facsimile sketches) from the 2006 Stockhausen Courses lecture series.  Some great pictures are in the book as well.

HIMMELFAHRT (Antonio Pérez Abellán) samples and CD ordering 
Purchase the Score
2006 Composition Course Book (facsimile edition) on HIMMELFAHRT
Wiki Entry
Albrecht Moritz Review

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