Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Score cover
No. 74: LITANEI 97 for choir and conductor
(1997) [23']

     LITANEI 97 is basically a reworking of the piece LITANEI (Litany) from Stockhausen's 1968 collection of intuitive text pieces, AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN (From the Seven Days), which generally uses verbal instructions to direct improvisational ensembles performances.  In contrast to the other members of AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN, LITANEI is worded as a personal message from Stockhausen to the performer, and it's intention is more like "introducing" the concept of intuitive music, rather than instructing the players to play a specific melodic/rhythmic idea.  In 1997, a version of LITANEI, redubbed LITANEI 97, was premiered by the Choir of the South German Radio, and conducted by Rupert Huber.  This version is not based so much on intuitive improvisation, but there are definitely some aleatory elements relating to pitch ranges and glissandi.  Each line of the text is intoned microtonally by members of a mixed choir (SATB), and each voice group is assigned a different pitch range.  In addition, the conductor sometimes sings short phrases from the MICHAEL formula (one of the melodic themes dominating Stockhausen's LICHT opera cycle) and strikes metal percussion bowls as punctuation marks.

(English translation of text from AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN)
     This text was written during a period where Stockhausen was in emotional despair and in self-imposed isolation (as well as undergoing a fast).  Though it was not written first in the AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN cycle, it seems to be directed as a preface to his performing group, who had already performed KURZWELLEN, but had not yet attempted the intuitive texts of AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN.  For more background on the creation of these texts, see AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN.

Musical Structure
The MICHAEL Nuclear formula, divided into 5 segments (Limbs).
This is derived using the central pitches (nuclear tones) of the MICHAEL formula.
The conductor in LITANEI 97 sings one of the 5 limbs before each verse, 
with the 5th limb split into 2 parts to be sung before and after the 5th verse.
     There are 5 verses in LITANEI, with 8, 10, 7, 8 and 11 lines (44 total lines).  Before each verse and after the final verse, the conductor (or alternatively a tenor or a mixed selection of singers) sings a melodic fragment (using selected phrases from the text) as a soloist.  These fragments are actually consecutive segments ("limbs") of the MICHAEL Nuclear formula with additional rhythmic articulations.  The conductor also strikes a Japanese rin bowl (metal singing bowl) at the end of each verse (preceding the vocal solo) with the final pitch(es) of the sung segment, and after the 5th verse he strikes 8 times, using the 5 pitches used previously and ending on a final 6th pitch.

     The "speaking choir" intones the litany verses according a scored rhythm, but the pitches used are aleatory (free) within specific pitch ranges (kind of like a frequency bandwidth).  Each of the 5 verses has a different "bandwidth distribution" and in 2 of the verses the bandwidths undergo slow glissandi (in steps by verses).  In the 3rd verse the male and female speakers alternate syllable groups, and at the end of the final verse a brief harmony section occurs.

     Besides the aleatory bandwidth register of the spoken words, held notes (greater than a quarter note) are usually bent upwards.  In each line there are also specific scored trills, tremolos, held steady pitches, and glissandi shapes (sometimes half of the singers hold a note, and the other half glisses), as well as instructions for whispering, rolled vowels, sotto voce, "morse code" rhythm, etc...  At the end of each line the circle of singers step right or left (which adds a subtle ritualistic element somewhat reminiscent of LUCIFERS ABSCHIED), followed immediately afterwards by a very brief free event where the individual singers sing out a previously-sung syllable from that line, usually creating a kind of brief tutti vocal clamor.  The last line of each verse has no tutti, but is instead marked by the conductor's rin bowl strike.

The musical characteristics of each verse is summarized as follows:
  1. After the conductor opening solo ("Litany..."), Sopranos and Tenors sing in low register, Altos and Basses high.  Ends on a slow, rising, rolled vowel.
  2. After the conductor solo ("...the next stage..."), the choir makes 1 hop and 1 breath sound.  All singers start in the middle band. The Sopranos and Tenors gradually sink to the low register and then back to the middle.  Altos and Basses, in contrast, rise and then fall. 
  3. After the conductor solo ("Do not try to grasp it with your mind..."), the choir makes 2 hops and 1 breath sound.  Males and females alternate speaking syllable groups.  All singers start in the middle band, but with individual members (sort of accompanied soloists) singing outside the middle range in a specific sequence. 
  4. After the conductor solo ("You may have neither the time nor the patience..."), the choir makes 3 hops, rotates once in place, and makes 2 breath sounds.  Bandwidth-wise, this verse is the mirror of 2: All singers start in the middle band. The Altos and Basses gradually sink to the low register and then back to the middle.  Sopranos and Tenors rise and then fall.
  5. After the conductor solo ("...what there is of music in the air..."), the choir makes 4 hops and sings a high held humming note.  Pitch-wise Sopranos and Tenors are assigned high ranges, Altos and Basses low.  As in verse 3, a few unique groupings occur (with accompanied soloists), and more footwork is involved (see Live Performance, below).  During this verse, choir members individually (1 per bar) turn to face outwards, so that at the beginning of the last line, all members are facing outwards (from the center of the circle).  After a single rin strike, the last phrase is sung in a 3-part harmony by the choir ("higher in us and outside").  This ensemble harmony phrase is sung intuitively, in that the members have to be synchronous without being able to see each other, implying that the entire choir have become one's own body (as per K. Pasveer's note).  After a final solo by the conductor ("higher in us and outside, outside, out..."), the choir members scrape their right foot 5 times as the final rin strikes are played, and finally sing a high tutti "HU!".
Beginning of the 2nd verse.
     At top left, the broad direction of the pitch registers is shown (for Soprano/Tenors: falling from the middle register, then rising, Altos/Basses rising/falling).  To the right of that is the conductor's sung solo part, the 2nd Limb of the MICHAEL Nuclear formula (with added articulations), followed by a choir hop ("springen") and a loud breath.  The staff below shows the allowed pitch ranges for the Soprano/Tenors, Altos and Basses (looks kind of like a chord cluster).  The remainder of the staff shows the rhythm to be sung, with the number of beats in large numerals above them.  Each tone longer than a quarter note usually gets an aleatory rising gliss, but some are specifically scored, such as in "Stu-fe....".  At the end, the circled "R" and "L" indicate a right foot step to the side and a left foot slide together.  The circled "W" indicates the aleatory group syllable moment.

Live Performance
     The conductor and choir (clad in light blue robes) enter in single file and arrange themselves in a circle around the conductor, who faces the audience.  During the first 2 verses, at the end of each line the choir circle rotates 1 step counter-clockwise (stepping right, closing with the left).  During verses 3 and 4 the choir movement is clockwise.  Just before verse 5, every other singer takes a step backwards (essentially forming an outer circle).  At the end of each line in verse 5, the inner circle steps clockwise, the outer circle steps counter-clockwise.  After each of the conductor solo phrases, the choir members also make different numbers of hops, and spin in place (as described earlier).  After the last verse (and its attendant foot scrapes, rin strikes and declaration of "HU!"), the choir members disperse into the auditorium, each handing out 3 pages of music to 3 different audience members, and then leave in single file.

Sound Impressions
     LITANEI 97 to me is a kind of microtonal vocal prologue to AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN, especially considering the subject matter of the text.  On the CD 61 release, the premiere recording of this work is paired with KURZWELLEN (also the premiere recording).  It seems natural that AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN should follow, if this were a "cycle" of sorts.  Stockhausen might be surprised (or not?) that I actually find some ideas behind this work to remind me of STUDIE II, since the choir parts are essentially based on frequency "bandwidths" of aleatory spoken word.  Since the pitches for each vocal group are arranged as unbroken frequency ranges (for instance, low C up to E in the Basses in the excerpt above), this creates the vocal equivalent of "colored noise", or bandwidth filtering, at least in theory.  The glissandi also give me this impression.  Though this work is admittedly not one of my "top 10" favorite Stockhausen works, there are some unique effects to be found here (the high humming at the beginning of verse 5, for example, is pretty unique and sounds almost electronic), and these ensemble effects (tongue-rolls, whispering, hissing, etc...) make for an unpredictable timbre palate within a strict range of melodic material.

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