FRESCO


Each of these shapes is a sketch for the placement of 4 orchestral groups (drawn as 4 different colored lines)
around the audience in various performance spaces (at bottom right is apparently a spiral staircase).
This was drawn 3 years after the premiere performance of FRESCO and is probably
related to FRESCO's somewhat re-purposed role as a "meditation aid to concentration".
Score Cover. (© Universal Edition)
Nr. 29: FRESCO for 4 orchestra groups: Wall-Sounds for Meditation,
(1969) [approx. 5 hours length]

Development
     In 1969, Stockhausen was asked to present a concert program at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn (birth city of Beethoven). Stockhausen's idea was to do something along the lines of his previous works for independent-but-concurrent compositions, such as ENSEMBLE and MUSIK FÜR EIN HAUS.  In this case, 3 rooms in the Beethovenhalle concert complex were used to present 3 simultaneous Stockhausen programs (some with pre-taped works, some performed live).  Additionally, four foyer spaces (not normally used for presenting music) contained 4 chamber orchestras, which each independently played a layer of FRESCO ("wall sounds for meditation"), a new "ambient" work, mostly consisting of extremely slow glissandi.  Since there were only 3 rehearsals available for this piece before the performance, Stockhausen wrote very technically simple music to play, but the real "magic" of the piece is how the individual players within a group "vibrate" together as they navigate the glissandi (heterophonically).  For example, one intention is to create different speeds of frequency beating through close, but contrasting, unison lines.  In any case, the idea of a "foyer music" piece would be revisited in some of the Greetings and Farewells of the LICHT operas (MONTAGS-GRUSS, FREITAGS-GRUSS, MITTWOCHS-GRUSS, etc...). 

     "The idea of "wall-sounds" is in no way ironically meant.  I imagined that for once, instead of all the usual chatter from the cloakrooms to one's seat in the concert hall, and all the time until the conductor enters, the whole building would already be resounding."

     "FRESCO...can also create a "sound environment" on its own, in connection with visual exhibitions (in museums) or in sacred room complexes, and in meditation rooms or parks, serving as an aid to concentration."
 - Stockhausen introductory text, Richard Toop translation

     There is currently no recording available, possibly because of the extreme length, or also possibly because of it's nature as a location-separated "installation piece".  The actual performance was somewhat wrecked by both an uncooperative Bonn Orchestra (obviously this was not from the usual Haydn symphony repertoire), and an unruly audience (but probably "par for the course" in the hippy-dippy late 60's).  The Wikipedia page has more information.

Form Structure
Time Plan for the 4 orchestral groups.
(© Universal Edition)
     The diagram above shows the 4 orchestral groups (GRUPPE I - IV) in 4 layers.  The Beethovenhalle concert started at 7pm (19:00) and concluded at 40 minutes after midnight (24:40).  Each orchestra group has 3 sections of continuous music (each 50-110 minutes), separated by breaks of 25-40 minutes.  The lines inside the shapes indicate the relative starting and ending points of the glissandi.  For example, in Group 1's A Section, the glissandi begin very high and slowly descend.  In each following glissando, they begin from a slightly lower note. At 8pm, the glissandi rise, starting with very small distances and eventually reaching the original high note.  The numbers above each shape indicate the minutes after the hour.  The numbers below each shape indicate the total duration in minutes for each section.  This graphic notation gives an idea of the general melodic tendency of all 12 sections.

Score
(© Universal Edition)
     The glissandi are all very slow, less than one octave's distance per minute.  As mentioned earlier, the players play independently, but with the intention of creating frequency beating with each other.  As can be seen in the score page above describing Group I's "A" section, additional articulations are also indicated (trills, flutter-tongue, irregular tremolo, etc..), as well as pauses and accent groups cued by the conductor ("DIRIGENT").

Beethovenhalle map with the locations of FRESCO's 4 orchestra groups in yellow squares
Live Performance
     For the premiere performance, the groups were made up of the following wind, brass and string instruments:
  • Group I - "Brass and Percussion": conductor (w oboe), 1 tuba, 2 trombones, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 1 percussionist, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, 2 clarinets, 2 flutes, vibraphone
  • Group II - "Strings": conductor (w harmonium), 2 contrabasses, 3 cellos, 4 violas, 11 violins
  • Group III - "Strings and Brass": conductor (on piano), 1 trombone, 2 contrabasses, 1 bassoon, 2 cellos, 2 horns, 2 violas, 1 oboe, 1 trumpet, 4 violins, 1 clarinet, 1 flute
  • Group IV - "Strings": conductor (w accordion or chromatic harmonica), 2 contrabasses, 3 cellos, 3 violas, 11 violins























Performance Schedule for the Beethovenhalle Concert(s)
Time Großer Saal Kammermusiksaal Studio
20:00 GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE
(tape)
MOMENTE
(tape)
KURZWELLEN
20:15 KONTAKTE
20:50 GRUPPEN
(tape)
Aus den sieben Tagen:
Litanei/Ankunft
(recitations)
21:00 KLAVIERSTÜCK VI MIKROPHONIE I
(film doc)
21:15 REFRAIN
21:25 CARRÉ MIKROPHONIE I
(tape)
21:30 PROZESSION
21:55 ZYKLUS "Gedicht für Dich"
(poetry reading)
KLAVIERSTÜCK
XI
22:05 MIKROPHONIE II
(tape)
"San Francisco"
(poetry reading)
22:10 HYMNEN
with soloists
STIMMUNG
22:20 KLAVIERSTÜCKE I–IV,
IX
22:40 MIXTUR
(tape)
23:10 KLAVIERSTÜCKE
V, VII, VIII
23:15 MOMENTE
(film doc)
23:25 SPIRAL
(for recorder)
23:40 "An den der mit mir ist"
(poetry reading)
23:50 KLAVIERSTÜCK X
0:05 (none)
0:10 (none)
0:15

Sound Impressions
     It's a pity there's no CD recording of this work as yet available.  I can imagine it being more modern-sounding than ever, despite that it was composed almost half a century ago.  The concept of spatially-separated orchestras playing ensemble glissandi figures at glacial speeds would fit very well into today's ambient music scene.  However, if one considers that in order to hear this whole work as it was premiered, it would require 20 hours (5 hours times 4 orchestras in 4 separate spaces), one can see that this would be a tough thing to release on CD. Of course, it would also be very interesting to hear all 4 orchestras super-imposed, since in the introductory text (and score cover) it seems to allow that the 4 groups could be also heard simultaneously in one space, if used as a "meditation aid to concentration".

Links
Ordering the Score
Wiki Entry

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