Friday, August 28, 2015


No. 28: Dr. K-SEXTETT
for flute, bass clarinet, percussion (tubular bells & vibraphone), piano, viola and cello
1968/1969 [2:32 - 3:36]

     In 1969 Stockhausen was one of eleven composers who were asked to write a short chamber work in honor of the 80th Birthday of Dr. Alfred Kamus, the director of the London division of Universal Edition (Stockhausen's music publisher at the time). 

     The basic idea of the work is that an 8-part harmony is played on 7 instruments (the piano plays 2 layers), and each time this harmony occurs, the notes are either staggered after the downbeat (opening section), or staggered beforehand as anticipatory notes (middle section).  For example, the piece opens with an 8-note chord (divided among the 6 players), and then every 8 seconds the harmony sounds again, but each time more and more "out of sync", due to some players (playing inner harmony notes) coming in "late".  At the same time, the layers of this harmony expand vertically (the intervals between the pitches get bigger, high notes higher, low notes lower).

     Eventually the original "downbeat" chord tones also get delayed, and a new downbeat forms from the bunching up of the "late" notes (in other words, the original downbeat notes now become anticipatory notes to a following "new" downbeat).  During this process, metal percussion somewhat leads the way, both rhythmically and dynamically.  At the very end, a fast chord cadenza basically "re-shrinks" the now fully-expanded vertical harmony.

     The piece is organized into 27 "Moments" (which I call "downbeats"), each of which is 8 seconds long.  From a staging perspective, each player plays his/her note facing a different direction, and the players "freeze" in between notes.

     Below is a rundown based on the version recorded by the California EAR Unit, 1989.
Each of the 27 8-second Moments is marked with a vertical line.
Moment Time Music
1-9 0:00      A loud opening chord, is followed every 8 seconds by quiet chords ("downbeats"), with the individual notes of the chord tones becoming more and more rhythmically "out of sync" (ie - gradually delayed, led by metal percussion).  The longer the delay, the louder the note.  The pitch register also expands vertically which, with the rhythmic delays, makes the chord tones more and more "point-like" (in general the note durations are all short).
10-13 1:12      The delay between notes begins to decrease (ie - the initial "downbeat" chord notes also begin getting delayed towards the later notes, with the most-delayed percussion notes beginning to form their own loud "downbeat"), climaxing in a long decrescendo in Moment 13-14
14-17 1:44      The delay between notes begins to increase again, this time with chord tones coming in early (quiet perc.), anticipating the louder "downbeat" chord (held down by the winds).  Moment 16 features the anticipatory notes sustaining until a solid chord is reached, after which the percussion again takes a prominent role.
18-23 2:08      The metal percussion begin to form a new loud downbeat chord, (starting from just 2 notes) and as other players begin to sync with it, an 8-note downbeat chord is formed (M20 features a few sustained swelling/fading notes - I suppose this could be called an "insert")
24-27 3:04      2 loud unison chords are followed by 9 rapid chords in a decrescendo, with the pitch range shrinking from 6 octaves to 2 and ending on a final swelling harmony.

Moment 4-8: Some notes of each chord begin to lag behind.
(© Universal Edition)
Moment 14-16: Anticipatory notes to a chord come increasingly earlier.
(© Universal Edition)
Moment 24-27: The chord harmony suddenly shrinks at the end.
(© Universal Edition)

Sound Impressions
     This was probably written fairly quickly, though it has some interesting ideas which are very clearly and concisely presented (I suppose that makes this the closest thing to a Stockhausen "bagatelle" that I've seen).  The technique of expanding/shrinking vertical harmony is one of Stockhausen's favorites (see KREUZSPIEL, MANTRA, etc...), but the idea here of a synchronous downbeat disintegrating and then re-forming into a secondary downbeat is something that is (as far as I know) very unique in his oeuvre.

     One way to look at the musical flow is to regard the metal percussion (glockenspiel) as a "rebel" who breaks away, and in the process, leads the other "gang members" into his own downbeat group.  After a "scuffle" (during the long held decrescendo), the glockenspiel forms another new group out of the silence.  In any case, it's a charming work with a somewhat humorous ending, and seems to me to be almost a satire on the complicated rhythms used in much of serial avant-garde music. 

Ordering the Score
Wiki Entry
YouTube clip (California EAR Unit)

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