Monday, September 21, 2015


Scene 1

Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4

Reichstag Dome in Berlin
No. 66: WELT-PARLAMENT (World Parliament)
for choir (a cappella)
1995 (~40 min.)

     WELT-PARLAMENT is the first Scene of Stockhausen's dramatic music work MITTWOCH AUS LICHT (WEDNESDAY from LIGHT), which was the 6th-composed entry of his 7-part, 29-hour opera cycle LICHT (Light).  In this Scene (set in a glass dome atop a skyscraper), members of a choral "world parliament" are called into a meeting by the "President" to discuss the important issues of the day, and more specifically, to debate the meaning of the word "love".  The President is eventually replaced by a coloratura Soprano during the proceedings when it turns out that his car is getting towed...

     LICHT is a work of monumental proportions 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).

     MITTWOCH (Wednesday) is the Day of Cooperation and Reconciliation.  The scenes in MITTWOCH do not have a dramatic arc connecting them, instead the theme of Cooperation and Reconciliation between the characters is achieved through musical, visual, and spatial means.  In WELT-PARLAMENT, the setting is atop a skyscraper, and in the following Scenes the setting spreads farther and farther away from the Earth until, in MICHAELION, it reaches deep space.

     WELT-PARLAMENT begins with an introductory entrance phase (cued by the President with a wooden gavel and bells) based on single note aleatoric (free, irregular) rhythms and clicking metronomes.  Following this is the main fabric of the work, a sequence of different lyric, rhythmic and dynamic combinations between 12 vocal groups (polyphonically-structured into 4 choral groups, SATB).  Occasionally, soloists step forward and have a brief exchange with the President (and sometimes a choral group).  Near the end of the main section, a janitor interrupts the proceedings in order to have someone move their car.  After the President leaves (it was his car), a Coloratura Soprano takes his role.  At the end, the vocal groups leave, again intoning on single pitches accompanied with metronomes.

Reichstag Dome (interior)
12 Vocal Groups
     There are 3 vocalists in each of 12 vocal groups, which are in turn arranged as 4 choral groups arranged from left to right as: Basses - Tenors - Altos - Sopranos (making a total of 36 vocalists).  The score is notated as 12 vocal groups (layers) with additional staffs for soloists.  Often there are group "solos" where one of the 4 choral groups (3 x 3 = 9 singers) is featured in a harmony, and the other 3 choral groups may drop out (or sing more ambient material).

     The main material used by the vocalists is rhythmically-subdivided syllabic motifs which, for the most part, repeat over and over again in building ostinati patterns, gradually morphing from one phonetic syllable or rhythm to another.  The material within each one of the 4 choral groups (SATB) is generally similar in pitch and rhythm, but can be layered or harmonized in different ways.  For example, 3 Soprano groups may have the same text, melody and rhythm, but at times they may be polyphonically-layered to create different vocal densities. 

     Figures from the LICHT super-formula are used to generate melodic and rhythmic processes in the fabric of the vocal patterns.  For example, in the beginning of the main body of the work (from Stockhausen Edition CD 51, track 6), the soprano melody starts as a short, small interval motif (rising/falling) and over the course of the work slowly grows longer (more notes are added) and wider in pitch range.  The Basses, on the other hand, start out with overlapping rising/falling glissandi (a score excerpt is at the bottom of the page).  At track 9, they change to separated, swelling quarter notes, then fading quarter notes (during track 10), then fast 8th-note triplets, etc...  From track 10, the Altos begin an alternating vowel pattern, starting fast, slowing down and then eventually becoming 3 polyrhythmic layers (tracks 11-14).

     Tracks 26-28 feature a polyphonic structure in 3 Soprano layers, which is continued by the Altos in tracks 29 and 30.  After the Coloratura Soprano solo (track 36), the Soprano and Alto groups join together and form a rhythmic figure opposing the Basses (track 37).  These 2 layers gradually overlap and meld together, climaxing in an ensemble tutti (track 38).  An example score page of this passage is at the bottom of the page.

     Many other processes (including those involving dynamics and tempo modulations) also occur, some of which, like the above, are detailed in the WELT-PARLAMENT Composition Course Booklet (link at bottom, but in German, unfortunately, for English-only readers).  For example, the dynamic processes of specific layers in WELT-PARLAMENT are based on the dynamic envelope shapes of the MICHAEL formula layer of the MITTWOCH-FORMEL.

     During the main body of WELT-PARLAMENT, the vowel elements gradually change from the dark "[u]" and progress upwards towards the bright "[i]", using different consonant partners. The progression was designed using a "vowel square" (above) which was also used in many other of Stockhausen's works (STIMMUNG, etc..).  The vowels slowly progress as in the diagram above, starting from the bottom "u" and gradually adding higher vowels until "i" is reached.  However each choir group (SATB) has a different rate of progression, and sometimes vowels fall back down before going back up.  Again, more on this in the Composition Course book for WELT-PARLAMENT.

Form Structure and Narrative
     The broad structural shape of WELT-PARLAMENT is based on the beginning of the MITTWOCH-FORMEL (Wednesday Formula), and it's melodic figures are derived from the LICHT super-formula, though in a less obvious way than in the earlier opera scenes of LICHT (once in a while some of the more recognizable formula phrases can be heard in the solo voices).  For example, several bell strikes ring tones from the EVE formula, which also spell out the "central tones" used for those sections.

     Scenically, the drama is set in the top floor of a glass skyscraper (or a floating glass dome - see top of page), looking down on clouds amidst a blue sky, sometimes with doves and helicopters flying past.  The "Parliamentarians" arrive through a glass elevator as the President (a tenor in this case, but alternatively a baritone) announces "Wednesday from Light!"

Below, the columns for the 4 choral groups are arranged in the same orientation as what is heard on the CD (stereo left to right).  
The exclamations from the President and the soloists are usually in the center.  
(Far Left)
(Center Left)
(Center Right)
(Far Right)
1 1st BELL: Members of 9 vocal groups (SAB) gradually enter, independently repeating (chanting) a different text on D, 
and holding ticking metronomes (each set to a different tempo).   
Additionally, members of these groups independently shout out "slogans".   
3 Tenor groups, however, slowly intone long syllables.
2 Group Solos:
The President's gavel strikes cue 9 short "chanting solos" (3 Bass solos, 3 Alto solos, 3 Soprano solos).   
Tenors continue slow, quiet syllables as before in the background.
3 SAB Groups return to continuous syllables, Tenors continue as before. "Mittwoch aus Licht" 0:22
4 2nd BELL: pitch rises 1 step. 
After the President's "Wednesday From Light", gavel blows again signal featured layers, this time 3 groups (sometimes mixed) at a time.
"Wednesday From Light" 1:30
5 Tutti returns (first loud, then quiet), followed by the President's 3rd proclamation.
The section ends with a crescendo and then fade out of the vocal/metronome tutti.
"Mercoledi Da Luce" 1:05
6 3rd BELL
The 12 vocal groups begin variations on 4 main rhythms (in this beginning section fastest to slowest: A, S, B, T), repeating and developing syllables such as "hu", "liu", "to", "toroho", "melo", "keku", "zene", etc...

7 ("kaku", "gede", "sho", etc...) "World Parliament - Love Is Our topic Here" 0:33
8 (micha...) Altos:
"Mi - Cha - El"
("roza", "no", "sho", etc...)

9 ("hoe", "ruledu", etc...) Altos: 
"Oe Oe Oe", etc...
("me-ne-strel...") 0:26
10 (etc...) 1st Soprano:
"Love Is loyalty, loyalty to talent-t-t-t"
(Sopranos: "talent...")
"But Talent Must Serve Beauty!"

12 Basses:
"Le Mo Ne Mo Ne Mone Mo Ne Di", etc...

13 1st Bass:
"Love Is Forgiveness"


Tenors: "Ach so..." 
(But this...)

Not Always!"

15 4th BELL 1:09
Basses: "Hathor..."
Sopranos: "Inana..."
1st Alto:
"Love Is Helping Without profit, there is always ascension."
(rushing sounds)

(Tenors: "positive...")
"Positive Thinking, Yes!"

18 Basses: 
"Loe Ne Moe Doe Ne... Mi Ci Ki", etc...

"Efa Inana Freija aus Liebe"

19 Baritone:
"Love Is GOD's Light Universe ..." 
(Altos tacet) 2nd Soprano: 
"Love From Eve's Moon Love" 
(kissing noises)
(intermittent pauses, then a tutti chord)
"Love resounds Only From Heaven music" 1:12


Tenor Group Solo: "Love resounds In your voice..." 

...Altos join...

...Sopranos and Basses join ("Musik"), 
ending on a tutti chord, "Liebe" ("Love...")


Basses: "helene"

"glück --- mehr glück" 
("more happiness")

"Worlds Wednesday"

  (Soprano vowels in high 4th voice begin)

23 (Basses sing in blocks)

1st Tenor:
"Love Dies with the many children."(rushing/clicking noises)
2nd Alto:
"Love Lives in the children"
(rushing/clicking noises)

Coloratura soprano:
"Ha-- ...A Mour", rushing noises

25 (Basses tacet, Tenors long tones) Altos & Sopranos Group Solos (polyphony) 0:37
26 (Tenor & Alto quiet long tones) Sopranos:
polyphony, with fermata
27 (Tenors "nasal", quiet) Altos:
rushing noises
Sopranos: polyphony
28 2nd Bass:
"Love Is The rejuvenating elixir."

3rd Alto:
(Altos rushing noises cont.)
29 (Males: slow rhythms) Altos:
(from Sopranos)
rushing noises
(from Altos)
"What For A World --- Parlimentin!" 0:43
30 5th BELL
(voices continue to develop as above)


3rd Bass:
"Love Always Begins anew..."
(Basses: "heal the world")

4th Alto:
"Love Is Cosmic glue..."
(Altos rushing noises)

3rd Soprano:
"Love Heaven's Manna..."

32 (Males: slow rhythms) Altos: rushing noise Sopranos: polyphony "Bravo, I agree!" 1:57

Tutti: "Li- hicht"
 Janitor interruption: 
 "Hallo!  The vehicle with the license plate MI - like MITTWOCH - 1996 -
is about to be towed away!" 

3 Tenor Soloists: "[:Coloratura Eve becomes:]...our... substitute President!"
35 Basses: "D'accord!"
Females: "D'accord!" 0:08
36 (vocal groups tacet) Coloratura soprano (solo):
"World-parliament Ladiesgentlemen, Love will enchant the World"
37 Basses: "At Nika...", etc... (Tenors: long vowels) Females: "Fa Mata Ri...", etc...
gradually becoming more ornamented

38 Tutti: 
"World Parliament - Wednesday from Light..."
"The Day of reconciliation"
39 Final BELL and Exit: 
Return to independent chants, slogans, and metronome ticking as the delegates depart
40 Stutterer: "Yes, And now the the next scene would follow!" 3:15

This page shows the 12 vocal layers arranged in 4 choral groups (SATB) and the President's part at the top..
This shows an early section (the transition between track 6 and 7).
The colors are an aid to see the dynamic envelopes.
This page shows the 2 polyphonic layers Sopranos/Altos and Basses gradually drawing together (middle of track 37).

Live Performance
    MITTWOCH AUS LICHT had its premiere in 2012, hosted by the Birmingham Opera Company, with WELT-PARLAMENT naturally staged as its first Scene.  This production had a kind of "community punk rock" design ethic, and so it uses a somewhat more "Earth-bound" factory warehouse setting, rather than a glass domed skyscraper.  The choral groups are arranged on high yellow chairs left to right as in the table above, with the President seated in the center.  Below is a rehearsal extract.

Another, longer excerpt (in 3D) can be seen here.

Sound Impressions
     This work took a little while for me to appreciate, I think due to the monotonal opening section, which loses alot of its impact without the visual element.  However, once the 12 polyphonic vocal groups begin their syllabic transformations, there is much to absorb and "get lost" in.  The voices really weave a fantastic tapestry of voices which in some sections may be similar to some other choral works of this type (Tallis, Ligeti, etc...), however what makes WELT-PARLAMENT very unique is the clarity of each of the 12 layers.  Instead of creating a "statistical" surface, this work really enables the careful listener to hear a vertical cross-section of harmony.

     Because the rate of transformations follows the LICHT super-formula (Wednesday formula), the changes do not always occur in sectional "moments", which makes it harder to analyze, however the changing colors are interesting enough that it's really not that necessary to know the specific trends.  Actually, there are so many processes going on at the same time it would probably be distracting to listen for every element.  The best way that I've found to enjoy this work is to just follow the journey that the changing vocal figures and rhythmic patterns convey. 

     The "insert interruption" where the President is embarrassed to find that his car is being towed away is kind of a funny moment, and allows for a beautiful coloratura Soprano solo.  However, after repeated listens, this part loses its impact, naturally, and I probably would have preferred an optional "clean version", such as was done with the "choir strike" in SAMSTAG AUS LICHT's LUZIFERs TANZ .  I have similar feelings for the "stutterer" at the end...  Nonetheless, it shows that Stockhausen never let the "4th wall" get in the way of a good joke.

Sound samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Stockhausen Courses Kuerten 1999: Composition Course book for WELT-PARLAMENT (in German)
MITTWOCH AUS LICHT 2012 Birmingham Production (Jerome Kohl photos)
WELT-PARLAMENT Proms 2013 Review 
YouTube clip

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