Stockhausen's LICHT Cycle: The Seven Days of the Week
     LICHT (Light) is Karlheinz Stockhausen's epic 29-hour work for vocal, instrumental and electronic forces, composed over a period of 26 years (starting from 1977). It is divided into 7 operatic presentations, with each one named after a day of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc). Though labelled "operas", practically speaking these staged productions have almost nothing in common with most traditional operas written in the last 200 years, and could even be viewed more accurately as thematically-linked, evening-length productions featuring electro-acoustic concert works driven by semi-narrative vocal elements.

     Plot-wise, individual Acts of an opera may not necessarily form a conventional story arc, and may only be narratively-connected through an inferred theme (heroism, motherhood, collaboration, love, war, etc). Although any staging of a LICHT opera will feature some extremely dramatic (and symbolic) stage design and costuming, the music and stage presentation of a LICHT opera is much more abstracted and atomized than what one would find in a Verdi or Wagner opera. One of the advantages of this kind of "anthology" approach is that each Act or Scene can also be arranged as an independent work, and even sequenced with non-LICHT pieces (this scenario occurs in several of the Stockhausen Edition CDs). Additionally, the libretto text is very often is made up of non-traditional grammar as well, and while the first opera (DONNERSTAG) is sung entirely in German, later opera "days" employ multiple world languages (even some which Stockhausen invented himself). However, despite the "modernist" elements, the cycle of works as a whole does describe the evolving relationship between 3 main characters: MICHAEL, EVE and LUCIFER. Over the 29 hours of LICHT these characters are introduced, come into conflict, face temptation and finally come into union.

     One way to enter the world of LICHT is to view the 7 operas as one epic drama involving the characters Michael, Eve and Lucifer. Michael is essentially the protagonist, and his journey starts with his childhood years in the the first opera, DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT. The second opera, SAMSTAG AUS LICHT, introduces Lucifer, who essentially represents a "conservative" point of view - stubborn and resistant to growth. Eve, the lover/mother figure, is portrayed "conceiving and giving birth" to Mankind in the third opera, MONTAG AUS LICHT.

     After these first three operas have each introduced the main characters, conflict arises in DIENSTAG AUS LICHT. This 4th opera depicts a "cosmic war" between Michael and Lucifer. LICHT's 5th installment, FREITAG AUS LICHT, replaces physical conflict with mental temptation, as Lucifer tries to seduce Eve away from Michael, using the "soft power" of a children's brigade. MITTWOCH AUS LICHT is the 6th opera, and here the characters settle their differences through dialogues on Earth and in deep space. The final opera is SONNTAG AUS LICHT, and in this final episode Michael and Eve complete their union in a symbolic marriage ceremony (Lucifer has left the stage by this point). Since LICHT is always characterized as a "cycle", it's probably not a huge stretch to imagine that Michael and Eve have a child which is next seen in DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT...

     It may also be interesting to note that over the course of the 7 operas of LICHT, the entities of Michael, Eve and Lucifer are realized in thematic solos, duos and a trio.


Seven Operas, One Super-Formula
     The 7 LICHT operas are built up from one overriding melodic/thematic backbone - the LICHT "super-formula". This 3-layered/3-voice "musical DNA sequence" coalesced in 1977, but the development of the instrumental forces (arrangements) of LICHT were largely left open, especially after the first opera was completed. Many times a scene or an act was designed as the result of a commission, or as a gift to one of his musical collaborators (or family members). What results is that each of the 7 operas has specific themes, but the realization of those themes can be very different from Act to Act. For example, MITTWOCH (Wednesday) includes helicopters in one scene, and a camel from space in another - and from a narrative standpoint they have no connection whatsoever. However some of the operas do have some more connective stage elements, especially if the theme is a very visual one. For example, MONTAG (Monday) revolves around a giant statue of a naked woman giving birth, and this statue remains on stage for the entirety of that day's opera. In FREITAG (Friday), bizarre otherworldly "mechani-couples" engage in sensual interplay during several electro-acoustic interludes ("Sound Scenes") throughout the entire opera.

     The musical element that truly ties the 7 operas together is the 1-minute long super-formula, which informs just about every note in the entire 29 hours. Just as all 7 operas feature the same 3 main characters, all 7 also feature the 3 layers of the LICHT super-formula on a musical level. However, the full super-formula is rarely played in a "straight", classically expository way, but is threaded throughout the work in various guises, sometimes in highly augmented or elaborated form (a separate article examines the genesis and application of the LICHT super-formula in detail). Between the extreme tempo manipulations applied to the super-formula and its inherent, highly "exotic" articulations (including "noise" elements), the super-formula never wears out its welcome, and most listeners may not even notice its frequent visitations on their initial forays into the LICHT cosmos.

LICHT: Modular Vehicles For Exploration
     As mentioned above, often times a scene from LICHT may have been composed to satisfy a commission (with prescribed instrumentation or choir groups). For over a quarter century, this circumstance allowed Stockhausen to continue exploring new and different avenues of composition during the assembly of each chapter of the LICHT narrative. Additionally, due to the modular nature of the Acts, Stockhausen had the opportunity to revisit and remount these scenes as independent concert works, sometimes modifying the original voicings to accommodate smaller chamber-size forces (for example, giving a vocal line to the piano right hand part). Other times, a melodic theme from one of the scenes may be rearranged with entirely new instrumentation and even elaborated upon with additional variations of the thematic material (for example the "LUCIFER dances" from SAMSTAG AUS LICHT).

     Although many LICHT scenes were prompted by commissions, the operas themselves are totally uncompromising in approach. Less texturally "harsh" than the late '60s/early '70s "process/plus-minus" pieces (KURZWELLEN, PROZESSION, SPIRAL, POLE, etc), Stockhausen nonetheless still challenges his listeners from a melodic/harmonic viewpoint. However, if one puts the time into them, the attentive and thoughtful listener will always be rewarded with new treasures upon repeated listenings. For live productions of course, the audience is also rewarded with Stockhausen's enigmatic, absurd, and often humorous visual imagination, including everything from a trapeze orchestra (ORCHESTRA FINALISTS) to Satanic stilt-men (LUCIFER'S DANCE) to inter-audience musical troop movements (INVASION – EXPLOSION). However for listeners at home, the site articles here (coupled with the ample photos in the CD booklets) will hopefully help point out some of the most important musical scenery along the way.

LICHT Structure
     The table below depicts the overall structure of the 7-opera LICHT cycle. Each opera is made up of two to four Acts/Scenes, and is book-ended by an opening "Greeting" and a closing "Farewell". These introductory and closing sequences sometimes act as "ambient background music" while the audience is arriving at or departing from the opera hall (for example, in MONTAG AUS LICHT). Other times these sections may be as substantial as any of the opera's main Acts (such as the case with LUCIFERs ABSCHIED).

The LICHT Cycle
Thursday From Light
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Michael's Youth
Michael's Journey Around The World
Saturday From Light
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Kathinka's Chant
(as Lucifer's Requiem)
Lucifer's Dance
Monday From Light
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
1st Birth-Giving
Eve's 2nd Birth-Giving
Eve's Magic
Tuesday From Light
Act 1
Act 2
Tuesday Greeting
Course of the Years
Invasion - Explosion -
Friday From Light
10 Real Scenes
12 Sound Scenes
Friday Temptation
Couples of Friday
Wednesday From Light
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Wednesday Greeting
String Quartet
Wednesday Farewell
Sunday From Light
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4
Scene 5
Light-Waters (Sunday Greeting)
High Times (Marriages)

LICHT Forces
The links below lead to brief synopses and breakdowns of the instrumental forces utilized in each work. 

Albrecht Moritz's Stockhausen Reviews
Bernard Pulham - LICHT Essays
Sonoloco Record Reviews
Wiki Entry on LICHT
Ian Parson's blog article and PBS LICHT broadcast
Malcolm Ball's interview with Stockhausen on LICHT (1997)
The Evolution of Macro- and Micro-Time Relations in Stockhausen's Recent Music (Jerome Kohl)
Into the Middleground: Formula Syntax in Stockhausen's Licht (Jerome Kohl)
Time and Light (Jerome Kohl) 


No. 82: KLANG Hour 2: FREUDE (Joy)
for 2 Harps with voice
2005 [41']
     After writing HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension), the first hour of KLANG (a cycle of chamber pieces devoted to the 24 hours of the day), Stockhausen received another request from the Milan Cathedral to write something for the following year's Pentecost in 2006.  He envisioned a piece for 2 harpists, inspired by the performing duo of Marianne Smit (niece of Stockhausen's flautist Kathinka Pasveer) and Esther Kooi.  He also decided that text from a 24-line sequence hymn of the Pentecost ("Veni Creator Spiritus") would be sung during the performance.

Form Structure
Text of "Veni Creator Spiritus"
FREUDE is made up of 24 continuous 1-3 minute long sections ("moments") each devoted to a line of the "Veni Creator Spiritus" text.  
Stockhausen's sketch for FREUDE's structural Form Scheme (from score).
Here are some impressions of each of the 24 FREUDE "Moments":
CD Trk/
Text Time
1 Veni, Creator Spiritus 1:48 (+9) alternating chords, tremolo plucking, chorale-like text
2 Mentes Tuorum Visita 2:09 "point" music interspersed with glissandi figures
3 Impie Superna Gratia 2:24 ostinato patterns, glissandi up and down, phrases shared between harps, high irregular chanting echoing away
4 Quae Tu Creasti Pectora 1:46 long held chords, alternating text syllables
5 Qui Diceris Paraclitus 1:29 baroque(?) feeling, ending with strings "hammered" with open hands
6 Altissimi Donum Dei 1:25 slow held notes with a few glissandi
7 Fons Vivus, Ignis, Caritas 1:14 chordal phrases with ostinati
8 El Spiritalis Unctio 0:53 wild glissandi with plectrum
9 Tu, Septiformis Munere 2:10 chord tremolo, fast glissandi with fingers and nails - "Joy!"
10 Digitus Paternae Dexterae 1:14 slow low chords with a few high gliss. figures
11 Tu Rite Promissum Patris 1:01 descending scale, then ascending with harmonics
12 Sermomne Ditans Guttura 2:33 alternating low pedal note, then rhythmic chord strokes, slowing, then accelerating, glissandi end
13 Accende Lumen Sensibus 1:18 chord tremolo, double glissandi (2 notes) alternating with rests and chord phrases, tremolo ending
14 Infunde Amorem Cordibus 1:27 chorale-like text, followed by tranquil Harp 1 solo
15 Infirma Nostri Corporis 1:16 rhythmic low pedal figure with mixed figures
16 Virtute Firmans Perperti 1:28 occasional glissandi and ostinati accompanied by recurring 2-note descending motif
17 Hostem Repelias Longius 3:16 long scalar passages of varying tempi in duple and triplet rhythms
18 Pacemque Dones Protinus 1:31 long up/down glissandi, with slow tremolo punctuated by sforzati accents
19 Ductore Sic Te Praevio 1:55 low melodic phrases slowly ascending, ostinato patterns
20 Vitemus Omne Noxium 1:13 alternating low ostinato patterns with accented chords and string rubbing
21 Per Te Sciamus da Patrem 1:24 high tremolo trilling, trilling in different registers
22 Noscamus Atque Filium 1:34 chordal trilling, low ascending figures, ascending syncopated chords ("beat humorously")
23 Te Utriusque Spiritum 1:14 fast rhythmic ascending chords, string hammering, chord tremolo
24 Credamus Omni Tempore 1:58
synchronous melodic phrases punctuated by accent chords, ending with alternating low chords (reminiscent of 1st moment)

Excerpt from Moment 9 (glissandi figures).

Excerpt from Moment 23 (fast ascending chords).
(score ©
Stockhausen's Program Notes on FREUDE

     The first part of my new cycle KLANG (SOUND), The 24 Hours of the Day, was a commission of ArtAche Milano, an institution of the Duomo di Milano with its artistic director Don Luigi Garbini. I named it KLANG – Erste Stunde: HIMMELFAHRT (SOUND – First Hour: ASCENSION) because it had its world premiere on May 5th 2005 for Ascension Day. The score is written for organ, soprano and tenor.  

     After this première, Don Luigi asked for the première of KLANG – Second Hour in relation to the festival of Pentecost. I accepted it happily and immediately had the inner audition and vision of a work for two harps. During the composition I was imagining the two Dutch harpist-girls Marianne and Esther, both 21 years old, who live and perform together as real idealists. One of them is the niece of the flutist Kathinka Pasveer for whom I wrote so many works.  

     As a first title I chose Pentecost and decided to let the two harpists also sing – in alternation or sometimes together –the essential text of Pentecost Veni Creator Spiritus, while plucking, picking, caressing, stroking, pinching, rubbing, striping, striking, pinking, jubilating. In accordance with the 24 lines of this hymn I have composed 24 musical moments like the 24 hours of the Day, so that the Second Hour of KLANG is a full day within one hour of the Day. 

     During the composition I changed the title to FREUDE (JOY). My basic feeling was Freude (joy). I imagined always the première at the Duomo di Milano, the enthusiasm of the two girls, their playing, singing. The score certainly preserves this fantastic joy in my mind and soul during the many months of composing this work. There is something unique about the adventure to combine two harps which are normally tuned in diatonic scales and to synthesise them into one large chromatic harp.  

     Now I have understood why I have sent a design of a Greek harping angel to Don Luigi to remind him of the divine role of this instrument. Pentecost unites what has been separated. My work FREUDE too.

      - K. Stockhausen, February 15th 2006
Live Performance
(from Stockhausen Edition 84 CD Booklet)

Live performance extracts (12:42) with harpists Bleuenn Le Friec and Frédérique Cambreling:

Sound Impressions
     FREUDE is a truly beautiful piece for harp and female voices, and might surprise people who think of contemporary classical music as being intimidating and inaccessible.  It's pretty amazing that Stockhausen could create such a "pretty" work so late in his career, and then follow that up with the ear-bending COSMIC PULSES just a couple years later.  It's a bit lengthy at 41 minutes, but once one perceives that it's really 24 individual sections structured in a dramatic arch, it almost becomes a kind of liturgy in itself.  The 24 sections are also a kind of "microcosm" (symbolically, but not musically) of the entire KLANG concept of 24 hours of the day.

FREUDE (CD 84) samples, tracks listings and CD ordering 
Purchase the Score
Stockhausen in Lugo: HIMMELS-TÜR and FREUDE DVD
FREUDE clip with premiere performers Marianne Smit and Esther Kooi
Wiki Entry
Albrecht Moritz Analysis
Marianne Smit Website
Review of FREUDE on Dusted Magazine


No. 1: KONTRA-PUNKTE (Counter-Points)
for 10 instruments (fl. / cl. / bass cl. / bsn. / tp. / trb. / piano / harp / vl. / vc.)   
1953 [14'13"]

     KONTRA-PUNKTE was written during Stockhausen's first "phase" of compositional style, where he was interested in exploring post-12-tone serial techniques in order to break from classical concepts of musical form, such as themes, motives, development, variation, modulation, etc...  During this period some composers were moving away from the Romantic form of establishing a theme and then developing it through variation, modulation and atomization (already brought to its ultimate state by Beethoven, really).  Instead, the idea was to have no melodic theme, but use the compositional technique itself as the theme, or main focal point (continual transformation in this case).

"Not the same figures in changing light, but different figures in the same light" (Stockhausen 1962).

     In fact Stockhausen was even breaking from 20th Century serial music concepts by abandoning techniques like using inversion ("mirroring") and retrograde ("reverse") tone rows.  By concentrating on continual transformation (which would have no beginning and no ending, just movement towards either chaos or entropy), chaotic "point music" of 10 different instruments (as 6 timbre groups) slowly (but irregularly) becomes a single, relatively homogenous, piano gesture.  The transformation is also driven by a process of substituting single notes of different durations with groups of notes (in chord clusters or short and fast ornamental passages).  This is why Stockhausen calls the piece "counter-points" - the points of notes are consumed by groups of notes (and timbre).

Musical attributes which Stockhausen uses to effect this continual transformation are:
  • Timbre (instruments) - Instruments drop out 1 by one (tpt, tbn, bsn, vl, bass cl, harp, cl, vc, fl)
  • Duration - wide variation in note lengths become 16th notes (with small variations)
  • Dynamic (loudness) - Large dynamic variations (sfz - ppp) gradually become soft (pp)
The 10 individual instruments are paired as 6 duo sound groups (somewhat in dialogue with each other):
  • flute & bassoon
  • clarinet & bass clarinet
  • trumpet & trombone
  • piano (left & right hand)
  • harp (left & right hand)
  • violin & cello
     They are transformed irregularly but steadily into a "soloistic style articulated by 'groups', gradually focusing on the piano part" (Stockhausen 1964).  What begins as "punkte" notes disconnected in space, time and color, gradually coalesce into groups, that is chords and brief phrases made of short fast notes ("ausmultiplikation").  The "strength" of these groups can be measured by the number of similar parameter types (from just one, such as dynamic, to all four parameters of timbre, pitch, duration and dynamic).
     The general sequence in KONTRA-PUNKTE ends up as groups of notes alternating with points of notes, while instruments drop out one by one until only a piano solo remains.

Narrative of events (based partly on Stockhausen DVD lecture):
(CD times based on Stockhausen Edition CD 4)
CD Time Bar   Event
0:05 1-7 "Points".
0:18 8-14 2 and 3 note groups become collected by colors starting w  (fl, cl, tb).
0:42 23 More groups played by individual instruments (fl, cl).
1:15 37-53 Groups begin overlapping each other.
1:46 64-74 Tutti chord cluster and Piano explosion.
2:24 88 Swarms of notes are dispersed among the instrumental groups (fast color changes).
2:28 90 Trumpet drops out.
2:31 91-96 Long groups with connected notes (winds).
3:03 115-130 Stepwise dynamic changes in group notes.
Groups of staccato notes separated by pauses, also stepwise dynamic changes.
4:54 183-188 Long groups (winds) accented by other instruments.
5:34 207-216 Trombone cadenza.
5:52 217 Trombone drops out.
6:32 245 Bassoon drops out.
7:35 282-319 Violin & Cello duet.
8:50 324-400 Piano groups accented by other instruments.
9:08 (333) Violin drops out.
10:42 (394) Bass Clarinet drops out.
10:58 404-423 Harp cadenza.
11:55 438 Harp drops out.
12:21 454 Clarinet drops out.
12:50 477 Cello drops out.
13:38 509 Flute drops out.
14:08 530 End.
The bar numbers are based on the original published 1953 score and may not reflect any revised versions since then.
These time divisions are reflected in the waveform at the top of this post.

Bar 64 - Piano Explosion
Bar 88 - Swarms of Notes
Ending measures - The flute drops out leaving only the piano.
(Score pages © Universal Edition)

Live Performance
On Stockhausen Edition CD 4 (featuring members of the London Sinfonietta, 1973) the instrumental positioning is described below.
Strings and Brass on the left, Winds (low to high) on the right, piano center, harp left.
Ensemble Linea performed KONTRA-PUNKTE using a different arrangement:

Sound Impressions
     KONTRA-PUNKTE was one of the first things I ever heard by Stockhausen and I loved it immediately.  It's still one of his "spikiest" works and one his most vibrant.  It can be difficult to follow at first, since there are 10 instrumental lines all playing (seemingly) completely independently and non-metrically, but one way in to the piece may be to just follow the piano part and consider the remainder of the instruments as supporting winds and strings.  After awhile the 7 textures as duo groups becomes clearer.
     One thing that's interesting is that while KONTRA-PUNKTE reduces its instrumental timbres, it seemingly increases in intensity .  That's the exact opposite of what usually happens in most classical works (such as Ravel's Bolero for example, where increasing the instrumental forces makes it more feverish).  It's not until near the end of the piece that one notices so many musicians have left the stage, which makes for an interesting aural illusion.
     I try to avoid too much programmatic analysis, but it almost feels like the piano player is portrayed as a boisterous element amongst a communal group, and each of the other instruments "gives up" one by one and leaves.  The departure of the violin is particularly "personal".

KONTRA-PUNKTE (CD 4) samples, tracks listings and CD ordering 
Buy the Score
Stockhausen Lecture (1972) on KONTRA-PUNKTE Pt 1
Stockhausen's Lecture on KONTRA-PUNKTE DVD (PDF)
Wiki Entry
Sonoloco Review
Video clips from Kontra-Punkte rehearsals and performance, (Stockhausen conducts Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt, August 1992)