Stockhausen: Instrumental Works

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Stockhausen: Instrumental Works

  • In Freundschaft
  • Traum-Formel
  • Amour

For those who associate Stockhausen exclusively with the grandiose complexities of Momente or Donnerstag, and their multiple layers of live and electronic sound, this record is a useful corrective. For those who associate Stockhausen with dissonance, density, post-expressionist atonal athematicism, and identify him as the ultimate modernist in his rejection of traditional materials and modes of continuity, this disc is even more revealing. It offers three works, composed between 1974 and 1981, which are monodic, melodic, and by no means difficult to follow. These pieces may not always treat the clarinet or basset horn conventionally, but they explore the potential of the instruments with perception and good humour. There is no wilful distortion.
The musical style is encapsulated in the first movement of Amour, printed complete, along with much of the rest of this work, within the booklet's German notes, and referred to by example-numbers in the English text. While not metrically periodic in the way of classical melody this tune flowers naturally and perceptibly from the gradual elaboration of its initial elements. There's a directness here, and a strong sense of character despite the lack of obviously 'progressive' features. In its expressive vitality the music suggests analogies with such major modern masters as Bartok and Stravinsky, Janacek and Messiaen. But Stockhausen's style is his own, and even when the music is very repetitive (as in No. 3 of Amour) it's the essential, easily recognizable evolutionary scheme that proclaims what might be termed the post-modernist—and post-minimalist?—classicism of the music. New syntheses are proving possible, after all.
Suzanne Stephens, the inspirer of all Stockhausen's recent clarinet music, plays with abundant skill and character. If the (perhaps idealistic) dynamics and phrasing in the scores are not always realized, this could be due in part to the unsparing immediacy of the recording itself. There may be moments of strain, but these extraordinarily fluent and personable miniatures still make their full effect.'

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