Saturday, December 08, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen - part of a dream

Karlheinz Stockhausen died on December 5, 2007. In tribute I will be playing his orchestral work Gruppen on my Future Radio programme on December 16, preceeded by Palestrina's Missa Brevis. My article below explains the connection between the two works, and also looks at Stockhausen's position within the bigger picture of mid-twentieth century culture.


This photo of Peter Orlovsky was taken in 1955, and he is the subject of the background portrait which was painted by Robert LaVigne. Orlovsky became beat poet Allen Ginsberg's lover and companion, and Ginsberg is listed as one of the thirty-six most influential people of the hippie era. Here is the complete list:

Bella Abzug, Muhammad Ali, Joan Baez, Helen Gurley Brown, Rachel Carson, Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller, Jerry Garcia, Stephen Gaskin, Allen Ginsberg, Berry Gordy Jr., Bill Graham, Germaine Greer, Dick Gregory, Tom Hayden, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Kennedy, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Timothy Leary, John Lennon, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Thurgood Marshall, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, George Orwell, Les Paul, Gene Roddenberry, Jerry Rubin, Mario Savio, Ravi Shankar, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Augustus Owsley Stanley, Gloria Steinem.

This list comes from the quirky and wonderful Hippie Dictionary compiled by John Bassett McCleary. This is a compelling but fallible book, and I wonder how many readers will agree with all the thirty-six names in the list? Shouldn't contemporary classical music be represented by more than Ravi Shankar?

Look again at the header photo, there is a a Capitol Records LP of the Bach B Minor Mass (can anyone identify the actual recording?) visible bottom right. And in Barry Miles' biography of Ginsberg there is a description of Ginsberg tripping on LSD with Timothy Leary as Götterdämmerung blasted on the stereo.

The soundtrack of the hippie era crossed musical boundaries. In 1952 at the invitation of Lou Harrison a 'concerted action' was staged by John Cage and friends at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. This event is generally considered to be the forerunner of the multi-media happenings that defined the 60s. Later, in 1966, a Concert Happening at Aerospace Hall in Los Angeles included music by Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage. At the happening John Byrd performed a composition titled 'The Defense of the American Continent from the Vietcong Invasion'. This used chance techniques drawn from Cage's work, and concluded with a transition from improvisation to a chorale arrangement of 'America the Beautiful'.

There are links between Allen Ginsberg and John Cage. In the 1950s Cage (below) considered working with Ginsberg on a project based on the cycle of seasons, but it never came to fruition. Thirty years later, when the early IBM PCs became available, Cage used a computer programme to extract random pattern's (mesolists) from Ginsberg's epic poem Howl, which he then used to generate 'chance' music - these programmes are available for download.

Earlier, in 1970, Cage had lived in a flat in the West Village, New York, with Yoko Ono and John Lennon as neighbours. Lennon contributed a page of a Cage's collection of scores which was published as Notations, and which also included contributions by Igor Stravinsky, Milton Babbitt, Morton Feldman and Darius Milhaud.

The Beatles connection leads us to Karlheinz Stockhausen (below), who joined the soundtrack of the 60s when he was a visiting professor of composition at the University of California, Davis. Paul McCartney says he was influenced by Stockhausen's music, although you wouldn't guess it. And Stockhausen became part of the era's iconography when Peter Blake (who, himself, is a candidate for the list) included him on the sleeve of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at McCartney's request. Stockhausen is fifth from left in the top row in my footer image. You can find out who the other icons are here.

Philip Glass, of course, has lots of links with Allen Ginsberg, although most of these post-date the hippie era. I wrote last year about Glass' 2002 Symphony No 6, which sets Ginsberg's Plutonian Ode. Glass' Wichita Vortex Sutra for solo piano was the result of a chance meeting between Glass and Ginsberg, in St. Mark's Bookshop, in the East Village, New York. "We decided on the spot to do something together and chose the poem,'" Glass recalls. He explains "I composed the music to match the rhythm of Allen's reading", a technique which has echoes of John Cage's mesolist writing.

Wichita Vortex Sutra was first performed in 1988 at a benefit for a group of Vietnam veterans, with Ginsberg reading his poem and Glass playing piano. No excuses for not knowing it - you can hear it on Jeroen van Keen's ulta-low priced Minimal Piano Collection which I reviewed here recently, and it is incorporated into Glass' 1990 chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox.

The links between Philip Glass (below) and Allen Ginsberg continue ten years after the poet's death. At the October 2007 London performance of Glass' Book of Longing Patti Smith joined the composer on stage to invoke Ginsberg's spirit. In a wonderfully circular path Book of Longing is a setting of Leonard Cohen's poems, and Cohen is surely a candidate for the list of thirty-six hippie movers and shakers?

Leonard Bernstein is also missing. I am sure that Lennie would have felt his Black Panther connections meant he was a shoo-in for the list. But despite West Side Story and Mass I'm not sponsoring him, with, or without clothes. But one priceless Bernstein story is worth repeating. The infamous radical grouping the Weatherman hijacked the West Side Story lyrics for revolutionary purposes. 'The most beautiful sound I ever heard' was not 'Maria' in their extreme left utopia. Instead Stephen Sondheim's lyrics were morphed to 'I've just met a Marxist Leninist named Kim Il Sung, say it soft and there's rice fields flowing, say it loud and there's people's war growing'.

Difficult to follow that one. But it is not just in music that John Bassett McCleary's list can be challenged. The visual arts are not well represented. Where is Andy Warhol for instance? And if Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry is on the list, why not Stanley Kubrick? He, of course, famously used György Ligeti's music in the ultimate 60s trip, the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange became a leitmotif for the death of the hippie dream, and featured music by Wendy Carlos (credited as Walter Carlos) who might just make the list herself. And, of course, Wendy (left) plays the Moog synthesizer, which provided the cantus firmus of the Hippie era, which means Bob Moog just has to be among the thirty-six as well. And Bob Moog's path crossed with John Cage in 1965 when Moog created a movement triggered sound system for Merce Cunningham's performance of Cage's Variation V.

A Clockwork Orange was based on Anthony Burgess' novel (Burgess was also a prolific composer), and writers are not well represented either. George Orwell is a perverse inclusion as he died in 1950. Instead I would argue for some who were not enrolled in what the artist Robert Crumb called the 'army of the stoned'. How about Marshall McLuhan, Hermann Hesse, J.D. Salinger, but above all the monk, writer and thinker Thomas Merton?

Merton's 1948 book The Seven Storey Mountain was an unexpected best-seller through the 1950s and 1960s, and the story of his search for faith resonated with many of the hippie generation. Despite being a member of the strict Trappist Order Merton worked for peace with leading activists, politicians and theologians until his tragic death in 1968, the turbulent year that also took Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy from us.

The last page of Stockhausen's score for his 1957 masterpiece Gruppen carries the words Deo gratias (Thanks be to God). This response occurs three times in the Latin Mass and frequently in the Breviary and in Catholic prayers. Like Stockhausen, Thomas Merton (below) was profoundly influenced by Catholicism. But also like John Cage (and Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg and many others) Merton's late inspiration was Buddhism. In fact the paths of Merton and Cage crossed, they were both disciples of the great Zen teacher Daisetz T. Suzuki.

Merton, unlike Ginsberg, understood that the use of any kind of drugs was utterly contrary to the spirit of Zen. But, despite this divergence, Thomas Merton's writings were uniquely inclusive, as this extract from his posthumously published Asian Journals shows:

In speaking for monks I am really speaking for a very strange kind of person, a marginal person, because the monk in the modern world is no longer an established person with an established place in society, We realise very keenly in America today that the monk is essentially outside of all establishments. He does not belong to an establishment. He is a marginal person who withdraws deliberately to the margin of society with a view to deepening fundamental human experience. Consequently, as one of these strange people, I speak to you as a representative of all marginal persons who who have done this kind of thing deliberately. Thus I find myself representing perhaps hippies among you, poets, people of this kind who are seeking in all sorts of ways and have absolutely no established status whatever.

That link between Thomas Merton and Allen Ginsberg brings this meandering overgrown path full circle. So many strange, marginal, and anti-establishment people to celebrate, and this really could go on for ever. The Hippie Dictionary is a wonderfully entertaining and stimulating book, and debating who were the most influential people of the hippie era could just be the new Trivial Pursuits. But don't take it all too seriously - understand that this is a dream.


Now, continue the trip on the majic bus.
Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen on my Future Radio programme on Sunday December 16 at 5.00pm UK time (convert to local time zones here) I will also be playing Lou Harrison's 1985 Piano Concerto. Listen by launching the Radeo internet player from the right side-bar, or via the audio stream. Convert time to your local time zone using this link. Windows Media Player doesn't like the audio stream very much and takes ages to buffer. WinAmp or iTunes handle it best. Unfortunately the royalty license doesn't permit on-demand replay, so you have to listen in real time. If you are in the Norwich, UK area tune to 96.9FM.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

8 comments:

Scott said...

...how many readers will agree with all the thirty-six names in the list? Shouldn't contemporary music be represented by more than Ravi Shankar?

Hmmm ... I'd be interested to understand what sort of definition of "contemporary music" you had in mind that would include Ravi Shankar but none of
Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Berry Gordy Jr., Bill Graham, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Les Paul.

Without ignoring things like his work with Menuhin, much of Shankar's renown during that period came from his involvement with the musical culture represented by many of the names which are on the list (John Lennon being the most obvious example).

Pliable said...

Fair point Scott. A poor choice of words by me.

By 'contemporary music' I, of course, meant 'contemporary classical music', and I've changed the wording to that now.

It's difficult to find the right words that convey 'non-rock/folk/pop'. Some commentators use the words 'serious music' but that seems even worse.

Any suggestions for an alternative to the handle 'contemporary classical music' are very welcome.

Or is the categorisation meaningless when groups such as Soft Machine moved between categories?

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2007/10/echoes-of-soft-machine.html

Kyle said...

As to the Bach B Minor Mass LP: I noticed the Westminster logo, and with found the answer with a surprisingly quick search.

It's performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Wiener Akadamie Kammerchor. The conductor: Hermann Scherchen. It was released in 1950. It seems to be out of print.

Apparently, Scherchen re-recorded the Mass for the same label with the same choir, but with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and different soloists 9 years later. That recording is still on sale.

All this was found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Scherchen.htm

Pliable said...

Thanks for that information Kyle.

My readers never cease to amaze me.

Scott said...

By 'contemporary music' I, of course, meant 'contemporary classical music', and I've changed the wording to that now.


It's difficult to find the right words that convey 'non-rock/folk/pop'. Some commentators use the words 'serious music' but that seems even worse.

Any suggestions for an alternative to the handle 'contemporary classical music' are very welcome.

Or is the categorisation meaningless when groups such as Soft Machine moved between categories?


Ah ... the penny drops. It was of course obvious that the list was missing classical/serious/art musicians. However, my reaction stemmed from the reality that you take a commendably broad view of what sorts of music are worth writing about, and it just didn't occur to me that "contemporary music" was intended to be other than a broad term.

I suppose the label that may be the best of the existing bad lot is "serious music." That at least has the benefit of capturing some composers and performers who are certainly serious but who would be excluded by a label of "classical". "Art music" has the right sort of flavour to my ear, but is probably subject to even more misunderstandings.

But "serious" sounds just so ... well, serious.

However, I could argue that the reality that there is no simple and understandable "pigeonholes" is a Good Thing ...

Pliable said...

Re-reading this post I realise that I should have made it clearer that Karlheinz Stockhausen, like Thomas Merton, strongly disapproved of drug abuse.

Pliable said...

Email received from a cold, but beautiful, part of the world:

Overgrown path. december 08, 2007:"Look again at the header photo, there is a a Capitol Records LP of the Bach BMinor Mass (can anyone identify the actual recording?)"

Yes, I found it from this page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Scherchen.htm . At least these have same cover pictures.

Greetings from northern Finland

Markku Ollila

Pliable said...

This is getting a bit fanatical, but ...

Kyle refers above to the Westminster logo visible on the B minor Mass sleeve in my photo, and correctly identifies it as the Wiener Akadamie Kammerchor recording on that label.

While Markku above gives us a link to the an image of the cover, and it is definitely the right sleeve -http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Scherchen.htm

But in that sleeve image there is no Westminster logo.

Here is a graphic of the logo - http://www.maurice-abravanel.com/Logo_Westminster_l.jpg