From Sufism to Stockhausen

In his biography of Karlheinz Stockhausem Michael Kurtz tells how through the music therapist Jill Purce the composer "discovered the writings of the Sufi musician and master Hazrat Inayat Khan, and in the following years he always gladly mentioned and quoted Khan, his favourite reading matter". Stockhausen's choral opera Atmen gibt das Leben (Breathing Gives Life) composed between 1974 and 1977 uses aphorisms from Hazrat Inayat Khan's The Bowl of Saki. Other Stockhausen works were influenced by Hazrat Inayat Khan, notably Inori (Adorations) [1973-4] and Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days) [1968] , with Inori setting a text from the Sufi master beginning:
HU is the most sacred of all sounds.
The sound HU is the beginning and end of all sounds, be they from man, bird, beast or thing.
The word HU is the hidden spirit in all sounds and words, just like the spirit in the the body.
Hu in Sufism is closely related to Om in Vedanta, both representing the primal sound manifesting the Divine presence. In his influential book The Mysticism of Sound and Music Hazrat Inayat Khan explains that "the mystery of Hu is revealed to the Sufi who journeys through the path of initiation. The more a Sufi listens to sawt-e-sarmad, the sound of the abstract, the more his consciousness becomes free from all the limitations of life". This concept of the sound of the abstract resonates with John Cage's non-notated 4' 33" and with the ambient music movement.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was born in Vadodara, India in 1882, was an adept of the Chisti Sufi Order, although he later advocated a non-sectarian interpretation of Sufism. The Chistis, who were the dominant Muslim spiritual group in medieval India, are a very musical Order. Under the patronage of the Sufi saint and sultan of Delhi Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (D. 1325 AD), the poet, musician and scholar Hazrat Amir Khusrau played a pivotal role in the evolution of Indian classical music. Khusrau is attributed with the development of the sitar and tabla, and his most celebrated contribution was the creation of qawaali. Every Thursday evening qawaali are still performed at the Nizamuddin dargah (shrine) in Delhi, a tradition I was privileged to observe during Ramadan in 2014.

The Chisti tariqa (order) was founded by the Persian mystic and philosopher Moinuddin Chishti who settled in Ajmer, India where he died in 1236 AD. Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the dargah of Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer is an important pilgrimage site. Repetition of Hu in Sufi dhikr sets adepts on the paths to ecstastic union with their Beloved, as does the enraptured singing of qawallis. The CD seen above of qawaali from Ajmer was one of the discoveries on my recent trip to India. Below is a video of ecstatic music from Ajmer Sahrif*.

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