Monday, February 13, 2017

Stockhausen - Ceylon/Bird of Passage


Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was one of the most important and influential composers of his time. He came out of the European classical tradition, but by the end of his life he had stretched that tradition to the breaking point. This 1975 album is a case in point.

Prompted by a 1968 crisis in his personal life, Stockhausen wrote a series of pieces with the collective title Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days). He called this "intuitive music"; each "composition" was a (usually) short text, giving the performers broad instructions on what/how to play, so that each piece was, in effect, an improvisation limited and guided by Stockhausen's text. Later he produced another series of similar pieces, called Für kommende Zeiten (For Times to Come), from which "Ceylon" and "Bird of Passage" are taken. These pieces were also mainly text-based intuitive music, but passages of conventional musical notation were sometimes included, as in "Ceylon."

I remember seeing an advertisement (perhaps in Down Beat magazine) heralding Stockhausen's affiliation with the Chrysalis label; the idea seemed to be that Stockhausen's music would appeal to fans of psychedelic rock. Apparently Chrysalis' hopes were misplaced, because this was the only album Stockhausen produced for the label. But the music is excellent - strange and wonderful in the way the best Stockhausen can be. Besides the maestro himself on percussion and wooden flute, the interpreters are mostly regular Stockhausen associates, such as Aloys Kontarsky, Peter Eötvös, Harald Bojé, and the composer's son Markus on trumpet. Markus Stockhausen was still a teenager when he participated in the recording of "Bird of Passage," but he was well on his way to becoming one of the best trumpet players on the planet, equally at home with jazz and classical music.

Incidentally, the labels are reversed on many or all copies of this record. The piece with the two trumpet is indeed "Bird of Passage."

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