1. Polar Music Prize Ceremony 2001
2. Childhood & education
3. Birth of electronic music
4. Musique concrete
5. Live electronics
6. Masterpiece: Licht-Oper
7. Helikopter Streichquartett
2001 Laureate


Karlheinz Stockhausen is being awarded the Polar Music Prize for 2001 for a career as a composer that has been characterized by impeccable integrity and never-ceasing creativity, and for having stood at the forefront of musical development for fifty years.


The Polar Music Prize Ceremony 2001

2001 was a special year, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first Polar Music Prize ceremony.

The prize had three Laureates this year: Burt Bacharach, Robert Moog and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Stockhausen himself performed during the ceremony in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm, which is quite unusual for the Laureates in the prize's history. See the performance in chapter 5.

The three Laureates of 2001. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Robert Moog and Burt Bacharach, on stage in Berwaldhallen.

Stockhausen introducing his performance in the audience at the ceremony.

A stellar constellation of artists appeared on stage that evening to honour the Laureates: Manfred Mann, Anne Sofie von Otter and Elvis Costello, to name a few.

None other than Karl Bartos from Kraftwerk read the citation for Stockhausen: "Dear Mr Stockhausen, I would first of all with all my heart congratulate you to this award. I hope that in the future all your plans for music will become true: music as a carrier of ideas."

Manfred Mann performed "Davey's on the road again", and did a demo of Moog synthetizers.

Karlheinz Stockhausen received the Polar Music Prize from the hands of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Citation read by Karl Bartos from Kraftwerk.

Give up on Beethoven...You've got Stockhausen now.

Miles Davis

Childhood & education

Karlheinz Stockhausen was born outside Cologne in Germany in 1928, he grew up in Altenberg with his father and stepmother and studied music at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Before embarking upon his public career, Karlheinz Stockhausen had completed not only thorough studies in piano and composition in Paris with Martin and Messiaen, but also in languages and philosophy.

In Paris he met Pierre Schaeffer and Polar Music Prize Laureate Pierre Boulez, and spent some time in the studios at Radio France, a significant environment for the development of his interest in serialism, twelve-tone technique and the new wave of contemporary composing techniques that would lead him to be part of the Darmstadt group.

Olivier Messiaen, one of the pioneers in serial composing, here in 1937. (Source: Studio Harcourt, Wikimedia Commons)

Altenberger Dom, 1925 (Source: From "1000 Years of Rhenish Art" from 1925)

Stockhausen lecturing in Darmstadt. (Source: Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons)

The birth of electronic music

He enthusiastically joined the group of young composers who felt that it was time to break with the Goebbels era and rediscover pre-1930 avantgardism and primarily the work of Webern. The result was serialism, which was introduced at the famous Darmstadt summer courses and the Donaueschingen festivals.

From their inception Stockhausen was one of the leading personalities associated with these activities. At that time, Stockhausen became acquainted with Professor Werner Meyer-Eppler of the University of Bonn, one of the "leaders" of the Darmstadt group and a physicist who advocated using electronic equipment for generating music, in order to gain complete control of musical and acoustic parameters. These ideas led to the design of the first electronic musical studio at public broadcaster WDR in Cologne.

Hochschule für Musik, Cologne. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Anton Webern, 1912, a follower of Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known exponents of the twelve-tone technique. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Cologne Rundfunkstudio Orchestra, well known for early performances of the mid-20th century's avant-garde composers. (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons)

A new way of composing and a new attitude towards sound not only as a suite of notes but also as a composite in space was developed in the late '40s. Therefore, machines that produced and transformed sounds became as important as instruments for the serialist composition. In 1948, the different machines in a typical radio studio such as record players, disc recorders, a mixing desk with rotating potentiometers, a mechanical reverberation, filters, and microphones could pass sounds back and forth through loud speakers, eliminating or enhancing selected frequencies, creating new filters and so on.

Musique concrete

The electronic instrument could then create new original sounds out of the ones already existing. The application of the above technologies in the creation of musique concrète led to the development of a number of sound manipulation techniques including transposition, sampling, looping and more.

Stockhausen’s early development, with the advent of and even after serialism, can be assessed from his series Klavierstücke I – XI, composed between 1951 and 1957, and Gesang der Jünglinge, from 1957. The latter work first brought electronic music to the public eye and is still considered to be one of the masterpieces of its kind.

Phonogene invented by Pierre Schaeffer (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Example of musique concrète, Pierre Henry & Pierre Schaeffer

Pierre Schaeffer presenting the Acousmonium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

"I discovered the nature of sounds. The idea to analyse sounds gave me the idea to synthesize sounds. So then I was looking for synthesizers or the first electronic generators, and I superimposed vibrations in order to compose spectra. I do this now, still, after 43 years."

– Karlheinz Stockhausen in magazine The Wire on how he started his research at Radio France.

Serialism and musique concrete composers.

Rare interview clips with Stockhausen.

Karlheinz Stockhausen October 1994 in the Studio for Electronic Music of WDR Cologne, during the production of "Freitag aus Licht." (Source: Kathinka Pasveer)

Live electronics

At the start of the 1960s, Stockhausen turned his interest toward live electronics, with works ranging from Mikrophonie I, where a solitary tomtom provides the basic sound, to the magnificent Mixture, in which an entire symphony orchestra is connected to the electronic modification instruments. At the same time, he began exhibiting an interest in oriental philosophy and religion and became a pioneer of world music and the meditative form. This is best illustrated in Hymnen, a work of electronic music, based on songs and national anthems from around the globe.

Karlheinz Stockhausen during a live performance at the Shiraz Arts Festival, 1972 (Source: Stockhausen Stiftung für Musik)

Karlheinz Stockhausen during a live performance at the Shiraz Arts Festival, 1972. (Source: Stockhausen Stiftung für Musik)
Live performance at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony, 2001.

Masterpiece: Licht-Oper

In 1977 Stockhausen started working on the opera cycle Licht-Oper, the greatest musical endeavour since Wagner’s Ring. The piece is all in all seven-part, sci-fi operatic cycle called Licht, or Each sound and musical installment is named for a day of the week. At the time of Stockhausen’s death, in 2007, two of the operas had not yet been staged: Sonntag (Sunday), the last to be completed, and Mittwoch (Wednesday), written in the mid-nineties.

Sonntag finally had its premiere in 2011 in Cologne and the Birmingham Opera premiered Mittwoch (Wednesday) in August 2012. In this venture, the days of the week are portrayed individually in varying lengths and with their own special combination of instruments. The pieces were written and revised separately and all together the whole piece is 29 hours long.

Two bactrian camels in the foyer during intermission in the dress rehearsal for Stockhausen's opera "Mittwoch aus Licht", Birmingham Opera, 2012 (Source: Photo by Jerome Kohl)

Sonntag aus Licht

Helikopter Streichquartett

Helikopter Streichquartett is one of Stockhausen's most famous works and one of the most complex to perform. It involves a string quartet, four helicopters with pilots, as well as audio and video equipment and technicians.

The quartet members are connected via audio technique while playing live in the helicopters during the flight. It was first performed and recorded in 1995, as the third scene of the opera Mittwoch aus Licht (Wednesday from Light). It can also be performed as a self-sufficient piece.

Choreographer Angelin Prejlocaj, creator of the choreography "Helikopter" inspired by the "Helikopter Streich Quartet." (Source: Photo by Raphaël Labbé)

"Helikopter Streichquartett", Auditorium Parco della Musica Roma - 19 gennaio 2009

The Dutch Grasshoppers aerobatics team, flying the Alouette helicopters they used in the world premiere of the "Helicopter String Quartet". (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All photos from the ceremony and banquet © Polar Music Prize.

In memoriam Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928–2007.

Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony 2001.

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