Karlheinz Stockhausen has died at the age of 79 at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. Regarded as one of the greatest musical visionaries of the 20th-century, he earned a great deal of respect and admiration from a cult following for his original and influential compositions, as well as for his authorship of new musical systems. But he’ll mostly be remembered as being one of the pivotal voices in the development of electronic music following World War Two. Though esteemed by many, he also earned a great amount of scorn from those who found his work to be “monotonous” or “unnecessary, useless and uninteresting”. He didn’t help his cause with his own awe-inspiring megalomania and eccentricities.
But ultimately he was a man who influenced practically everyone from the Beatles (he’s pictured on the Sgt. Pepper album cover,) to the Kraut rock sounds of Can (Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt studied with him), to the psychedelic sounds of early Pink Floyd, to the unconventional rock worlds of Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Coil and Björk to the world of jazz and beyond with the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton Herbie Hancock, Evan Parker, and to the newer breed of avant garde composers like Cornelius Cardew and Hugh Davies. Stockhausen is also generally regarded as one of the originators of techno, given his experimentation with electronics which included tape, oscillators and Ondes Martenot back in the fifties and his use of beats in the 1970’s.
More recently, he made news for his reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center. Not known outside the world of modern-music he became instantly infamous for calling the attack “the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos.” Needless to say, his comments drew outrage. He later apologized, saying that his allegorical remarks had been misunderstood and taken out of context. And just to get the story right, here is his statement.
“After returning from Hamburg I find false, defamatory reports in the press. I am as dismayed as everyone else about the attacks in America. At the press conference in Hamburg, I was asked if MICHAEL, EVE and LUCIFER were historical figures of the past and I answered that they exist now, for example Lucifer in New York. In my work, I have defined Lucifer as the cosmic spirit of rebellion, of anarchy. He uses his high degree of intelligence to destroy creation. He does not know love. After further questions about the events in America, I said that such a plan appeared to be Lucifer's greatest work of art. Of course I used the designation "work of art" to mean the work of destruction personified in Lucifer. In the context of my other comments this was unequivocal. I cannot find a fitting name for such a "satanic composition". In my case, it was not and is not my intention to hurt anyone. Since the beginning of the attack onward I have felt solidarity with all of the human beings mourning this atrocity. Not for one moment have I thought or felt the way my words are now being interpreted in the press. The journalist in Hamburg completely ripped my statements out of a context, which he had not recorded in its entirety, to use it as a vile attack against my person and the Hamburg Music Festival. This whole situation is regrettable and I am deeply sorry if my remarks were misconstrued to offend the grieving families of the brutal terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. I will continue to keep the victims of this outrage in my prayers.” Karlheinz Stockhausen September 19, 2001
Some reports say the cause of his death was due to sudden heart failure. Stockhausen died on December 5, his death was announced on Friday.