"The Case of..." series here at the Music Salon is a very occasional one devoted to mulling over a particular composer from the point of view of history. I have, in the past, used it to offer comment on composers as different as Vivaldi and Leonard Cohen. Sometimes, as in the case of Hindemith, I note that the composer's stock or reputation seems to be falling. I just ran into an article on Karlheinz Stockhausen that depicts an odd situation where the composer's own concern for his creative rights has resulted in his music almost disappearing from public spaces. Norman Lebrecht has a rather more pithy take on it here. Read the article at the first link from the New York Review of Books, it is a thoughtful and well-researched essay on the composer.
While very doubtful of some of his efforts, such as the massive pieces for multiple orchestras and the "Helicopter" string quartet, others, such as the Klavierstücke and his chamber music, I find quite appealing. There are some sweeping claims made in the first article where Tim Page comments that
While correct (you can download the catalog for yourself to see), this is misleading. Just go to Amazon and you will find a host of recordings of Stockhausen's music by various artists at various prices. The recordings of the Klavierstücke do seem very pricey, though. The remarks above just apply to what you might think of as the "officially" approved recordings, supervised by Stockhausen and issued by DGG. Saying his music is "impossible to hear" nowadays is even more misleading. One of the reasons I sought out Stockhausen in Salzburg in 1988, when I was a student there, was because his music was so rarely played in North America. Apart from the occasional piece for piano, the only Stockhausen I have ever heard live was in Europe. But virtually nothing is "impossible to hear" when YouTube is available. Here are some samples. First of all that very piece, played by Mauricio Pollini, mentioned in the article:But for the past thirty years, most of Stockhausen’s music has been all but impossible to hear, and a generation or more has come of age without the slightest understanding of what he once meant to young composers and musicians, who cheered him on as passionately as an older generation rejected him. From the 1950s through the early 1980s, almost all of Stockhausen’s compositions were issued on LP by the Deutsche Grammophon label, which disseminated his work throughout the world. When the leading recording format changed to CD, around 1982, Stockhausen took back all of his rights and the majority of his significant works became available through him, at outrageously expensive prices (while the composer was still living, some of the discs cost more than $100; the prices have recently been lowered).
And here is Klavierstück IX with the repeated dissonant chord:
And here is Klavierstück V, also played by Pollini:
So if you want to hear his music, it is, like everything else, just a click away.
If you want the scores, though, that is a different matter. But still, they don't seem any more expensive than pieces by other composers (piano music by Peter Maxwell Davies seems priced higher than Stockhausen, for example).
Some composers from the modernist school seem to be fading as time goes on--I mentioned Hindemith as one (of all his numerous pieces, the only one that seems to stick in the repertoire is his Mathis der Maler). Other composers have become much more liked since their death, like Shostakovich. Stockhausen is still a big question mark, I think. But some of those Klavierstücke are quite interesting...