4/2/10

Stockhausen is from planet Sirius, well, unless you know how to read...

Reuters reporter Michael Roddy recently interviewed the diacritically-gifted Péter Eötvös.

Composer Peter Eotvos makes modern opera "angelic"

It's actually quite a nicely written, intelligent article, and Eötvös has some interesting thoughts on contemporary opera. However, as the first law of music journalism states, no discussion of any new music can commence without a few flippant comments and/or disclaimers about how new music is so typically awful.

Cue the cliche opening sentence:

"Contemporary" and "opera" are scary words, but when Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos writes one that includes the sound of car horns and slide guitars, his aim is to engage his audience from the minute the curtain goes up.

Har har har...opera is boring!

figure point proven: It's funny because it's true.

Now I'm not a fancy big city lawyer [insert gasp], but even I know that all contemporary arts deserve our immediate contempt. Things that are new and unusual threaten my intelligence and are therefore stupid and wrong. Sorry opera.

But for the uninitiated Detritusites out there, what we have here is a standard music journalism construction. Always start with the assumption that new music is something that deserves our mockery, until [insert subject of the article] comes along as the exception to the rule.

This, however, is so incredibly common that it hardly deserves mentioning, but Michael Roddy goes one step further when he writes this unnecessary aside about Stockhausen seen here:

It was one of six of his operas that will be staged by major companies this year, which puts the shy, professorial Eotvos, a onetime protege of the completely out-there composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who believed he had come from the planet Sirius, in league with the likes of Philip Glass, John Adams or Kaija Saariaho for getting their operas staged and heard.

Okay, granted -- Stockhausen is generally known as an eccentric person.

I mean, just look at him:
figure Stockhausen: Sometimes goes by the alias Gordon Shumway.

But this is a sentence about the popularity of the contemporary operas of Eötvös, right?

I can see that while you're name dropping to lend credibility to your subject you might mention Stockhausen due to his widespread cultural familiarity. But what purpose does implying that Stockhausen thinks he's an alien serve?

And before you ridicule, may I suggest that you watch K-Pax.

figure compelling argument: When will doctors and scientists finally realize that those fancy degrees, years of practical experience, and reliance upon the scientific method and tested methods of effective treatment, don't mean they know anything about anything. Geez.

Now, I'm far from an expert on this subject, but I have heard this story before. John O'Mahony, of the British newspaper the Guardian, famously included this tidbit in an article on the composer. However, Stockhausen is on record having denied this, and as far as I am aware (and I'm scouring the googles as I write), there is no other corroboration of this story.

But why don't I let wikipedia handle this one (since I assume that this Reuter's reporter has heard of that site):

When Stockhausen's daughter, Julika (aged 5 or 6 at the time), asked for a dog, he obtained one for her and named it Sirius, after the star in the constellation Canis Major, which was in his mind because he had just finished composing Sternklang ("Star-sound", 1971). Shortly afterward, he chanced upon a passage in a book by Jakob Lorber describing Sirius as the sun at the center of our universe, and this fired his imagination:

Other snippets of vitally important information then came to me through a couple of revelatory dreams. Crazy dreams, from which it emerged that not only did I come from Sirius itself, but that, in fact, I completed my musical education there.

(Tannenbaum, Mya. 1987. Conversations with Stockhausen, translated from the Italian by David Butchart, 34–35)

Plus, and I don't know if this important, but he did compose a nearly 2-hour long musical drama titled...wait for it...Sirius.

Now, I hate to be the journalism nazi, but seriously, this is just so fucking lazy.

But Roddy doesn't stop there. At the end of the interview, he asks one last question:

Q: You worked with Stockhausen for 40 years. Did you ever think he was from Sirius?

Hehe...thanks for reminding me. Stockhausen is weird.

But seriously, what a great use of space in article about a composer who isn't Stockhausen.

What do you think, Mr. Eötvös?

A: "He told us this....but it is not important. It was not in reality that he was from Sirius, but in his mind and everything he created was in this sense. ...I know his music well because I created many pieces by him, I know every note. So this is not a good question -- because I am 'in' this music."

Even Eötvös seems slightly annoyed by the question.

"So this is not a good question" indeed!

3 comments:

jodru said...

Nice post, but the distinction over whether Stockhausen was born on Sirius or simply 'completed his musical education' there is pretty specious, don't you think?

Even in the 'denial', he's on the record saying that he spent time on Sirius.

Your larger point, however, needs to be echoed more often.

Gustav said...

This is a good point, jodru. I don't think it can be argued that Stockhausen doesn't say strange things, and maybe he really believes he studied music on Sirius. But when I first heard this story 8 or 9 years ago, I remember hearing it told more like the explanation Mr. Eötvös gives, and the more poetic description given in the Tannebaum text.

The distinction you make, it should be said, is absolutely true.

Sator Arepo said...

Wait...Stockhausen ate cats?