Karlheinz Stockhausen, composer, dies aged 79

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Kalheinz Stockhausen, 2005
Image: Edvvc.

The German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, a pioneer of electronic music among major contemporary musicians, died on December 5. The German foundation, named in his honor, announced today, Stockhausen passed away in his Kürten home in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

A prolific composer, he wrote more than 300 works during his career, establishing himself as a pioneer of electronic music, as well as a representative of serialism. Studie I, dated 1953, is considered one of the first electronic music works ever produced.

Born in Mödrath, Germany, in 1927, he was the son of a mother from a wealthy family and a father who was a teacher. He grew up in Altenberg, where he started taking piano lessons. He studied piano and music pedagogy at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. It was at University of Cologne, he later studied musicology, philosophy and Germanics.

He was influenced by musicians such as Oliver Messiaen, Edgard Varèse, and Anton Webern, but also by painters such as Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee. Stockhausen's works often departed from usual music styles.

During his life as a musician, Stockhausen explored most of the genres and styles. Starting in punctualism and concrete music early in his career, during the 1950s, he proceeded to research the electronic music area, which at the time was in an embryonic state. In the 1960s, he composed works of choral music, putting side-by-side the chorus and the use of electronic facilities. In the 1970s, he dedicated himself to serialism. Between 1977 and 2003, he committed himself to one of his most ambitious projects: a cycle of thematic works named Licht: Die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: the Seven Days of the Week).

Various artists have stated that they were influenced by Stokhausen, including artists as varied as Frank Zappa, Björk, Miles Davis, as well as Roger Waters and Rick Wright—two of the Pink Floyd members. The Beatles included a portrait of Stockhausen among the people pictured on the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Italian singer/songwriter Franco Battiato dedicated Sulle corde di Aries to the composer.

While being a controversial artist, Stockhausen became a focus of polemics after he stated that the September 11, 2001 attacks were "works of art". He later explained the meaning of his statements, and said that they had been, according to him, out-of-context and misquoted.