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Program 513: Stockhausen’s Momente

KALW Broadcast Date: May 4, 2018 | Host: Richard Friedman

There was a time when the name Karlheinz Stockhausen on a concert program would raise fear and loathing among audiences and performers alike. Stockhausen, along with Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, and others led the European avant garde in the 1950s and 60s.

By 1962, Stockhausen had already established himself as a major force in music, including the new field of electronic music. His works for large orchestras and smaller ensembles, percussion, electronic tape, and the ten Klavierstücke, are masterpieces of that era. Stockhausen’s compositional techniques were unique, utilizing formal metamusical schemas that dictated the score and the performance, and many of his works extended musical notation.

Tonight, we’ll hear one of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s truly gigantic works – Momente, in the version from 1965, recently remastered and rereleased on a Wergo CD. Stockhausen developed the formal scheme for Momente in 1961 on a commission from the West German Radio. There are three groups of Moments, that concentrate on Melody, Sound, and Duration, along with indeterminate moments that tend to cancel out these three groups, or at least that’s what is intended.

The structure of the work is complex, and the inspiration for many graduate theses and papers. Suffice it to say that each moment is interchangeable and organized beforehand for a particular performance by the conductor.

But you don’t need to know much about these compositional details to experience the work. When the 1965 performance was released on Wergo and Nonesuch in 1967, nothing like it had been heard before. And for Nonesuch records, known mostly for music by Baroque composers like Vivaldi and Handel, it was quite a sensational act.

When I first heard the recording back then I thought I had been dropped into some strange cult ritual that is probably still going on. Considering the times, this was a remarkable and ground-breaking work.

The 1965 version of Momente, which is for soprano, four choirs, and 13 instruments, featured the then 29 year old opera soprano Martina Arroyo, Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky playing Hammond and Lowrey organs, the Cologne Radio choir, and instrumentalists from the Cologne radio symphony orchestra, all under the direction of the composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen.


A detailed analysis of Momente can be found here, and continues here.

Luc Ferrari’s documentary about Stockhausen and Momente, including footage from rehearsals (mostly in French) can be viewed on YouTube. – Richard Friedman 

Program Audio

30-Second Spot

Track Info & Links

Title: Momente (version 1965) for soprano, 4 choirs, 13 instruments
Composer: Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)
Performers: Marina Arroyo, Soprano; Aloys Kontarsky, Hammond Organ; Alfons Kontarsky, Lowrey Organ; Cologne Radio Choir; Members of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra; Karlheinz Stockhausen, conductor.
Recording Title: Momente
Record Label: Wergo
Catalog Number: WER 67742

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