Last week bore quite a bit of bad news, as December 5 was the day that H. Wiley Hitchcock, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Andrew Imbrie all gave up their mortal forms. Clearly god doesn’t use personality as a test for who will die on any given day, because it is hard to imagine three more different “types.” Stockhausen—famously domineering, grandiose, and mystical; Hitchcock—good-natured, ebullient, down to earth; Imbrie—modest, reserved, soft-spoken, and gentle. Perhaps god was just choosing people with real independence that day, people who never saw a trend they needed to follow. In any case, sadly their bodies are with us no longer. Happily they each left us with their minds, signified by their corpuses of works, each of which was extensive.
According to his website, the night before Stockhausen died, he finished composing the commission for orchestra which will be premiered in Bologna next September (ZODIAC for orchestra). That’s what I call meeting a deadline. It speaks to a person whose creativity couldn’t be tamped down or slowed, even in dying.
As I was writing last week’s column about the idea of sadness in music, I actually reflected on Imbrie’s Requiem, a piece for chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra written on the occasion of the sudden death of his son, composed in 1984. He played us a recording at a small gathering in Los Angeles, shortly after the piece was premiered. It was a large work both in scale and form, but somehow so intimate and personal, even the famously stern and seemingly hard-hearted Ernest Fleishmann, then of the LA Philharmonic, seemed moved. I realize now that just as I was thinking about Requiem, Andrew Imbrie was departing the world. I regret I didn’t write about the piece at the time, but anyway, I’d like to say thank you again to Andrew Imbrie for Requiem.
Stockhausen’s seminal electronic works were what spoke to me most directly, from the purity and rationality of Studie II, the proto-sampling in Telemusik and Hymnen, to the live electro-acoustics of Microphonie II. I never exchanged more than a few words and some hand claps with him though, back in the 1970s when I was a student and attended the Summer Courses at Darmstadt in 1974. In the middle of a seminar where he did a thorough analysis of Microphine II, complete with live performers, Stockhausen for some reason pointed to me, sitting in the front row of the audience, and commanded me to clap out an example of aperiodic rhythm. I understood—or thought—it should be without any repetition whatsoever. Thrilled to be called on, I clapped as un-repetitively as I could improvise, but he soon cut me off and barked “Too random!” and moved on. I felt a bit rejected but later smiled to myself, thinking that perhaps I could at least polish up my resumé with the words “has performed with Karlheinz Stockhausen.”
There are some moving comments from former Stockhausen students and others on his memorial page. Yet, for me, the best in this week of tributes was the warm and personal one Kyle Gann, who knew H. Wiley Hitchcock much better than I, wrote for his friend and mentor. I commend it to you now.