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Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007)
Historic First recordings of the Klavierstücke
I – VIII & XI (4 versions)
David Tudor (piano)
rec. 19 September 1958 (XI), 27 September 1959 (I-VIII), WDR Köln in Funkhaus Saal 2, Germany
HAT[NOW]ART 172 [69.36]

This is an important reissue because it restores to the catalogue the first recordings of Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke - made in the late 1950s - by one of the pianists, David Tudor, to whom the composer dedicated some of the earliest of these core works. Originally conceived as a large cycle of twenty-one piano pieces, Stockhausen never completed them – and over the decades they transformed from works for conventional piano into ones for synthesizer or electronic instruments, increasingly influenced by his Licht operas. As with Boulez, some of the works went through substantial revision – especially VI – and the cycle as it stands is also notable for some marked differences in scale: Some of these works last less than a minute; others are vast, traveling geometric distances of forty minutes in length.

Stockhausen has described his Klavierstücke as his “drawings”. In a sense, this has always struck me as an interesting description because it partly suggests incompletion – though what one really sees in these works is evolution – much as you experience in the drawings of da Vinci, for example - to the extent that by 1991, when he composed No. XV, completed long after Tudor had ceased performing as a pianist, he had abandoned the piano as an instrument altogether. But that evolution is clearly notable in the very early Klavierstücke as well: the notation and irrational rhythms of No. I, criticised by Boulez, among others, at the time, grow into something more precisely patterned by No. IV, a piece that Boulez seems to have admired.

It’s probably the case that the Klavierstücke, whilst remaining seminal piano works, have been surpassed by other composers in several contexts. The irrational rhythms of the Stockhausen pieces have certainly been advanced since: The ‘nested’ irrationals that preface Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam, ‘split irrationals’ that you get in Finnissy’s 11th Verdi Transcription from Macbeth, or Cage’s Music of Changes or some of the music of Nancarrow, for example. The rapid metronome markings, the tone rows, the complex dynamics (notable in IV where you get one line that is ff and the other that is pp) are still difficult, but are more manageable than a work like Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes.

It’s certainly true that Tudor’s landmark recordings have aged well, even in the context of their sound which was done in the WDR studios in Köln, Germany. Stockhausen didn’t write these pieces in chronological order – even No. I of the cycle was composed last of the first quartet of works – so there are gaps in what Tudor managed to record in 1958 and 1959. There is no Klavierstücke IX and X, for example, neither of which appeared until 1961 (but there is an XI): IX was premiered by Aloys Kontarsky, and X, which was to have been premiered by Tudor, but he didn’t have time to learn the work, ended up being premiered by Frederic Rzewski (who also made the first commercial recording of the work in 1964, a performance which has been released on Wergo 67722, coupled with Stockhausen’s Zyklus).

Stockhausen’s constant revision of some of the Klavierstücke means that Tudor’s September 1959 recording of VI (which went through four revisions) is of the March 1955 version - not the version we hear today which adds considerably more published material dating from 1960 and 1961. In one sense this is a little unfortunate since the 1961 Klavierstück VI might well be the most interesting of the cycle – it’s the second longest (in its complete form it runs to just over forty minutes; the Tudor 1955 version is a little over sixteen minutes) but it’s the monumental nature of the landscape that Stockhausen creates which provides the challenge of this work. It’s at times enormously craggy, like a vast Alpine rock face, with a spectrum of tempo changes that is sometimes bewildering. Tudor’s recording of No. VI is what it is – but it’s nevertheless a missed opportunity, and one that would never have materialised because Tudor all but ceased playing the piano after 1961 to concentrate on composition and teaching.

The other important recording on this disc is his performance of XI – indeed, any pianist’s recording of XI is important because of how Stockhausen conceived it. No performance of XI will ever be identical and none will ever be repeatable; each is a unique pianistic experience because of its polyvalent structure. In part it resembles Feldman’s Intermission 6, though it really has much more in common with Cage’s 4’33 (which Tudor had given the premiere of). Klavierstück XI is highly random, and unpredictable in a way that Stockhausen never matched in the rest of this cycle. A bit like a labyrinth, the pianist begins with any one of nineteen fragments then proceeds to whichever next one he chooses until each fragment has been played three times when the performance ends. As experimental music, it’s an interesting concept – and Tudor gives four different interpretations of the piece, each of different lengths, each utilising different meters and textual rhythms, to demonstrate the plausibility of unpredictability in the work.

David Tudor’s importance as an early interpreter of Stockhausen’s piano music still serves as a benchmark for many pianists today. His career was infuriatingly short – but his pianism was distinctive, and he dealt with complexity with extraordinary clarity. These are definitive recordings – if not, surpassed, then certainly matched by inspirational pianists like Kontarsky, Henck, Chen and, most recently, Liebner who have recorded some, or all, of the pianistic Klavierstücke.

Marc Bridle

1. Klavierstück I – 2.51
2. Klavierstück II – 1.25
3. Klavierstück III – 0.39
4. Klavierstück IV – 2.14
5. Klavierstück V – 5.00
6. Klavierstück VI – 16.20
7. Klavierstück VII – 6.50
8. Klavierstück VIII – 1.47
9. Klavierstück XI/1 – 7.00
10. Klavierstück XI/2 – 9.35
11. Klavierstück XI/3 – 8.35
12. Klavierstück XI/4 – 7.01



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