planet stockhausen

In 1967, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s face appeared on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – between Lenny Bruce and W. C. Fields. In September 2001 he achieved a different kind of immortality when Die Zeit quoted (or, he claims, misquoted) him as saying that the destruction of the World Trade Center was the “greatest work of art there has been”. The remark convinced many that the once-famous composer had long since jumped off the deep end; it also seemed to signal the end of what might be termed da Vincian vangardism – the grandiose claim by a composer to be prophet, inventor, scientist, philosopher and spiritual guide. Other Planets, Robin Maconie’s latest book about Stockhausen, reads, appropriately enough, like a cross between conventional musical history and The Da Vinci Code. In addition to laying out the facts about every work in Stockhausen’s large oeuvre, Maconie promises to reveal how a “latent philosophical agenda” in the music addresses “the historic aspirations of German nationalism, and more specifically a defense of the role of post-Enlightenment European culture in the wider world” and, beyond that, to show how serialism is part of a “grander aesthetic and intellectual enterprise, beginning in the late eighteenth century, concerning the nature and evolution of language and its implications for post-revolutionary democracy”. In place of Dan Brown’s Last Supper, Maconie hinges his mad dash through cultural history on Jean-François Champollion’s decoding of the Rosetta Stone; Olivier Messiaen had once compared the young Stockhausen to the French decrypter. Where Brown pits the Catholic Church against the Knights of the Temple, Maconie fashions his catalogue raisonné around an esoteric battle between Saussurean “lettrists” and Goethean holists.

more from the TLS here.