Stockhausen Mixtur

Mixtur No. 16½

London Sinfonietta
Pierre-André Valade

Sound Intermedia (sound design)

Thierry Coduys – La Kitchen (computer development)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 24 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

“Ich fühle luft vom anderem planeten” – I feel the air from another planet. This opening line from Stefan George’s poem “Entrückung” – Ecstasy – set to music by Schoenberg in his Second String Quartet, might apply with particular pertinence to the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He has been – and continues to be – a pioneer in new ways of creating music, not to mention re-defining the nature of musical sound itself.

Mixtur dates from 1964, and was the first work to transform orchestral sounds via ‘live’ electronic means.

Originally conceived for a large orchestra, the amplified sounds from four distinct groupings – woodwinds, brass, bowed strings and pizzicato strings – are changed via the use of sine-wave generators and ring-modulators. A fifth group of three percussionists playing tam-tams and suspended cymbals have their instruments amplified but are not subjected to other electronic treatment.

However, the difficulties in balancing the dynamics of this large ensemble led the composer to re-work his material for a smaller combination. This dates from 1967, and was the version performed on this occasion. Incidentally, this explains what may appear to be the slightly odd numbering of the work: Number 16 referring to the original Mixtur, ½ to the Revised Version derived from it.

Mixtur is divided into twenty sections – or ‘moments’, as Stockhausen designates them. These may be played either forwards or backwards and some internal changes to the order are permitted. The composer requests that there should be two performances and that no other music should be included in the concert.

The London Sinfonietta presented two versions – first in ‘retrograde order’ and then in ‘forward order’ – and gave polished and convincing performances under the sure guidance of Pierre-André Valade. The instrumental playing was unimpeachable, and the players’ commitment to the score’s realisation was impressive indeed.

Instead of the equipment Stockhausen called for originally, the electronic element was given over to computer manipulation. I understand from the Stockhausen-Verlag that the composer himself used computers for a performance about 10 years ago, but was dissatisfied with the results. It is instructive to note, therefore, that Stockhausen will revert to the acoustic equipment when he conducts the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in a new version – Mixtur 2003 – in Salzburg on 30 August 2006.

In this London Sinfonietta performance, I felt the electronics were rather too ‘smooth’ in character. The authorised recording, in theStockhausen-Edition (CD 8), presents an altogether harsher, rawer sound.

Nevertheless, the intended transformations certainly made their effect, and it was fascinating to see a sound being played, but hearing something quite different. In particular, the pizzicato strings were changed into something that sounded quite baleful at times – especially the admirable and hard-working double basses of Enno Senft and Lynda Houghton. The brass contributions were also remarkable, with David Purser’s trombone producing some extraordinary sounds.

The initial reverse-order performance lasted some 27 minutes.

After the interval, the forward version was delivered more urgently – just over 23 minutes – and here the electronic effects sounded more prominent.

This was, altogether, a riveting presentation of a pioneering work and made one anxious to hear more of Stockhausen’s music live in London. A full audience showed its appreciation for Pierre-André Valade and the London Sinfonietta’s efforts.

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