Vic Hoyland

Carré programme notes

Scan of programme notes

Scan of programme notes

Carré (1959-60), is an early moment-form work. Following shortly after Gruppen (1955-57) the two pieces appeared on the two sides of a Deutsche Gramophon LP, suggesting rather more similarity between them than is really the case. Gruppen (Groups) is Stockhausen's most significant and intellectually rigorous attempt to free his music from the perpetual pointillistic textures of integral serialism, devising a clever (and involved) scheme of durations based on serially related tempi. For this he required his orchestra to play simultaneously in multiple tempi, a problem solved pragmatically by dividing the orchestra into three, with separate conductors who pick up their new tempi from irrational subdivisions of the music being played by one of the other orchestras... etc. Having arrived at this solution, Stockhausen then realised that he also had the possibility of exploiting the spatial separation of the three orchestras and —typically (see the earlier comment about not all the elements of a group having to conform to the average value) — proceeded to compose several 'inserts' which are, strictly speaking, not within the serial structure of the piece at all... yet one of them forms the astonishingly powerful and dramatic climax of the work.

Carré (Square) for 4 orchestras and choirs (once again, a large orchestra divided up, this time with reduced strings and fleshed out through the addition of saxophones and keyboard instruments) continues this exploration of space, with material passing from ensemble to ensemble, often rotating round the audience, sometimes travelling in two directions and at two different speeds at once. Stockhausen was working on his 4-channel tape piece Kontakte during the same period and there are several echoes of each work in the other, most notably a famous transition from pitched to pulsed material in Kontakte (a passage which illustrates another of Stockhausen's observations: the essential unity of pitch and duration/rhythmic structures —both are merely vibrations, separated only by different frequency ranges) which occurs in Carré as the slowing-down of a snare drum roll into individual strokes (plus — again, typically — a little joke in the form of a 'hiccup' in the process, just to remind us that we are still in the realm of human performance.

The major difference, though, between Gruppen and Carré; is the pacing of material. Whereas in Gruppen, there is a constant sense of urgency driven by the rhythmic/durational underpinning of the work's original concept, in Carré the tempo is slower, more relaxed, more 'laid-back' (a premonition of the 60s, perhaps, during which Stockhausen became something of a guru-like figure in hippie circles, even appearing on the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album). This slower rate of change was evidently related to the long hours Stockhausen spent around this time in airplanes over North America, watching the clouds beneath him shift slowly into different shapes and becoming entranced by the harmonics within the drone of the engines. The focus here is less on pitch per se and more on timbre and the quality of the sound — a fact underlined by the use of the voices to sing not a text, but vowels and phonemes which only sometimes mimic words (even occasionally hinting at references to Stockhausen and his family). Certainly the pitch material is simpler than that of Gruppen, some 'moments' consisting of barely more than a single pitch. In fact, Stockhausen only sketched the work out in these moments, leaving his assistant of the period, Cornelius Cardew, to put together the final realisation. As in Gruppen, some of the most startling and memorable moments are outside the form-scheme; in these Stockhausen revels in the freedom of being able to throw huge quantities of musical material around the space (literally). And, towards the end of the piece, we have a strong premonition of the ultimate work of his moment-form period, Momente, when the four vocal and instrumental groups come together in strong, dramatic and unified surges of sound — quintessentially and unmistakably Stockhausen.

For tonight's performance, we have not had the luxury of the hundreds of hours of rehearsal time documented in the score for the premiere: two solid months of chorus rehearsals alone, and then ten highly intensive days which moved from sectionals and conductors' rehearsals, through gradually assembling each ensemble, to finally bringing the four ensembles together. Following the composer's example, we have devised a pragmatic solution to holding everything together — the use of a voice counting the predominantly uneven and irregular beats, transmitted into headphones worn by the four conductors — in order to be able to present this astonishing work. One by-product of this is that, as the conductors no longer have to face each other across the audience to pick up their cues, as originally intended (but which caused the sound of the ensembles to be directed away from the listeners), tonight we can seat the players with their sound projecting to the audience in the normal way.

Jonty Harrison © 2010