Documentation of Stockhausen's comments re: 9/11

September 22, 2001

Thanks to Anne Ward for the additional information from Stockhausen's website. Stockhausen mentions that a journalist misconstrued his statements, but I wonder if that is true. He was dismissed from the festival, not because of what the journalist reported, but because the festival's administrators were also at the press conference and heard exactly what he said. If it had been so harmless as he suggests, I doubt they would have taken the draconian measure of canceling his concerts.

In any case, I found an article in German with more of Stockhausen's statement about the recent terrorism. It also exemplifies the cycles of revelation, destruction, remorse and rebirth that characterize patriarchal transcendental idealism. After Stockhausen described the WTC bombing as "the greatest work of art ever" a journalist asked him if he equated art and crime. He answered:

"It is a crime because the people were not agreed. They didn't go to the 'concert.' That is clear. And no one gave them notice that they might pass away [draufgehen]. What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing."[1]

Again we see an artist-prophet's transcendentalist view that art must be a revelation, a process of spiritual death, remorse and rebirth, or it is valueless. It is interesting in history how often artist-prophets have confused human life itself with the material of their "creations." I think this form of transcendental idealism that objectifies human life has played a large, but unacknowledged, role in the development of western art music. Perhaps it is most noticeable in the way large numbers of musicians are instrumentalized under the absolute authority of the "inspired" patriarchal conductor in symphony orchestras. (Think of the of the conductors who terrorized their musicians, such as Reiner or Toscannini.) The human, in effect, becomes a fantasy of the conductor's own mind. This might be seen as one manifestation of patriarchy in music.

William Osborne

[1] "Stockhausen provoziert Eklat mit Äußerungen zu USA" _ Associated Press_ (September 18, 2001.) German original:
Auf die Frage eines Journalisten, ob er Kunst und Verbrechen gleichsetze, antwortete Stockhausen: «Ein Verbrechen ist es deshalb, weil die Menschen nicht einverstanden waren. Die sind nicht in das "Konzert" gekommen. Das ist klar. Und es hat ihnen niemand angekündigt, Ihr könntet dabei draufgehen. Was da geistig geschehen ist, dieser Sprung aus der Sicherheit, aus dem Selbstverständlichen, aus dem Leben, das passiert ja manchmal auch poco a poco in der Kunst. Oder sie ist nichts.»

(Draufgehen can mean either "to fly apart" or " to bite the dust.") 


September 27, 2001

Thanks to Margret for her report about the BBC report on Stockhausen's statement. 

Below is an article from the English language edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It confirms that Stockhausen's statement was -recorded- by public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk -- a German equivalent of the BBC or PBS. The statement was transcribed straight off the recording. I am thus still very sceptical that he was misquoted. NDR is the State Radio and is not given to yellow journalism. And FAZ is one of Germany's most respected papers. 

So if Stockhausen thinks he was misquoted, why hasn't he called for a broadcast of the tape and a retraction from NDR?

Since Stockhausen quickly retracted his statement and apologized, I would think he should be forgiven -- though as I said before, one might consider the larger perspectives of what lies behind such statements. Also, at 73 years old he might be forgiven for a slip now and then. His music has been overlooked in recent years and really needs to be heard. 

There is one other point. Whether it was "the greatest work of art ever" or "Lucifer's greatest work of art," why would someone want to refer to an act of mass murder as art? 

William Osborne

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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Sep. 25, 2001

Monstrous Art
Julia Spinola

Four concerts featuring music by the German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen have been cancelled, following the composer's distasteful, tactless comments concerning the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The concerts were to have formed the thematic focus of the Hamburg Music Festival, which started last Saturday and continues through this Saturday.

Asked at a press conference on Monday for his view of the events, Stockhausen answered that the attacks were "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos." According to a tape transcript from public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, he went on: "Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn't even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for 10 years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there. You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn't do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing. Artists, too, sometimes try to go beyond the limits of what is feasible and conceivable, so that we wake up, so that we open ourselves to another world." 

Asked by a journalist whether he equated art and crime, Stockhausen replied: "It's a crime because those involved didn't consent. They didn't come to the 'concert.' That's obvious. And no one announced that they risked losing their lives. What happened in spiritual terms, the leap out of security, out of what is usually taken for granted, out of life, that sometimes happens to a small extent in art, too, otherwise art is nothing." 

Before the press conference was over, Stockhausen had already distanced himself from these comments, a spokeswoman for the Hamburg Music Festival said. On Tuesday, the composer formally apologized for his remarks, explaining that he simply wanted to remind people of the role of destruction in art. Stockhausen asked the forgiveness of anyone who felt hurt by what he said at the press conference. 

In a circular letter sent out by e-mail, the Italian playwright and Nobel laureate Dario Fo also stated his opinion on the attacks: "Big speculators joyfully splash about in an economy that lets millions of people die every year in misery. What are 20,000 dead in New York by comparison? ... Regardless of who carried out the massacre, this violence is the legitimate daughter of the culture of violence, hunger and inhumane exploitation." 

While Fo's statement is evidence of a cynical anti-Americanism, Stockhausen's words appear as the monstrous result of radical artistic egocentrism. To the victims of terrorism, both the composer's mental descent into hell and the aging left-wing writer's stale, calculating spite must seem like hideous mockery.Sep. 18, 2001