German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who turned 60 on August 22, continues to perplex his listeners with an extraordinary view of himself - as someone who is immortal, who received his musical training in the Sirius star system and who is at one with the "cosmic consciousness."
These eccentric views have tended in recent years to overshadow the work of West Germany's best-known avante garde composer. The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine accused him of trying to be a "messiah," and the newsweekly Der Spiegel moaned that he was a "courageous renewer and grandiose craftsman" who had degenerated into "a musical phantasist."Stockhausen has been working since 1977 on a seven-part opera entitled "Light." Every three or four years he comes forth with another part, each of which is named for a day of the week in keeping with the Christian concept that God created the world in seven days.
"Thursday" came out in 1981 and "Saturday" in 1984, followed by the La Scala premiere this May of "Monday." Stockhausen plans to complete the series with a beaming "Sunday" in the year 2002, when the completed opus is to exceed Richard Wagner's four-part "Der Ring Des Nibelungen" in scope, array and drama.
"Light" is a gigantic spectacle which mirrors the composer's imagination and religious belief in innumerable forms. Synthesizers, voice choirs and a mixture of natural and artificial sounds blend to form his musical cosmos, in which good and evil battle for supremacy in the forms of the Archangel Michael and his nemesis Lucifer.
Stockhausen dedicated "Thursday" to the archangel and "Saturday" to Lucifer. In his chronological scheme of things, "Monday" is the day attributed to Eve, mother of the universe. For the "Monday" staging in Milan, English director Michael Bogdanov placed an enormous Eve on the stage like some huge Trojan horse with a belly that opened to give birth first to monsters and later, after a second fertilization, to human beings.
The audience was jubilant. Critics and many Stockhausen hangers-on were disappointed. They see Stockhausen as a pioneer of electronic music who made musical history between 1950 and 1975 with pieces like "Gesang der Juenglinge" ("Song of Youths"). He was introduced to international audiences at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, when 21 soloists played his cosmic compositions over 183 days in a custom-built spherical auditorium.
Stockhausen, who married his second wife, artist Mary Bauermeister, in 1967, increasingly writes his six children into his works. His son Markus has made a name for himself as a jazz trumpeter and daughter Majella played piano in "Saturday." Even if Stockhausen never finishes his "Light" cycle his artistic legacy is assured.
He lives in seclusion outside his native Cologne "without visitors, without telephone, without television, without newspapers and without a car, in absolute silence. I had a telephone up until two or three years ago," he says, "and it was hell."
Aside from finishing his opera series, Stockhausen has a second dream - the landing of a spacecraft from Sirius at Cologne airport. "Then people will recognize that there are other creatures," he says.