Donnerstag aus Licht

Last updated
Donnerstag aus Licht
Opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1980).jpg
Stockhausen rehearsing Michaels Heimkehr in 1980
March 15, 1981 (1981-03-15)
La Scala, Milan

Donnerstag aus Licht (Thursday from Light) is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, three acts, and a farewell, and was the first of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: The Seven Days of the Week). It was written between 1977 and 1980, with a libretto by the composer.


Its second act, Michaels Reise um die Erde (Michael's Journey Around the Earth), has been performed and recorded individually.


Donnerstag was given its staged premiere on 15 March 1981 by the La Scala Opera in the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, but without the third act, which had to be omitted due to a strike by the opera chorus of La Scala. They had demanded soloists' bonuses because of one brief passage in act 3, and had been turned down by the management. Further performances without the third act followed on 18, 21, 24, and 27 March. An agreement was finally reached and the complete opera was finally performed on 3 April, with two further performances on 5 and 7 April. [1] The stage direction was by Luca Ronconi, with costume and stage design by Gae Aulenti. Scenic realisation was by Giorgio Cristini, lighting by Vannio Vanni, light compositions (act 3) by Mary Bauermeister. Péter Eötvös conducted, and played the Hammond organ in act 3, scene 2. Karlheinz Stockhausen was the sound projectionist.

On 19 December 1981, Donnerstag was awarded the Premio Critica Musicale F. Abbiati for "best new work of contemporary music". [2]

A second staging was given by the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in London, on 16, 18, 20, 24, and 26 September 1985. The stage direction was by Michael Bogdanov, designed by Mari Bjornson, lighting and light compositions by Chris Ellis. Péter Eötvös conducted, and Stockhausen was the sound projectionist.

The second act, Michaels Reise um die Erde (Michael's Journey Around the Earth) was staged separately in 2008, by Carlus Padrissa  [ es ] of La Fura dels Baus, with stage direction by Roland Olbeter. It was performed by Marco Blaauw (trumpet), Nicola Jürgensen (basset horn), and musikFabrik, directed by Peter Rundel. Video was by Franc Aleu, dramaturgy by Thomas Ulrich, lighting by Frank Sobotta, and sound direction by Paul Jeukendrup. This was initially a production of the Wiener Taschenoper in collaboration with the Wiener Festwochen. In 2013, this production was revived for three performances at Avery Fisher Hall in New York as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, beginning appropriately on Thursday, 18 July. [3]

A third production, by the American director Lydia Steier (dramaturgy: Pavel B. Jiracek), opened at the Basel Opera on 25 June 2016, with sets designed by Barbara Ehnes, costumes by Ursula Kudrna, and video effects by Chris Kondek. Paul Hübner performed the trumpeter-Michael, with Peter Tantsits, tenor, as the singer-Michael. Soprano Anu Komsi sang the part of the Mother, and bass Michael Leibundgut sang the Father.

Another production took place from 15 November to 19 November 2018 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris with Maxime Pascal as music director and staging by Benjamin Lazar. It was performed by Damien Bigourdan and Safir Behloul (both Michael as tenor), Henri Deléger (Michael as trumpeter), Iris Zerdoud (Eve as basset hornist), and Le Balcon (orchestra). [4]

Donnerstag is an opera for 14 performers (3 voices, 8 instrumentalists, 3 dancers) plus a choir, an orchestra, and tapes. It was composed between 1977 and 1980. In the larger context of Licht, Thursday is Michael's day. Thursday's exoteric (primary) colour is bright blue, and its esoteric (secondary) colours are purple and violet. [5] [6] Thursday is also the day of plants. [7]


RolePerformerPremiere cast (La Scala, 1981)London cast (1985)Basel cast (2016)
Michaeltenor Robert Gambill (act 1), Paul Sperry (act 3)Julian Pike (Frieder Lang on Wed. 18 Sept.)Peter Tantsits (act 1), Rolf Romei (act 3)
Michaeltrumpeter Markus Stockhausen Markus StockhausenPaul Hübner
MichaeldancerMichèle NoiretMichèle NoiretEmmanuelle Grach
Eve sopranoAnnette MeriweatherAnnette MeriweatherAnu Komsi
Eve basset horn Suzanne Stephens Suzanne StephensMerve Kazokoğlu
EvedancerElizabeth ClarkeElisabeth ClarkeEvelyn Angela Gugolz
Lucifer bass Matthias Hölle Nicholas Isherwood Michael Leibundgut
LucifertrombonistMark TezakMichael SvobodaStephen Menotti
Luciferdancer-mimeAlain LouafiAlain LouafiEric Lamb
Michael's AccompanistpianistMajella StockhausenMajella StockhausenAnsi Verwey
Invisible Choirschoir WDR choir, Karlheinz Stockhausen, cond. (16-track recording)WDR Choir, Stockhausen, cond. (16-track recording)WDR Choir, Stockhausen, cond. (16-track recording)
Clownesque Pair of Swallowsclarinetists (2nd doubles basset horn) Alain Damiens, Michel ArrignonDavid Smeyers, Beate ZelinskyInnhyuck Cho, Markus Forrer
Two Boyssoprano saxophonistsHugo Read, Simon Stockhausen Simon StockhausenEmilie Chabrol, Romain Chaumont
Old WomanactressElena Pantano
MessengertenorGiovanni Mastino
Penguins at the South Pole (act 2)orchestraOrchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Péter Eötvös, cond.Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Péter Eötvös, cond. Sinfonieorchester Basel, Titus Engel, cond.
Heavenly Choirs and Orchestra (act 3)choir and orchestraOrchestra and Choir of the Teatro alla Scala, Péter Eötvös, cond.Orchestra and Choir of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Péter Eötvös, cond.Chor des Theater Basel; Studierende der Hochschule für Musik FHNW/Musik-Akademie Basel; Sinfonieorchester Basel, Titus Engel, cond.


Archangel Michael, Cologne Cathedral, north portal StMichaelAtCathedralCologne.jpg
Archangel Michael, Cologne Cathedral, north portal

The time and place are universal.


The Thursday Greeting is performed in the foyer as the audience is arriving.

Act 1: Michaels Jugend

The first act consists of three scenes that follow one another without a break.

Scene 1: Kindheit

In "Childhood" Michael, a son of poor parents, demonstrates exceptional gifts. His father, a schoolteacher, teaches him to pray, hunt, shoot, and perform in theatre. From his mother he learns singing and merry-making, dancing—and seduction. His parents quarrel, and a younger brother, Hermannchen, dies in infancy. The mother goes mad, attempts suicide, and is hospitalised. The father turns to drink, and goes off to war.

Scene 2: Mondeva

In the forest, Michael encounters Mondeva (Moon-Eve), half woman, half bird, and falls in love with her. As he discovers how to control her music through erotic play, in a parallel scene Michael's mother is being killed by a doctor in an asylum.

Scene 3: Examen

Michael undergoes a triple admission examination to the conservatory. First as a singer, then as a trumpeter, and finally as a dancer, he amazes the jury, who enthusiastically admit him.

Act 2: Michaels Reise um die Erde

In the second act, Michael undertakes a journey around the world in what is essentially a trumpet concerto with orchestra, performed in a huge rotating globe set against a starry firmament. There are seven "stations" along the way, at each of which the music takes on colour from the locale: Germany, New York, Japan, Bali, India, Central Africa, and Jerusalem. Michael's formula gradually evolves from a simple beginning form to increasingly florid extravagance, finally shattering into incoherent fragments in stations 5 and 6. When he reaches Central Africa, Michael hears a distant basset horn, and orders the globe to stop turning. Michael commands the earth to rotate in reverse as the seventh station, Jerusalem, is reached, and he begins a new process of rehabilitation in a therapeutic conversation with a double-bass player. Mondeva appears, and they perform a duet in which their melodic formulas merge and intertwine until each plays the other's formula. Two clownish clarinet players, costumed as a pair of swallows, mock and—together with the orchestral low brass, an emblem of Lucifer—"crucify" him, after which the act ends with a musical "ascension" in which the sounds of the trumpet and basset horn circle around until they are united in a trill. [8] [9] )

Act 3: Michaels Heimkehr

In the third act Michael—in his threefold manifestation as tenor, trumpeter, and dancer—returns to his celestial home.

Scene 1: Festival

Michael fighting the Dragon (Bonn University, main entrance) Michael4.jpg
Michael fighting the Dragon (Bonn University, main entrance)

As the invisible choirs sing all around, he is welcomed by Eve—also in threefold form as soprano, basset hornist, and dancer—five choirs (delegates from various parts of the Michael Universe), five orchestral groups, and a background string orchestra. [10]

  • "Meditation". Eve presents Michael with a gift of three plants, and another of three compositions of light:
  • "First Light Composition: Chaos out of Colours"
  • "Second Light Composition: Suns out of Chaos"
  • "Third Light Composition: Chaos from Colours"
    • Part 1: "Moons"
    • Part 2: "Moons and Glassy Images"
    • Part 3: "Starry Sky". The signs of the Zodiac appear, one after another, from Aquarius to Capricorn. Suddenly, an old lady steps forward and demands, "Why don't you all come home!" The choirs answer her: "There is no 'home'. Even angels are always on the move". Eve presents Michael with a final gift, a terrestrial globe as a souvenir of his journey around the earth. Lucifer appears, first as a gremlin who springs out of the globe and presents Michael with his own, smaller blue globe. Michael passes it around to the choir, which infuriates the gremlin, who makes threatening gestures and summons assistance.
  • "Michael's Battle with the Dragon". Lucifer reappears in a second form, as a tap-dancing trombonist dressed as a torero with a black cape and hat, and the gremlin turns into a dragon. Michael gives battle and the dragon, wounded many times, sinks to the ground. Michael borrows the conductor's long baton to deliver the coup de grâce . The dragon tries one last time to rise, but falls on his belly. The trombonist, too, staggers and falls on his back, legs in the air.
  • "Boys' Duet", played by two angelic soprano saxophonists.
  • "Argument". A messenger arrives to announce that Lucifer is once again causing trouble. Lucifer reappears, now in triple form as a bass singer, a trombonist, and a dancer-mime, and taunts Michael, who dismisses him: "You have lost. You have corrupted your wisdom through your bitter irony, poisonous sarcasm now fills your heart. ... You are no longer immortal, Lucifer! ... Can't you just once allow us to celebrate a festival in peace?" Lucifer can only go away muttering in disgust, "You fool! You fool!" as the scene ends.

Scene 2: Vision

In a process of 15 cyclical transpositions, Michael explains (in threefold appearance as singer, trumpeter, and dancer), his experience and opposition to Lucifer.


Archangel Michael as trumpeter (Christuskirche, Mannheim) Mannheim-Christuskirche-Michael.jpg
Archangel Michael as trumpeter (Christuskirche, Mannheim)

The Thursday Farewell (also called "Michael's Farewell") is performed outside the opera house following the performance, by five trumpeters who begin as the last scene, Vision, is concluding. They are costumed as Michael and positioned on the rooftops or on balconies surrounding the square, floodlit like statues on a tower. They each repeat one segment of the Michael formula, with long pauses between repetitions, for about 30 minutes, withdrawing at the end in the order in which their respective segments occur in the formula. [11]

Unsichtbare Chöre

The Invisible Choirs are played back in the theatre over eight channels throughout most of act 1, and again in act 3, scene 1, and is composed in such a way that they could never be sung by a choir live, in part because there are as many as 180 separate voices, and in part because of the demands of polyphonic synchronicity, exactness of intonation, and dynamic balance. [12] There are three texts sung in Hebrew ("Judgement Day" from The Ascent of Moses, "The End of Time" from the Apocalypse of Baruch , and a Hymn of Praise, "The Heavens Rejoice", from the Book of Leviticus), as well as a different passage from "The End of Time", sung in German. [13]

Critical reception

The staged premiere of Donnerstag was very well received in Italy, where it was awarded the Italian Music Critics' Prize for best new work, in December 1981. The German press reception, on the other hand, was harsh and often ad hominem . [14] The Covent Garden production in 1985 also provoked contrary points of view in the press, in part divided over the question of the music versus the theatrical conception. Paul Griffiths, writing in the Times, for example, found that "it contains much quite extraordinary music" but "the opera never for a moment works as the mystic revelation it pretends to be. ... It is very wondrous to contemplate—wondrous, that is, when it is not just silly". [15] Andrew Porter, on the contrary, found the "variety of forces, forms, textures, and matter ... a strength and a pleasure", and the "somewhat ramshackle construction saves the work from solemn pretentiousness. There's even a playful quality about much of it, although its essential seriousness is not in doubt and inner musical integrity is not compromised". [16] Porter concludes,

hearing and seeing the drama is an engrossing, enjoyable, and elevating adventure. Ear, mind, and spirit are engaged. And, as I suggested, moments of jokiness, naïveté—silliness, even—save the work from being unbearably solemn: Stockhausen-Sarastro has a vein of Papageno in him. There is a great deal to listen to and to watch. Some of the spans, especially in the last scene, are traversed slowly. But things happen; the music doesn't fall into simplistic repetitions or numbing stasis. There are counterpoints to follow. There are supple melodies and rich harmonies. There are wonderful sounds—new and stirring sounds. The score is a culmination of the marvellous musics—in whose making Michael's vision, Lucifer's technical skills, and the inspiration of Eve's love seem to have conspired—that have poured from Stockhausen during the last thirty years. ... But what matters most now is the excitement of entering this huge, ambitious work, responding to its sounds and sights, trying to understand it, and feeling, perhaps, that it is—by intention at least—something like a Divine Comedy and a Comédie Humaine in one. [17]



Related Research Articles

Karlheinz Stockhausen German composer

Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing controlled chance into serial composition, and for musical spatialization.


Licht (Light), subtitled "Die sieben Tage der Woche", is a cycle of seven operas composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen between 1977 and 2003. The composer described the work as an "eternal spiral" because "there is neither end nor beginning to the week." Licht consists of 29 hours of music.


The Helikopter-Streichquartett is one of Karlheinz Stockhausen's best-known pieces, and one of the most complex to perform. It involves a string quartet, four helicopters with pilots, as well as audio and video equipment and technicians. It was first performed and recorded in 1995. Although performable as a self-sufficient piece, it also forms the third scene of the opera Mittwoch aus Licht.

Sirius: eight-channel electronic music and trumpet, soprano, bass clarinet, and bass is a music-theatre composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed between 1975 and 1977. It is Nr. 43 in the composer's catalogue of works, and lasts 96 minutes in performance.

<i>Klang</i> (Stockhausen)

KlangDie 24 Stunden des Tages is a cycle of compositions by Karlheinz Stockhausen, on which he worked from 2004 until his death in 2007. It was intended to consist of 24 chamber-music compositions, each representing one hour of the day, with a different colour systematically assigned to every hour. The cycle was unfinished when the composer died, so that the last three "hours" are lacking. The 21 completed pieces include solos, duos, trios, a septet, and Stockhausen's last entirely electronic composition, Cosmic Pulses. The fourth composition is a theatre piece for a solo percussionist, and there are also two auxiliary compositions which are not part of the main cycle. The completed works bear the work (opus) numbers 81–101.

<i>Montag aus Licht</i>

Montag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, three acts, and a farewell, and was the third of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche. The libretto was written by the composer.

Suzanne Stephens American musician

Suzanne Stephens is an American clarinetist, resident in Germany, described as "an outstanding performer and tireless promoter of the clarinet and basset horn".

Kathinka Pasveer Dutch flautist

Kathinka Pasveer is a Dutch flautist.

<i>In Freundschaft</i>

In Freundschaft is a composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, number 46 in his catalogue of works, which is playable on a wide variety of solo instruments. It was first performed on a clarinet on 28 July 1977.

<i>Sonntag aus Licht</i>

Sonntag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in five scenes and a farewell, to a libretto written and compiled by the composer. It is the last-composed of seven operas that comprise the cycle Licht (Light). Its stage premiere in 2011 was posthumous, more than three years after the composer's death.

<i>Samstag aus Licht</i>

Samstag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting and four scenes, and was the second of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche. It was written between 1981 and 1983, to a libretto written by the composer and incorporating a text by Saint Francis of Assisi, and was first staged in Milan in 1984.

<i>Dienstag aus Licht</i>

Dienstag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting and two acts, with a farewell, and was the fourth of seven to be completed for the opera cycle Licht: Die sieben Tage der Woche. It was begun in 1977 and completed from 1988 to 1991, to a libretto by the composer.

<i>Mittwoch aus Licht</i>

Mittwoch aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, four scenes, and a farewell. It was the sixth of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche, and the last to be staged. It was written between 1995 and 1997, and first staged in 2012.


Zeitmaße is a chamber-music work for five woodwinds composed in 1955–1956 by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen; it is Number 5 in the composer's catalog. It is the first of three wind quintets written by Stockhausen, followed by Adieu für Wolfgang Sebastian Meyer (1966) and the Rotary Wind Quintet (1997), but is scored with cor anglais instead of the usual French horn of the standard quintet. Its title refers to the different ways that musical time is treated in the composition.


Oktophonie (Octophony) is a 1991 octophonic electronic-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A component layer of act 2 of the opera Dienstag aus Licht, it may also be performed as an independent composition. It has a duration of 69 minutes.

Unsichtbare Chöre is an eight-channel electronic-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A component part of the opera Donnerstag aus Licht, it may also be performed as an independent composition, in which form it is designated "ex 49" in the composer's catalog of works.

<i>Rotary</i> Wind Quintet

The Rotary Wind Quintet is a chamber music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the last of his three wind quintets and is Nr. 70½ in his catalogue of works. A performance lasts about 8½ minutes.


Europa-Gruss is a composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen for wind ensemble with optional synthesizers, and is assigned Number 72 in the composer's catalogue of works. It has a duration of about twelve-and-a-half minutes.


Trumpetent is a quartet for four trumpets by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1995. It is Number 73 in his catalogue of works and one of four independent compositions related to his opera, Mittwoch aus Licht. A performance lasts about 16 minutes.

Nicola Jürgensen is a German clarinetist and academic teacher. She played principal clarinet with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne from 2001 to 2018, and has been professor of clarinet at Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen from 2018. She is active internationally as a soloist and chamber music player, and has made recordings. Besides the traditional repertoire, she is focused on contemporary music. She performed on stage in a production of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Michaels Reise um die Erde in Vienna and New York City, among others.


  1. Kurtz 1992, 213.
  2. Stockhausen 1989a, 189.
  3. Tommasini 2013.
  4. Anon. 2018.
  5. Stockhausen 1989a, 182.
  6. Stockhausen 1989b, 200.
  7. Stockhausen 1989b, 201.
  8. Kurtz 1992, 213–214.
  9. Kohl 1993, 209–212.
  10. Stockhausen 1989a, 412.
  11. Stockhausen 1989a, 488.
  12. Stockhausen 1994, 77.
  13. Stockhausen 1989a, 206–207.
  14. Kurtz 1992, 214–216.
  15. Griffiths 1985b.
  16. Porter 1985, 127.
  17. Porter 1985, 131.

Cited sources

  • Anon. 2018. "Donnerstag aus Licht: Karlheinz Stockhausen". Opéra Comique website (accessed 3 July 2019).
  • Griffiths, Paul. 1985b. "A Great Creative Mind Talks to Itself". The Times (18 September): 15.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 1993. "Time and Light." Contemporary Music Review 7, no. 2:203–219.
  • Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London and Boston: Faber and Faber. ISBN   0-571-14323-7 (cloth) ISBN   0-571-17146-X (pbk).
  • Porter, Andrew. 1985. "Musical Events: Thursday Splendor". The New Yorker (21 October): 127–128, 131–132.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989a. Texte zur Musik, vol. 5, edited by Christoph von Blumröder. DuMont Dokumente. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. ISBN   3-7701-2249-6.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989b. Texte zur Musik, vol. 6, edited by Christoph von Blumröder. DuMont Dokumente. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. ISBN   3-7701-2249-6.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1994. "Electroacoustic Performance Practice", translated by Jerome Kohl. Perspectives of New Music 34, no. 1 (Fall): 74–105.
  • Tommasini, Anthony (19 July 2013). "A Global Quest, Touching Down in New York: A Karlheinz Stockhausen Work Has Its North American Premiere". The New York Times . p. C1.

Further reading