Sirius (Stockhausen)

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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.



Markus Stockhausen created the trumpet part in Sirius Markus stockhausen 1.JPG
Markus Stockhausen created the trumpet part in Sirius

Sirius has been described as "a modern mystery play, clothed as a science fiction story". [1] While not described by the composer as an opera, it is nevertheless a musical drama, in which four emissaries from a planet orbiting the star Sirius bring a message to earth. "This was to be the big leap into theatre proper. . . . Sirius is the key work that leads to his magnum opus LICHT (LIGHT)". [2]

When Stockhausen's daughter, Julika (aged 5 or 6 at the time), asked for a dog, he obtained one for her and named it Sirius, after the star in the constellation Canis Major, which was in his mind because he had just finished composing Sternklang ("Star-sound", 1971). Shortly afterward, he chanced upon a passage in a book by Jakob Lorber describing Sirius as the sun at the center of our universe, and this fired his imagination:

Other snippets of vitally important information then came to me through a couple of revelatory dreams. Crazy dreams, from which it emerged that not only did I come from Sirius itself, but that, in fact, I completed my musical education there. [3]

Suzanne Stephens (shown with a basset horn) created the bass clarinet part in Sirius Suzanne Stephens 1990.tif
Suzanne Stephens (shown with a basset horn) created the bass clarinet part in Sirius

Stockhausen never explained these dreams in detail, [1] maintaining that "It would lead to misunderstanding and false interpretation". [4] In the composer’s imagination, for beings from the planets of the Sirius system, "everything is music, or the art of co-ordination and harmony of vibrations. . . . The art is very highly developed there, and every composition on Sirius is related to the rhythms of nature . . . the seasons, the rhythms of the stars." Stockhausen’s composition therefore is based on "the cycles and rhythms of nature—of the seasons—with all of their characteristics, and to the planets, animals, and to the twelve main characters of human beings". [5]

Sirius was commissioned by the West German government to celebrate the United States bicentenary, and is dedicated to the "American pioneers on earth and in space". Composition was begun in 1975, and the first performance was given before an invited audience at the opening of the Albert Einstein Spacearium in Washington, D.C., on 15 July 1976, though only the "summer" section had been completed by then. The "autumn" portion was added in time for performances later that year in Japan, France, Germany, and Italy. After interrupting work in order to compose the second part of his choral opera Atmen gibt das Leben and the orchestral Jubiläum , Stockhausen finished Sirius and the première of the complete form took place on 8 August 1977 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. [6]

Form and content

Sirius is Number 43 in the composer's catalog of works, and consists of three main parts: "Presentation", "The Wheel" (subdivided into four sections, corresponding to the four seasons), and "Annunciation". The words were written by Stockhausen, except for a text by Jakob Lorber used in the Annunciation. The musical material consists of the twelve zodiac melodies of Tierkreis, Nr. 41½ (1974–75), originally composed for music boxes in connection with the percussion sextet Musik im Bauch (Music in the Belly), Nr. 41 (1975). Four of these melodies are principal, each associated with one of the protagonists, and are subjected to a variety of transformations, not merely by superimposition even of metamorphosis through a system of cross-fertilization processes in which "one melody progressively assumes the features of another, as a series of mists and frosts 'borrowed' from winter will gradually transform the autumnal aspect of October from summer nostalgia into winter foreboding". [7] The remaining eight melodies serve a subsidiary role. In the Presentation, the four characters introduce themselves and their attributes. They are:

The main, central "wheel" lasts over an hour, and can be rotated, according to the season of the performance, to produce four different forms:

The total duration of Sirius is 96 minutes.

The eight-channel electronic music was realized in the Electronic Music Studio of WDR, Cologne in 1975–77, using an EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer. The electronic music can be performed by itself, without the four soloists, and there are also three excerpted versions, each for a soloist with a specially prepared version of the electronic music: Aries, for trumpet (Nr. 43½, 1980), Libra, for bass clarinet (Nr. 43⅔), and Capricorn, for bass voice (Nr. 43¾).


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<i>Tierkreis</i> (Stockhausen)

Tierkreis (1974–75) is a musical composition by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The title is the German word for Zodiac, and the composition consists of twelve melodies, each representing one sign of the zodiac.

<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.

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".

<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>Donnerstag aus Licht</i>

Donnerstag aus Licht 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. It was written between 1977 and 1980, with a libretto by the composer.

<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>Atmen gibt das Leben</i>

Atmen gibt das Leben, is a choral opera with orchestra by Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1974 and expanded in 1976–77. It is Number 39 in the catalogue of the composer's works, and lasts about 50 minutes in performance.


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<i>Stop</i> (Stockhausen)

Stop is a composition for orchestra by Karlheinz Stockhausen, work-number 18 in the composer’s catalogue of works, where two performing realisations are also found as Nr. 18½ and Nr. 18⅔.

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.


Sternklang, is "park music for five groups" composed in 1971 by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and bears the work number 34 in his catalogue of compositions. The score is dedicated to Mary Bauermeister, and a performance of the work lasts from two-and-a-half to three hours.


Herbstmusik is a music-theatre work for four performers composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1974. It is Nr. 40 in his catalogue of works, and lasts a little over an hour in performance.

Solo for a melody instrument with feedback is a work for a soloist with live electronics composed in 1965–66 by Karlheinz Stockhausen. It is Nr. 19 in his catalogue of works. Performance duration can vary from 10½ to 19 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.


  1. 1 2 Kurtz 1992, p. 207.
  2. Ball 1997.
  3. Tannenbaum 1987, pp. 34–35.
  4. Stockhausen 1989, p. 18.
  5. Stockhausen 1989, pp. 17–18.
  6. Kurtz 1992, pp. 208–209.
  7. Britton 1985, p. 521.

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