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Frederik de Wit: Planisphaerium Coeleste (1670) Planisphaeri Coeleste de Wit.JPG
Frederik de Wit: Planisphærium Coeleste (1670)

Sternklang (Star Sound), 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.


History and concept

Sternklang was performed in Parc de St. Cloud, Paris, in 1975 Parc saint-cloud.jpg
Sternklang was performed in Parc de St. Cloud, Paris, in 1975

Sternklang is "park music", to be performed outdoors at night by 21 singers and/or instrumentalists divided into five groups, at widely separated locations. The sounds from each performer is separately amplified and projected over loudspeakers. "Sound runners" transport musical "models" from one group to another, while a percussionist stationed at a central position helps synchronise the groups to common tempos at ten points in the piece. [1] The piece has been described as "a twilight fantasy … an extended outdoor Stimmung". [2] From a technical point of view, it tackles and solves the problem of coordinating independent harmonic groups. [3]

Although Sternklang was first conceived in 1969, it was only composed two years later, on a commission from Sender Freies Berlin. The first performance took place from 8:30 to 11:30pm on 5 June 1971, in the Englischer Garten of the Tiergarten, Berlin, near the Akademie der Künste. [4] The performers were the Collegium Vocale Köln, an expanded version of Stockhausen's touring ensemble, Hugh Davies and his group, The Gentle Fire from London, and Roger Smalley and Tim Souster's ensemble, Intermodulation, from Cambridge. About four thousand people attended the performance. [5] Despite the unusually difficult performance requirements, there have been a number of subsequent performances: [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

The two Bonn performances in 1980 had been planned for outdoor performance in the Rheinauenpark. The loudspeaker towers were scheduled to be set up in the park on 21 July, five days before the first performance, but by that time uninterrupted rain had been falling for a week with no improvement in sight, so the decision was made to relocate the performance indoors, into the large auditorium of the Beethovenhalle. Stockhausen found that there were certain advantages to an indoor venue (better auditory contact among the performers, improved control of the just tuning of the harmonies, etc.), and so decided henceforth to authorise such performances and drew up special instructions for those conditions. In connection with this extension of performance practice Stockhausen decided also that even a single group out of the five specified in the score, or any combination of two to five groups may perform freely selected excerpts from Sternklang in concert. [12]


Constellations of Bootes and Coma Berenices, both used for proportions in Sternklang Bootes & Coma Berenices.gif
Constellations of Boötes and Coma Berenices, both used for proportions in Sternklang

Sternklang creates a sense of "non-progressive or circular time by blurring complex relationships between pitch and rhythm based on the overtone series so that the structure is perceived as inexhaustible and thus appears static". [13] The entire composition is based on five just-intoned harmonic sounds, each containing eight tones corresponding to the second through ninth partials of the overtone series. One of these tones in each chord is the E above middle C, tuned to 330 Hz. In the first chord this functions as the ninth partial, in the second chord as the eighth partial, and so on to the fifth chord, where it is the fifth partial. Compositionally, the harmonic structure fluctuates between an extreme situation in which all five groups share the same chord and the opposite extreme where each group's chord is different. [14]

The rhythms, tone colours, and pitch intervals in the "models" are directly derived from star constellations observed in the sky and integrated as musical figures. [14]

The self-similarity of the time and pitch structures recalls the same composer's Gruppen . [15]


At the Birmingham performance in 1992, the composer observed members of the audience:

They stayed a while at the same place to listen to a group, then moved away in the park in the direction of another group. As I walked from group to group … I began to encounter the same people. Those located in the central listening area did not remain there long, at most five minutes, then went toward a group—who knows what prompted them to choose this one over another? [16]

The overall response of the audience attending was described by another observer:

for many in the park on Tuesday night the experience was unique and estimable: not a soul I talked to disliked it. Quite what came down to Earth that night as a result of this community endeavour has to be a matter of personal experience. At the very least those who brought this astonishing event to fulfilment can rest secure in the knowledge that they have given Birmingham a night unlike any other. [10]



Related Research Articles


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Musik im Bauch is a piece of scenic music for six percussionists and music boxes composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1975, and is Number 41 in his catalog of works. The world premiere was presented on 28 March 1975 as part of the Royan Festival. The performance was given by Les Percussions de Strasbourg in the haras in the town of Saintes, near to Royan. Its duration is roughly 38 minutes.


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  1. Stockhausen 1978, pp. 174–175.
  2. Griffiths 1974.
  3. Maconie 2005, p. 335.
  4. Stockhausen 1978, pp. 170, 174.
  5. Kurtz 1992, p. 185.
  6. Stockhausen 1978, p. 176.
  7. Stockhausen 1989, p. 60.
  8. Stockhausen 1998, p. 185.
  9. Gilbert 1983–84, p. 478.
  10. 1 2 Smaczny 1998.
  11. Anon. 2010.
  12. Stockhausen 1978, pp. 60, 62, 70.
  13. Gilbert 1983–84, p. 479.
  14. 1 2 Stockhausen 1978, p. 175.
  15. Maconie 2005, p. 337.
  16. Dirmeikis 1999, p. 51.

Cited sources

Further reading