Tierkreis (Stockhausen)

Last updated

Bell tower of the Cologne Town Hall where, since 6 July 2009, one of the Tierkreis melodies is played on the carillon daily at noon Rathausturm 4405.jpg
Bell tower of the Cologne Town Hall where, since 6 July 2009, one of the Tierkreis melodies is played on the carillon daily at noon

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.



Once described as "melodic naïveté" in the form of "cheerful, empty-headed little tune[s]" (Kenyon 1980a , 78, who nevertheless soon changed his mind, in Kenyon 1980b , 186), Tierkreis has proved to be Stockhausen's most popular composition (Anon. 2007; Deruchie 2007; Nordin 2004). Tierkreis was originally written for music boxes as a component part of a theater piece for percussion sextet titled Musik im Bauch (Music in the Belly), which has been interpreted variously as "a fairy tale for children" ( Maconie 1976 , 322) or else as "a ritual played out in Mexican Indian scenery" ( Kurtz 1992 , 205). These twelve melodies (with or without their accompaniments) form an autonomous work which can be played by any suitable instrument, and exist also in versions to be sung. The striking simplicity of the melodies has led some writers to see them (together with other of Stockhausen's works from after 1966) as precursors of the German New Simplicity movement that began in the late 1970s (Andraschke 1981; Gruhn 1981).

On the initiative of the Committee for Art and Culture of the City Council of Cologne, from 6 July 2009 the melody from Tierkreis corresponding to the current Zodiac sign is played daily at noon on the newly restored 48-bell carillon in the tower of the Cologne Town Hall, as a tribute to the composer. Bert Augustus, a campanologist from the Dutch company Royal Eijsbouts programmed the melodies on a computer, with the collaboration of Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer of the Stockhausen Foundation for Music (Nonnenmann 2009; Pesch 2009).


Fourteen-tone row of "Libra" (Kohl 1983, 151) Stockhausen Tierkreis Libra.png
Fourteen-tone row of "Libra" ( Kohl 1983 , 151)

The twelve melodies of Tierkreis are character pieces, representing the twelve signs of the Zodiac. They are serial in conception and all are based on tone rows, though some have more than twelve notes—Libra, for example, has fourteen, with F and D recurring in different octaves. Because music boxes preclude any significant variation in dynamics or timbre, the structure of the Tierkreis melodies emphasize pitch and rhythm ( Kohl 1983 , 148–51). Each melody is centered on a different chromatic pitch, with "Leo" (Stockhausen’s own sign) = A, Virgo = A, Libra = B, Scorpio = C, etc., and each has its own distinctive tempo, chosen from the "chromatic" tempo scale first described in the composer's famous article, "... How Time Passes ..." ( Stockhausen 1957 ).

Like the pitches, the rhythms are also organized serially and strive for contrast amongst the melodies rather than relatedness ( Kohl 1983 , 150). Various scales of durations are employed: Fibonacci numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,  ), arithmetic series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5,  ), and "second order" arithmetic series, in which the difference between consecutive members increases arithmetically (2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 17,  ). One melody, "Aries", mixes all three of these scale types, at different levels of the durational organization ( Kohl 1983 , 159–62).

A complete performance begins with the melody corresponding to the zodiac sign within which the day of the performance falls, and proceeds through the twelve melodies of the cycle, ending with a return to the starting melody. Each melody is to be played at least three times through, with variations or improvisations ( C. Stockhausen 1978 ), which in some performances have been very extensive ( Svoboda 2002 ). Though performances documented in recordings last between 12 and 63 minutes, a complete performing version by the violin-piano duo of Andrew and Gail Jennings is claimed to last 96 minutes, but they have declined to play their version complete in public ( Leonard 2003 ). The melodies can also be played individually, or in smaller numbers.

In addition to Musik im Bauch, Stockhausen employed the Tierkreis melodies in the central "wheel" section of Sirius (1975–77), an hour-and-a-half-long chamber opera for soprano and bass voices, trumpet, bass clarinet, and eight-channel electronic music ( Kohl 1983 , 166). Fragments of several of the melodies are also quoted in act 3, scene 1 of Donnerstag aus Licht , in part three ("Starry Sky") of the third Light Composition, where the signs of the zodiac are shown, one after the other, in the night sky ( Ulrich 2017 , 105).

Stockhausen also prepared a number of versions for various specific forces: vocal versions for five different voice ranges (high soprano or high tenor, Nr. 41⅔; soprano or tenor, Nr. 41¾; mezzosoprano, alto, or low tenor, Nr 41⅘; baritone, Nr. 41⅚; bass, Nr. 416/7 all 1975), version for chamber orchestra, Nr. 41 7/8 (1977), version for clarinet and piano, Nr. 418/9 (1981), a "trio version" for clarinet, flute/piccolo, and trumpet/piano, Nr. 419/10 (1983), a "version 2003" for soprano or tenor with chording instrument, Nr. 41 10/11 (2003), and, finally, two orchestral versions of five melodies each, titled Fünf Sternzeichen, Nr. 4111/12, and Fünf weitere Sternzeichen, N. 4112/13. The latter was his last completed composition, finished on 4 December 2007, the night before he died ( Bäumer 2007 ). Stockhausen was planning further work in January 2008, which was probably the orchestration of the remaining two pieces, "Cancer" and "Leo" ( Kohl 2012 , 520–21).


Related Research Articles

Kontra-Punkte is a composition for ten instruments by Karlheinz Stockhausen which resolves contrasts among six instrumental timbres, as well as extremes of note values and dynamic levels, into a homogeneous ending texture. Stockhausen described it: "Counter-Points: a series of the most concealed and also the most conspicuous transformations and renewals—with no predictable end. The same thing is never heard twice. Yet there is a distinct feeling of never falling out of an unmistakable construction of the utmost homogeneity. An underlying force that holds things together—related proportions: a structure. Not the same Gestalten in a changing light. But rather this: various Gestalten in the same light, that permeates everything".

<i>Licht</i> cycle of seven operas composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen

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.

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.

Marco Blaauw is a Dutch trumpeter.

<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".

Kathinka Pasveer Dutch musician

Kathinka Pasveer is a Dutch flautist.

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.

<i>Jubiläum</i> orchestral composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Jubiläum (Jubilee) is an orchestral composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, work-number 45 in the composer’s catalogue of works.

<i>Samstag aus Licht</i> opera

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> opera

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>Mittwoch aus Licht</i> opera

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.

<i>Musik im Bauch</i>

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.

<i>Spiral</i> (Stockhausen) composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Spiral, for a soloist with a shortwave receiver, is a composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1968. It is Number 27 in the catalogue of the composer's works.

<i>Refrain</i> (Stockhausen)

Refrain for three players is a chamber-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and is number 11 in his catalog of works.


Punkte (Points) is an orchestral composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, given the work number ½ in his catalogue of works.

<i>Stop</i> (Stockhausen) composition for orchestra (divided into six groups) by Karlheinz 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.

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.

<i>Für kommende Zeiten</i>

Für kommende Zeiten is a collection of seventeen text compositions by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed between August 1968 and July 1970. It is a successor to the similar collection titled Aus den sieben Tagen, written in 1968. These compositions are characterized as "Intuitive music"—music produced primarily from the intuition rather than the intellect of the performer(s). It is work number 33 in Stockhausen's catalog of works, and the collection is dedicated to the composer's son Markus.


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.


Further reading