Stockhausen’s “Stimmung” Jeita Cave

Stockhausen’s performance of “Stimmung” in the Jeita Cave near Beirut, 1969

“Si bien los atributos auditivos de los espacios comunes cambian el estado de ánimo y las emociones de los habitantes, el efecto se demuestra mejor con espacios de alto impacto, que a menudo son seleccionados por artistas auditivos por sus cualidades dramáticas. Usando la antigua cueva de estalactitas de Jeita cerca de Beirut, como se muestra en la siguiente figura, Stockhausen interpretó varias de sus composiciones posmodernas. Los oyentes se encontraban a 80 metros de los artistas, lo que permitió que la acústica natural dominara el sonido directo. Los visitantes obtuvieron acceso a la cueva caminando durante 15 minutos a través de un túnel y cuevas más pequeñas hasta llegar a la gruta principal. Un sacerdote católico dijo sobre la actuación de Stimmung: “Fue la oración más larga que he conocido y la más feliz”.

for 6 Vocalists (3 Male, 3 Female) (and tuning tape)
1968 [70 min.]

     STIMMUNG is in its simplest explanation a sequence of 51 different vowel-based vocal patterns (without pitch) which are interspersed with “Magic Names” and interrupted 3 times by passages of erotic poetry.  Each vocal pattern (“Model”) is started by an indicated vocalist and the other vocalists gradually transform whatever they are doing to match the new Model.
     There are 6 basic notes (from a Bb Major 9th chord) which the vocalists intone the Models on, and the Models are designed to bring out the overtones of the pitches with the help of the vowel shapes.  The score arrangement (form scheme) lets the mixed vocal group create a kaleidoscopic layering of overtone frequencies on a single chord (actually a single note, since the chord is created by the harmonic partials (overtone series) of the Bb note).


Aquí explican muy bien todo el contenido de la obra:

     STIMMUNG was commissioned by a traditional vocal group accustomed to performing madrigals and things like that, but when Stockhausen found himself unable to sing melodies out loud at his home (due to his sleeping newborn child Simon) he began humming.  From humming with his skull against the wall (and hearing Simon’s own humming from his crib) he became interested in composing for overtones on a static chord.  Additionally, he had just returned from a few weeks exploring the ruins of the Mayas in Mexico and was inspired by the stark but iconic architecture he found there, as well as the accounts of the ancient (and sometimes bloody) rituals conducted in those places. 

The German word Stimmung [ˈʃtɪmʊŋ] has several meanings, including “tuning” and “mood“. The word is the noun formed from the verb stimmen, which means “to harmonize, to be correct”, and related to Stimme (voice). The primary sense of the title “implies not only the outward tuning of voices or instruments, but also the inward tuning of one’s soul” (Hillier 2007, 4). According to the composer, the word

Means “tuning,” but it really should be translated with many other words because Stimmung incorporates the meanings of the tuning of a piano, the tuning of the voice, the tuning of a group of people, the tuning of the soul. This is all in the German word. Also, when you say: We’re in a good Stimmung, you mean a good psychological tuning, being well tuned together. (Cott 1973, 162)

Stimmung is in just intonation. Six singers amplified by six microphones tune to a low B♭1 drone, inaudible to the audience, and expand upwards through overtone singing, with that low B♭’s harmonics 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 (B♭2, F+2, B♭3, D4, A♭+4, and C+5) becoming in turn fundamentals for overtone singing. It is composed using what the composer calls moment form, and consists of 51 sections (called “moments”).

The harmonies of Stimmung are composed from 108 pitches: twelve different tones for each of the three women’s voices, and twenty-four for each of the three men. Not only do the performers produce partials from the overtone series in each note they sing, but all of the fundamental tones are also related by whole-number overtone ratios. In this way, overtones are composed upon overtones, generating a range of degrees of harmonic fusion (Stockhausen 2009, 206).


Stockhausen himself attributes a month spent walking among ruins in Mexico as his primary influence, Stimmung recreating that ‘magic’ space. On the other hand, he also describes the snow on frozen Long Island Sound in February and March 1968 (when he was composing Stimmung in Madison, Connecticut), as “the only landscape I really saw during the composition of the piece” (Cott 1973, 163). In a letter to Gregory Rose written on 24 July 1982 (printed in the liner notes to Hyperion CDA66115), he describes how, in the small house his wife Mary had rented it was only possible for him to work at night because their two small children needed quiet during the day. He could not sing aloud, as he had done initially, but began to hum quietly, listening to the overtone melodies. Mary reports that Stockhausen first discovered the technique when listening to their small son Simon [me parece interesante que se inspire en sus hijos] producing multiple tones while humming in his crib after falling asleep. In this way, Stockhausen became “the first Western composer to use this technique of singing again—in the Middle Ages it had been practised by women and children in churches, but was later entirely supplanted by masculine Gregorian music” (Bauermeister 2011, 217–18).

Some writers have seen the possible influence of Stockhausen’s student La Monte Young and his mid-1960s drone music with The Theatre of Eternal Music

I didn’t hear any of Feldman’s music until 1962, when I heard a piece of Stockhausen’s called Refrain. I only realized later that this was Stockhausen’s “Feldman piece” just as Stimmung was his “LaMonte Young piece”. (Reich 2002202)

Prior to the composition of Stimmung in 1966, Stockhausen spent several months in Japan and on his return to Europe passed through Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Persia, Lebanon, and Turkey. This exposure to the east was certainly an influence on compositions like Carré, Telemusik, Stimmung and Mantra, but at no time does he directly quote the music of these cultures directly in his music. Stockhausen discovered the writings of Sri Aurobindo in May of 1968 and it is in these writings that he found clarification of his own individual philosophy. In the preface to Mantra, Stockhausen quotes Aurobindo who says that music like the mantra comes from the ‘overmind’:

“For anyone who has the capacity to enter more and more consciously into relation with the higher planes – poet, writer, artist – it is quite evident, perceptible, that after a certain level of consciousness it is no longer it is no longer ideas that one sees and tries to translate. One hears. There are literally vibrations or waves, rhythms which lay hold of the speaker, invade him, then clothe themselves with words and ideas or with music, colours, in their descent. But the word or the idea, the music, the colour, is a result, a secondary effect: they just give body to the impervious vibration”.[12]

In Stimmung the swinging periodicities of repeated syllabic patterns conveys this feeling of impervious vibration that Aurobido talks of. This statement of Aurobindo equally holds true for Stimmung as it expresses an important aspect of Stockhausen’s thinking on music. Jonathan Cott writes:

“Stockhausen has attempted to mediate between Eastern and Western musical traditions. His Development of a new time dimension, his exploration of sounds in space, his meditation of statistical and deterministic elements, his revelation how one can transubstantiate one musical parameter into another, and his presentation in his compositions of the process of these changes are all in the service of an integrating conception of art and life”.[13]

It is no surprise that Stimmung was a phenomenal success at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970 in Japan, when it was performed seventy two times, as Stockhausen’s music appeals to the sensitivities of the Japanese. Comparisons have been drawn between the singing techniques employed in Stimmung and Mongolian throat singing. Stockhausen like the minimalist composers Terry Riley and La Monte Young was drawn to Indian culture and the practice of Mantra repetition. Despite obvious parallels, Stockhausen makes the important point that Stimmung came to him from his own experimentation and that often when a composer tries discover new ways of making music he parallels techniques that already are in existence in another part of the world and hence similarities can be drawn.


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