Hymnen with soloists (L–R: Aloys Kontarsky, piano; Péter Eötvös, electrochord; Christoph Caskel, tam-tam; Harald Bojé, electronium), Shiraz Arts Festival, Persepolis, Iran, 3 September 1972

Hymnen is an electronic and concrete work, with optional live performers, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 1966–67, and elaborated in 1969. In the composer's catalog of works, it is "Nr. 22".


The quadraphonic electronic and concrete music of Hymnen was realised at the Electronic Music Studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne. The world première was of the version with soloists, and took place on 30 November 1967 in a concert of the WDR concert series Musik der Zeit, at the auditorium of the Apostel Secondary School in Cologne-Lindenthal (Stockhausen 1971, 96). The soloists were Aloys Kontarsky, piano, Johannes G. Fritsch, viola, Harald Bojé, electronium, and Rolf Gehlhaar and David Johnson, percussion. Sound technicians were David Johnson and Werner Scholz, sound direction by the composer.

Between January and April 1969, in Madison, Connecticut, Stockhausen created a new version of the Third Region of Hymnen by adding a part for orchestra. This was to fulfill a commission from Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, which was originally to have been for a never-completed work titled Projektion. The world premiere of the "Third Region with Orchestra" was given by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Stockhausen in Philharmonic Hall, New York, on 25 February 1971 as part of a special non-subscription concert of the New York Philharmonic, together with the American premiere of the other three regions of Hymnen in the version with soloists (Kurtz 1992, 170–71, 186–87). The programme, which started fifteen minutes late due to an unprecedented demand for tickets, lasted for three hours (with two intervals) and was "the longest Philharmonic concert of the last generation, and, for all we know, in Philharmonic history" (Schonberg 1971a; (Schonberg 1971b)). The first part consisted of the first and the first half of the second region, and was performed with the soloists of Stockhausen's group; after the first interval came the "Third Region with Orchestra", which actually begins halfway through region 2; the third part consisted of the fourth region, again with the soloists of Stockhausen's ensemble: Aloys Kontarsky (piano), Harald Bojé (electronium), Christoph Caskel (percussion), and Péter Eötvös (55-chord) (Heyworth 1971; Stockhausen 1978, 85–87).

The second complete performance (following the New York premiere) of all four regions, including the third region performed with live orchestra, took place on the Yale University Cross Campus and in Beinecke Plaza with the Yale Symphony Orchestra, Yale Marching Band, Yale Glee Club, Russian Chorus, Yale Aviation Squadron, WYBC Transistor Radio Band, Silliman College Dramat, etc., on 29 April 1972 in an outdoor performance with a scenario by Sterling Brinkley and John F. Mauceri, "with permission and suggestions by the composer." Flag designs (real and projected) by Chris and Esther Pullman (Anon. 1972; Loomis 1972; Morgan 1972; Stockhausen 1978, 100–105).

Although both the tape-alone version and the version with soloists were performed in London in 1971 (at the Round House during the English Bach Festival, and at St John, Smith Square with members of Stockhausen's own group), these both used the two-channel stereo reduction made for the DGG record. The four-channel version did not receive its UK premiere until 18 August 1975, in the version with soloists performed by Triquetra-Plus, with newly revised parts for the soloists (Harvey 1975, 707).

Musical form and content

The German title means "(national) anthems", and the substance of the work consists of recordings of national anthems from around the world. There are four movements, called "regions" by the composer, with a combined duration of two hours. The composition exists in three versions: (1) electronic and concrete music alone (2) electronic and concrete music with soloists, and (3) the Third Region (only) with orchestra (composed in 1969). This version of the Third Region can be performed by itself, or together with either the first or second version of the other three regions.

Each region uses certain anthems as centres:

Region I also includes a four-language "fugal" section featuring the voices of Stockhausen and his studio assistants David Johnson and Mesías Maiguashca. They speak variations on the colour "red". Stockhausen did not choose a political orientation, but rather used an enumeration of colours from the Artist's Water Colours catalogue from the English art supply company Windsor and Newton [sic], and Johnson concludes the section by naming the company out loud (Stockhausen 1995, 163–64).

Stockhausen originally planned to compose "many more" regions, creating a much longer work. He had collected 137 anthems, of which only 40 are used in the four extant parts (Maconie 2005, 275), and had organised materials for two further regions, according to contemporary reports (Schwinger 1967, 143; Lichtenfeld 1968, 70):

Stockhausen's original vision for the piece was also much freer. He referred to it as a work "for radio, television, opera, ballet, recording, concert hall, church, out of doors..." in his original program note. He added, "The work is composed in such a way that different scenarios or libretti for films, operas, ballets could be written to the music."

Performance practice

In the printed score, Stockhausen wrote, "The order of the characteristic sections and the total duration are variable. Depending on the dramatic requirement, Regions may be extended, added or omitted" (Stockhausen 1968, viii). However, in a text written on 18 March 1991 Stockhausen withdrew this option (Stockhausen 1998a, 95).

Stockhausen also withdrew the soloist version of Hymnen after receiving recordings of it from ensembles that displayed "arbitrary confusion and unembarrassed lack of taste" (Stockhausen 1995, 185).

The original conception for the version of the Third Region with orchestra was that the musicians should be so familiar with the sounds on the tape that they could react spontaneously by ear during the performance. After years of futile attempts, Stockhausen found it necessary because of limitations on rehearsal time to write out cue notes in the orchestral parts, and even then sometimes found the musicians were playing in the wrong places, because they were not paying attention to the tape: "The musicians improvise with the material that is written, even though they ought to be relying on their ears" (Varga 2013, 61).


Notwithstanding Stockhausen's planned but unrealised fifth region, composer Konrad Boehmer, a staunch Marxist, castigated Hymnen on political grounds, claiming that its use of anthems primarily from capitalist and fascist nations presents "emblems" indicating the composer's political alignment (Boehmer 1970, 137). He calls the utopian realm of Hymunion "irrational petty-bourgeois supra-nationality" (Boehmer 1970, 140).

Robin Maconie, on the contrary, regards any apparent political message as superficial, with less significance for younger audiences than for listeners who remember the student uprisings, Viet Nam, and other issues of mass protest from the time when Hymnen was composed, holding that the musical meaning of Stockhausen's chosen material is not what those sounds might represent, but what they are acoustically (Maconie 2005, 275).

Johannes Fritsch calls Hymnen a "masterpiece", comparable to Beethoven's Missa solemnis, Mahler's Eighth Symphony, and Schönberg's Moses und Aron (Fritsch 1976, 262). Maconie concurs, while pointing out that the conventional symphony's reliance on instruments and tempos (as points of reference), and on themes and key changes (as variables) are replaced in Hymnen with the anthems and with "ways of hearing", respectively. These ways of hearing include the discovery of highly accelerated events in the midst of very slow ones, or elements of stasis in a context of extreme turbulence; sometimes the anthems are only glimpsed, or become hidden, are overlaid, or broken into fragments and recombined. The result can be interpreted as "a magisterial response from the German musical and intellectual tradition to a US cold war agenda of speech recognition and translation", that at the same time "comprehensively addresses the same underlying issues of melody synthesis by interpolation and substitution programming" (Maconie 2005, 278, 280).



Further reading

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