German composer Stockhausen, best known for his electronic compositions, dead at 79

By The Associated Press

BERLIN – Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the most important and controversial postwar composers who helped shape a new understanding of sound through electronic compositions, died at his home in western Germany. He was 79.

Stockhausen, who gained fame through his avant-garde works in the 1960s and ’70s and later composed works for huge theaters and other projects, died in the town of Kuerten on Wednesday, his publisher, the Stockhausen Verlag, said Friday. No cause of death was given.

At La Scala, the famed Milan opera house, conductor Daniel Barenboim said Stockhausen “will have an influence on music history.”

“The force of his music will be very much missed,” Barenboim said.

Stockhausen’s electronic compositions were a radical departure from musical tradition and incorporated influences as varied as psychology, the visual arts and the acoustics of a particular concert hall.

He was considered by some an eccentric member of the European musical elite and by others a courageous pioneer in the field of new music. Rock and pop musicians such as John Lennon, Frank Zappa and David Bowie have cited him as an influence, and he is also credited with having influenced techno music.

So taken were the Beatles by Stockhausen’s music, they asked permission to use his photo on the cover of the 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He appears fifth from the left in the back row.

Not everyone’s admiration was so great. British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who founded the London Symphony Orchestra, was famously quoted as answering a question of whether he had ever conducted any Stockhausen by saying, “No, but I believe I once trod in some.”

Stockhausen sparked controversy in 2001 when he described the Sept. 11 attack on the United States as “the greatest work of art one can imagine.”

The composer, who made the comment during a news conference in the northern German city of Hamburg, where several of the suicide pilots had lived, later apologized but insisted he had been misquoted.

Stockhausen was born in the village of Moedrath near Cologne in western Germany on Aug. 22, 1928. His father was killed in World War II, and his mother also died, leaving him orphaned as a teenager.

After completing his studies in musicology, philosophy and German literature at the University of Cologne, he studied under composer Olivier Messiaen in 1952-53 in Paris, where he also met his French contemporary Pierre Boulez.

In 1966-67, he served as a guest professor for composition at the University of California at Davis.

In 1971, he was appointed professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Cologne. That same year, his work “Hymnen” debuted in a performance by the New York Philharmonic.

Stockhausen wrote 362 individually performable works, according to his publisher, including more than 140 of electronic or electro-acoustic music, and brought out more than 100 albums.

In one of his lager-scale operas, “Licht,” Stockhausen tried to capture all of the facets of the world with sound and noises and set them in relation to the human spirit, speech, smells and colors.

The piece, which took 25 years to compose, is an enormous sonic representation of the seven days of the week. So large is the work’s scope that multiple scenes needed to depict Thursday alone last four hours.

“Licht” is to be performed in its entirety for the first time next year at the European Center for the Arts Hellerau in Dresden, Germany.

The composer is survived by six children from two marriages.

The funeral service will be Dec. 13 in the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Kuerten, near Cologne. A commemorative concert is to be held at the Suelztalhalle in Kuerten, his publisher said, but details had not been announced.

“Stockhausen always said that GOD gave birth to him and calls him home … for love is stronger than death,” read the release on the publisher’s Web site.