Barrie Gavin's 1980 film about Karlheinz Stockhausen is framed by a performance of his flower-power anthem "Stimmung", the singers' lips shot in close-up, and by a lecture delivered by the composer in a natty frock-coat: everything reflects the magic that got him on to the cover of Sgt Pepper.
The film made the ideal introduction to the BBC Symphony Orchestra's Stockhausen day at the Barbican, in which, though we didn't get "Gruppen" or "Kontakte", all the facets of his multifarious oeuvre got a look. A wind quintet gave a lovely rendering of his memorial piece "Adieu", and pianist Nicolas Hodges dealt brilliantly with his sometimes rebarbative "Klavierstücke", constructing entire sonic worlds with the aid of the pedalled overtones. The early choral pieces, which gave no indication of what might develop later, showed fascinatingly where Stockhausen might have gone had he not become seized by his obsession with the "one pure sound". "Kontra-Punkte", written in 1953, came up fresh as a daisy, but I found his credo "Litanei", which the BBC singers delivered in a rapt Druid circle, impossible to take seriously. No such problems, however, with his masterpiece "Inori": that crazily systematised essay on melody, rhythm, texture, and volume was riveting.
Ironically, the piece that must have seemed most daring when it was made is now the most dated: what Steve Reich and his followers have done with sampling makes "Hymnen" sound horribly creaky by contrast. A montage of national anthems, played in a darkened hall at wildly varying speeds and tricked out with electronic burps and buzzes: this was like being in the cinema, without a film. Making no excuses, I left before its two-hour course was run.Reuse content