Karlheinz Stockhausen was trained as a pianist, an accomplished improviser. For many, his piano pieces are a point of first direct contact with Stockhausen’s conceptual and practical world.
These four pieces are played as fast as technically possible. However, tempo is an ambiguous matter in these Klavierstucke. Meter and is treated as an external coordinate. The time values of the notes are realized but in the absence of phrasing. Impression of tempo is dependent on the relationship of the way the notes are executed-either related by conjunction or dynamic.
Piece no.1 is written in only 3 days. The piece is extremely difficult to perform because of Stockhaussen’s notation. The complexity of the piece lies in the act the tone set of measurements is used to determine the larger phrase structure of the piece, while the other sets determine the scale of subdivision of each structural duration. This piece is grouped in adjacent hexachords, C to F, F-sharp to B.
Piece no.2 has an ampler sound. Symmetrical rhythmic patterns are used here. The phrase groups in this piece are highlighted by the use of the sustain pedal. These rhythms are non-retrogradable. Forward and reverse combinations of duration gives this piece its charm. In m8 to 9, there is a change tonally in the triplets from diatonic to whole tone. The lowest dynamic level ppp, appears at the end.
Piece no.3 is the shortest of the set, with a 30-second performance duration. Stockhausen’s ‘grouped’ approach in composition are evident in pitch, duration, rhythmic organization within a goup, and dynamics. It is modular in its construction. The pitches are organized in four adjacent half-steps: D—D-sharp—E—F, F—F-sharp—G—G-sharp, G-sharp—A—A-sharp—B.
Piece no.4 is based on two linear modes where each note in succession is followed by or preceded by a rest. The regular off-the-beat succession of notes can be made to appear irregular, and terminates at regular intervals. This has two lines which interact in counterpoint with well-contrasted dynamics in ff and pp. The piece ends with a surprising two diminuendos.
A piece to compare this work to is Pierre Boulez’s Sonate Nos.1-3. Both pieces are atonal, arhythmic and difficult to execute. However, Stockhausen’s seems more musically pleasing to the ears. The notation of the first piece is difficult to read. Boulez’s Sonate are more pleasing to read, in that the notations more approachable. He uses more sustain pedal to create depressing sounds and thicker layers of rhythms.
Klavierstucke is an important work from the 1950s because it showcases his ability to compose on a the piano. The piece can be performed in its entirety live on the instrument itself without additional pre-recorded materials. It is also interesting to study how these pieces are complex but cohesive in their conception. I have much admiration for pianists who are able to execute such pieces and make them sound elegant and musical.