“Sagittarius” from Tierkreis


Program Note

Tierkreis (German for zodiac) is a musical composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), written in 1974–75. The composition consists of twelve melodies, each representing one sign of the zodiac.

Tierkreis was originally written for music boxes as a component part of a theater piece for percussion sextet titled Musik im Bauch. When Stockhausen’s youngest daughter was two years old, he used to make her laugh by teasing her about her growling stomach and the “music” she was making there. Later this inspired him to write a performance art piece called Musik im Bauch. The dreamlike theatrics of this work come to a climax when a performer reaches into the belly of a life-size puppet and pulls out twelve music boxes. Stockhausen’s task of actually writing something these music boxes could play yielded twelve melodies, one named after each constellation of the zodiac. On the Stockhausen CD´s website you can hear them all. As the melodies are composed for music boxes, their range and duration (26-30 seconds) is limited and dynamics are absent. After laboring over the contours of these twelve almost tonal-sounding melodies so that they would symbolically depict the traditional personalities of ancient Babylonian astrology, they were published and performed separately under the title Tierkreis (work 41), to be played or sung with or without accompaniment.

The twelve melodies of Tierkreis are character pieces, representing the twelve signs of the Zodiac. A complete performance begins with the melody corresponding to the zodiac sign within which the day of the performance falls, and proceeds through the twelve melodies of the cycle, ending with a return to the starting melody. Each melody is to be played at least three times through, with variations or improvisations. The melodies can also be played individually, or in smaller numbers. In addition to Musik im Bauch, Stockhausen employed the Tierkreis melodies in the central “wheel” section of Sirius (1975–77), an hour-and-a-half-long chamber opera for soprano and bass voices, trumpet, bass clarinet, and eight-channel electronic music. The latter was his last completed composition, finished on 4 December 2007, the night before he died.

Note from the 2015 Stockhausen Festival at CalArts brochure.

About Karlheinz Stockhausen

22 August 1928 – 5 December 2007