Monika’s Choice

With ‘Interface to the World’, journalist Monika Pasiecznik wrote our newest e-publication. We asked her to tell us all about her favourite piece of music: ‘SYNTHI-FOU’ by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

“In 1991 Karlheinz Stockhausen composed his first and most crazy piece for electronic piano: KLAVIERSTÜCK XI a.k.a. SYNTHI-FOU, an excerpt from the opera DIENSTAG aus LICHT. A solo pianist plays on a whole set of various instruments such as synthesizers, keyboards, samplers, midi controllers and pedals. However Stockhausen wasn’t a pioneer in using these electronic instruments, musicians in pop and jazz used them for over a decade in pop and jazz music (among others Herbie Hancock in his “Sunlight” album from 1978), he creates a new virtuosity and challenges the pianist with completely new playing techniques peculiar to the electronic instruments. Glissandos on a single note or chord, microtonal passages and accents during individual sounds or volume modulations, etc. And as if this weren’t enough, the performer has to program 131 sound colours, which change on an average of every bar and are different on both hands.”

“Stockhausen predicted new devices with extended possibilities would enter the stage in the coming years, but to retain the theatrical character of the piece with the protagonist as a “synthesizer madman”, Stockhausen prescribes that the performer at least needs four different instruments to play on. Co-creator and the first performer of SYNTHI-FOU was Stockhausen’s son Simon Stockhausen. His interpretation has been recorded on the Stockhausen Verlag compact disc no. 42 (A-B). Besides the piece in concert, scenic and practice version, it also contains a catalog of 131 sound colours on separate tracks with Simon Stockhausen’s commentary on how the given colours were produced.”

“In general, the piece is rarely performed in concerts, probably due to its complexity. In June 2019 the young Bulgarian pianist Ivan Pavlov performed it at the three-day project ‘AUS LICHT’ at Holland Festival, Amsterdam. The video registration is available on ARTE TV with SYNTHI FOU starting at 55’45”.”

“SYNTHI-FOU remains a unique piece that sounds suprisingly fresh today. For the last decade new synths and samplers appeared on stage and Stockhausen’s prophecies regarding the development of piano music were not mistaken. If we add what Stockhausen use to call “Szenische Musik” (costumes and choreography), you can feel the 21st century in SYNTHI-FOU. This piece is pioneering for many important trends in new music of a digital revolution era.”