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Stockhausen: Gruppen (20C)

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Audio CD, July 31, 2012
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Editorial Reviews

On the last page of the published score of Gruppen (Groups), Stockhausen entered: Deo gratias. Paspels bei Chur 1955, Köln 1957. Like Stravinsky s Rite of Spring, Stockhausen s work was conceived in an Alpine landscape. The Rite was composed at Clarens, overlooking Lake Geneva and the French Alps, while Gruppen was planned and partly written in the Eastern Swiss Alps of Graubünden. In his programme note for the premiere, Stockhausen wrote that Gruppen marked a new phase in his development of the spatial deployment of instrumental music . He achieved this by using three independent orchestras, each with its own conductor. For most of the time they play as separate entities, at different speeds, but occasionally these coincide they meet in a common audible rhythm , as Stockhausen put it. The orchestras interact in other ways too: calling and answering, or echoing phrases from one of the other orchestras. Stockhausen uses a range of other spatial devices as well: For a while only music from the left, from the front or from the right may be heard; [or] the sound may transmigrate from one orchestra to another.
At the same time as working on Gruppen, Stockhausen was also experimenting with ways of using the spatial placement of electronic sounds through loudspeakers in Gesang der Jünglinge (1955 56). Gruppen represents the application of a similar approach to live orchestral writing. In his programme note, Stockhausen wrote that spatial deployment now becomes functional. (It is difficult to mount such music in existing concert halls.) Each sound-source is now in a position to make its own temporal measures felt, and the listener finds himself in the middle of several temporal measures which combine to create a further common time-world. Furthermore, the sources no longer produce points of sound ... but rather they produce groups : groups of sounds, of noises and of combined sound and noise, each an autonomous unit. At several places in the score, the three orchestras seem to be moving closer together, playing at the same speed, with the same harmonies and orchestration. In the score at these places, Stockhausen says the orchestras become transformed: one receives the other into itself. Or plays with it. Extinguishes it. They fall apart or cling together. But these moments never become permanent. For Stockhausen, the three orchestras can never entirely coalesce, as they still remain spatially separate.
The first performance of Gruppen was given in Cologne s Rheinsaal a large exhibition hall more usually used for trade fairs. It took place on 24 March 1958, with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruno Maderna, Pierre Boulez and Stockhausen himself. The present live recording was made in the music in the round acoustical environment of the Berlin Philharmonie.
Among early reactions to the piece, one is of particular interest. In Memories and Commentaries, Robert Craft asked Stravinsky: What piece of new music has most interested you in the last year? The composer s reply was:
Stockhausen s Gruppen. The title is exact: the music really does consist of groups, and each group is admirably composed according to its plan of volume, instrumentation, rhythmic patterns, tessitura, dynamic, various kinds of highs and lows ... The question of the three orchestras has aroused much comment. Actually when the orchestras play separately or overlap, their roles are very marked, but in the tutti sections they simply sound like one orchestra, and this is true of all poly-orchestral music whether it is by Schütz or Mozart or Charles Ives, or anyone else.
Stravinsky praised the remarkable sounds of the orchestration, and bestowed on it the ultimate Stravinskian compliment: The rhythmic construction of Gruppen is, I think, of the greates

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
  1. Kurtág: Grabstein für Stephan op.15/c - Fassung für grosses Orchester und Solo-GitarreBerliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado and Jurgen Ruck 9:17$1.29  Buy MP3 
  2. Stockhausen: Gruppen für drei Orchester - Werk Nr.6Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado and Friedrich Goldmann and Marcus Creed22:20Album Only
  3. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 1. Adagio (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado 2:31$1.29  Buy MP3 
  4. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 2. Lamentoso - disperato, con moto (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado 4:07$1.29  Buy MP3 
  5. Kurtág: Stele Op.33 - 3. Molto sostenuto (Live From Philharmonie, Berlin / 1994)Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado 5:55$1.29  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Claudio Abbado, Friedrich Goldmann
  • Composer: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gyorgy Kurtag
  • Audio CD (July 31, 2012)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B007G649NK
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,360 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The Stockhausen and Kurtág recordings on this DG disc were originally released in the mid-1990s, when Deutsche Grammophon boasted of their sound quality by advertising their stereo CDs with not a little hyperbole as wonders of "4D Sound". Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Gruppen" may have seemed like one of the best pieces to choose to show off how your recording system faithfully reproduces the original space, and the disc is rounded off by two orchestral pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag.

"Gruppen" for three orchestras (1955-57) is probably the greatest thing Stockhausen has ever written. The three orchestras are placed to the left, centre, and right of the audience respectively and exploits this spatial separation by having themes thrown from orchestra to orchestra, making it seem like the very sound is moving. Though written at the height of 1950s serialism, it's a light and airy piece that any audiences but the "classical music stopped with Brahms" conservatives are sure to enjoy. Attending a concert performance of "Gruppen" in Helsinki in 2008 is an experience I'll never forget.

Sadly, in spite of the best efforts of studio engineers, this piece simply doesn't work in a stereo downmix. A 5.1 surround version is desparately needed, and one wonders why Stockhausen-Verlag at least hasn't provided this yet. Furthermore, this performance is filled with misreadings of the score. Compare it to any of the other recordings out there (Boulez et al., Rattle et al., and the definitive recording from Stockhausen himself) and you'll spot a plethora of mistakes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David D. Gable on July 3, 2014
Format: Audio CD
I am very glad that other reviewers have hastened to point out the inadequacies of Claudio Abbado's live DG recording of Stockhausen's GRUPPEN. Fortunately , three spectacularly secure recordings are available, two on CD and one on DVD, although one of them is virtually impossible to find. (Sadly, the recording from the 1960's featuring the composer as one of the conductors cannot compete in security and accuracy with these three more recent recordings.) First is a recording with Peter Eötvös, which has the inestimable merit of being coupled with an equally fine recording of Stockhausen's Punkte, a piece on which Eötvos worked closely with the composer:

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
Arturo Tamayo, conductor, Orchestra I
Peter Eötvös, conductor, Orchestra II
Jacques Mercier, conductor, Orchestra III
Recorded 1997 (Gruppen) & 2004 (Punkte)
BMC [Budapest Music Center] CD 117

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen / Punkte

Second is a wonderful performance with Simon Rattle available on a bonus DVD included with another release:

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
John Carewe, conductor, Orchestra I
Simon Rattle, conductor, Orchestra II
Daniel Harding, conductor, Orchestra III
Birmingham, Symphony Hall, 2 March 1996

DVD, "Leaving Home, vol. 6: After the Wake," with Simon Rattle
Arthaus Musik 102 043

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 13, 2013
Format: Audio CD
Stockhausen's "Gruppen" (Groups) is a classic of the post-war avant-garde. In live performance the orchestra is divided into three groups, each with its own conductor, and placed to the front and both sides of the audience. The resulting spatialization is one of the work's key features, and is difficult if not impossible to accurately capture in a recording.

Unfortunately, however, this live December 1994 recording of the Berliner Philharmoniker, led by Friedrich Goldmann, Claudio Abbado, and Marcus Creed, is perhaps the worst of the few recordings over the years. Some may think that the "best orchestra" will necessarily produce the best performance, but all orchestras are not equally good at all types of music. The Berliner Philharmoniker is an excellent orchestra, yes, but they are not necessarily the best at contemporary avant-garde repertoire. The advantage in this case was the presence of Goldmann (1941-2009), an excellent composer of the DDR (East Germany) until reunification, who studied with Stockhausen as a young man. But the results are not inspiring. (This disc in the 20C series is a reissue of this original DG disc, which is still available.)

Here is a summary of "Gruppen" before I turn to a far superior recording, and the other two pieces on this disc:

"Gruppen (Groups) for 3 orchestras" (1955-57 -- 22'20 in this Berlin performance) is written for an orchestra of 108 players, divided into three groups of 36. Each group is about half strings and the other half equal numbers of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, the percussion both pitched and unpitched. "Gruppen" was pathbreaking in many ways.
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