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Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gesang der Jünglinge (1956)

Gesang der Jünglinge im Feuerofen (letteralmente "canzone della gioventù nella fornace ardente")
è una celebre composizione di musica elettroacustica scritta dal compositore d'avanguardia tedesco
Karlheinz Stockhausen. L'opera venne realizzata nel periodo 1955–56 nello studio Westdeutscher
Rundfunk (WDR) di Colonia ed è l'opera numero 8 nel catalogo del compositore. Le parti vocali
furono affidate al dodicenne Josef Protschka che in seguito sarebbe diventato un tenore piuttosto
famoso.
L'opera, generalmente descritta come "il primo capolavoro della musica elettronica", è significativa
per il suo integrare e miscelare insieme suoni elettronici e voce umana creando così tutta una serie
di “fonemi elettronici” utilizzati come materia prima per realizzare la composizione.
L’intenzione di Stockhausen nell’impostare questa composizione era proprio quella di integrare la
voce umana in un continuum che andava dall’onda sinusoidale al rumore bianco. Vista la loro
natura, le vocali e le consonanti possono essere interpretate rispettivamente in termini di spettri
armonici le prime e di rumore le seconde. Tra questi estremi il compositore svilupperà tutte le
famiglie delle tipologie timbriche ottenute per fusione e combinazione di più suoni.
In questo modo, per la prima volta furono riuniti con successo i due mondi opposti della
"Elektronische Musik" tedesca, fatta di suoni esclusivamente elettronici, e della "musique concrète"
francese, che trasforma in musica la registrazione di eventi acustici casuali o predeterminati.
Gesang der Jünglinge è celebre anche per il suo precoce uso della spazialità: l'opera era stata
pensata originariamente per cinque canali audio, in seguito ridotti a soli quattro canali per
coinvolgere l'ascoltatore in un'esperienza sonora di carattere totale.
Durante la composizione di Gesang der Jünglinge, Stockhausen tentò di espandere quanto fatto nei
precedenti lavori di Anton Webern, e compose l'opera come un lavoro di serialismo totale (detto
anche serialismo integrale), con la serializzazione di altezza, durata, dinamica sonora e timbro di
ogni suono elettronico e vocale.

Origine e storia

Nell'autunno del 1954, Stockhausen concepì l'idea di una composizione in forma di messa per suoni
elettronici e voce. Secondo quanto affermato dal suo biografo ufficiale, Stockhausen considerava
questa messa come un'opera sacra, scritta con profonda convinzione, e chiese al suo mentore, il
direttore del WDR Electronic Studio Herbert Eimert, di scrivere una lettera alla diocesi
dell'arcivescovado di Colonia per chiedere il permesso di eseguirla nella cattedrale della città.
Stockhausen restò amaramente deluso quando la richiesta venne respinta con la motivazione che
nella chiesa non si sarebbero potuti installare gli altoparlanti.
Development
In the early 1950's, Stockhausen was working in the studios of the West German Radio
broadcasting system (WDR) and manipulating electronic sine-waves to create pieces like STUDIE I
and STUDIE II. At the same time he was studying linguistics and phonetics at the University of Bonn.
These experiences inspired him to formulate a work where speech and synthetic electronic sound
could meet in a smooth continuum. In other words, he was interested in ways of blending sung
tones with electronic ones.

In order to obtain pure speech timbres, he decided to record a 12-year old boy chorister, Josef
Protschka, singing fragments derived and permutated from the apocryphal Bible text "Song of the
Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace" from the 3rd Book of Daniel, in which 3 Christian youths are
tossed into a fire by King Nebuchadnezzar, but are rescued by an angel due to their faith-based song.
At the time, Stockhausen himself was being heavily criticized for his earlier works, and so he felt a
kind of affinity for these youths.
In addition to the new timbres and combinations of sounds used by Stockhausen in this work, the
concept of sound spatialization was first explored here through the use of 4 speakers.

Originally planned to be longer in length, the final work is a little over 13 minutes long, but is still
considered a masterpiece of electroacoustic music and a major leap forward from Stockhausen's
previous electronic works.

Spoken and Sung Sounds


Stockhausen was interested in quantifying comprehensibility (intelligibility) of speech/song in this
work, so he created a scale from 1, "not comprehensible at all", to 7, "totally comprehensible" (7
graduated steps). He did this through various techniques such as:

permutating phonemes, syllables, word sequences, phrases;

pausing between syllables;


adding reverb;
layering (polyphonically and in unison); = “stratificando” più suoni
making dynamic volume changes;
overlaying the speech sounds with electronic sounds.

Through the above techniques, the 7-step scale of word comprehensibility was achieved and in
the first main section of GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE the scale can be heard in this order (though the
words are sometimes further obscured by layering):
0:10 Level 5
0:15 Level 1 (least comprehensible)

0:20 Level 2
0:27 Level 6
0:28 Level 7 (most comprehensible)
0:34 Level 3
0:42 Level 4
(The timings above are "real time", not the Stockhausen Edition 3 CD time, which has a 10 second
silence in the beginning. Add 0:10 to each timing to get the CD time.)

In addition to this comprehensibility scale, Stockhausen used several other scales to order pitches,
durations, dynamics and other factors (described in more detail later).

In order to create the vocal tracks for GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE, Stockhausen first created sine-
wave "guide loops" having the pitches, rhythms and dynamics of the scored vocal parts. The singer
performed his vocal parts with these sine-wave models in his headphones as a guide, as well as
simple visual diagrams of the text melody to follow.

The electronic sound elements were generated with radio devices housed in the WDR studio (pulse
generators, sine-wave generators, white-noise generators).

The electronic textures were created in a coordinated "performance" requiring Stockhausen and
2 assistant musicians. After drawing curves on pieces of paper, the three of them would follow the
individual graphic curves as they turned control knobs (with both hands!) of sound generators and
filters and recorded the result. With these methods they were able to create swooping and melodic
buzzes and beeps, as well as a variety of bizarre atmospheric noises.

Organization by scales
The speech sounds were ordered in a scale of comprehensibility (as described above), but also
according to phonetic timbre:

dark vowels (long "u") to light vowels (long "e")


dark consonants ("ch" as in "Loch Ness") to light consonants (soft "s")
vowels to consonants
Electronic timbres were ordered in an analogous way:

dark timbre sine wave layers - bright timbre sine wave layers (by changing the number of layers)
dark white noise - bright white noise (by band filtering)
pure harmonic - random noise bands

30 scales (subharmonic, overtone, chromatic, combination scales) were used to organize factors
such as timbre (frequency partials), melodic progression, speech sounds, sound group
transpositions and pitch registers.

Additionally, scales were used for organizing volume, duration and spatial movement (based on a
circular coordinate map).

Sound Impressions
GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE, despite its relative brevity, is a masterpiece. In just 13 minutes it
sonically portrays a dialogue between humanity, technology and God. At the same time, the work
can also be experienced as a multi-tiered aural landscape (“paesaggio sonoro a più strati”), with the
boy's voice as sometimes in the foreground, and the electronics as background - or vice-versa.