Stockhausen’s hypnotic masterpiece

Holland Festival Proms - MANTRA

Lucas en Arthur Jussen

Karlheinz Stockhausen's MANTRA is a composition for two pianos, live electronics, and percussion which needs to be experienced live. Stockhausen wrote the piece in 1970 for the renowned pianist brothers Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky. Brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen are now performing this landmark in music history at the Holland Festival Proms. The Jussens have been world-famous pianists specialised in classical repertoire since they were teenagers. But they also have a keen interest in contemporary music. This will be their first performance of this hypnotic masterpiece. A surprising festival debut.

Holland Festival Proms

For a whole day, from noon until late at night, there will be a vibrant mini-festival in The Concertgebouw. The Holland Festival Proms consists of five concerts and an installation. From a concert with virtual reality to the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and the swinging music of The Nile Project

From the brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen playing Karlheinz Stockhausen to an opera-installation by the Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto. The day is being hosted by comedian and television presenter Klaas van der Eerden. In the intermissions there will be performances by conservatory students, as well as short introductions to the concerts. For only ten euros per concert – or less for those who buy a day pass – you can hear the latest and most adventurous music from around the world. There’s an afterparty that night for everyone who can’t get enough of it.

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Background information

It is 1969 and Karlheinz Stockhausen is staying in Madison, Connecticut. He is there at the invitation of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, having been commissioned by them to expand the Third Region of his tape composition Hymnen with a new part written for 

orchestra. One day on the drive to Boston, so the story goes, a melody suddenly pops into his head. He hurriedly scribbles the notes down on an envelope. Thirteen of them, beginning and ending on an ‘a’. And in between them all twelve chromatic pitches, neatly arranged into four phrases. 

Years later, during a reading at Imperial College London, Stockhausen described how the notes also conjured up a visual image: ‘I saw the melody before me, stretched out over an enormous span of time. The same melody circulated around each separate note, but on a smaller scale. Every note a sun with thirteen planets around which a smaller version floated, like a musical solar system.’ His vision would become Mantra (1970), a composition for two pianists, each playing a set of crotales (antique cymbals) and a wood block alongside their instrument. Ring modulators provide electrical manipulations of the piano sounds. The timbre is constantly altered and distorted using the speakers: bell-like resonances and buzzing consonances that at times remind the listener of a gamelan ensemble.

 

Mantra consists of thirteen ‘regions’, one for each of the notes in the melody. After an introductory series of chords and repeating crotales strikes the mantra emerges in its basic form. Specific techniques give each of the sections that follow their own character: staccato repetition of notes, tremolos, chord-like passages or decorative figurations on the melody, which spread out like spiralling clouds into the musical space. An ingenious procedure of ‘expansion’ of the melody brings in further variety. According to a system of twelve self-designed scales with ever increasing intervals, Stockhausen steadily stretches out the mantra: where at the beginning the melody fits within a single octave (twelve keys), by the end it takes in the full breadth of the piano (eighty-eight keys). 

MANTRA is best described as a steadily extending sound universe, the cosmic dance of an elemental melody with its various expansions and contractions. But, typically for Stockhausen, the composition goes beyond its form: it is a ritual in sound, a meditation on the mystical relationship between unity and multiplicity, uniformity and variety. With its dazzling structure, in which everything relates to everything else, MANTRA also proved to be a milestone in Stockhausen’s oeuvre. After various experimentations with open forms and improvised elements, the composer entered new musical terrain with the melodic formula technique of Mantra, terrain he would explore further during the 1970s with pieces such as Inori, Sirius, Tierkreis and later in his gigantic opera cycle LICHT.

The premiere of Mantra took place during the Donaueschingen Festival of 1970. The performance was entrusted to the legendary Kontarsky brothers, who enjoyed a great reputation as a piano duo in the contemporary music world. With this concert Arthur and Lucas Jussen are following in their footsteps and giving their first performance of a substantial modern work. The brothers were mentored in their preparation of the piece by Ellen Corver, who collaborated many times with Stockhausen, and who gave the Dutch premiere of MANTRA along with Sepp Grotenhuis during the 1995 Holland Festival with the composer himself behind the mixing deck. 

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Biographies

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) began his career studying piano alongside musicology, philosophy and German linguistics. He took his first lessons in composition, with the Swiss composer Frank Martin, in 1950 and in the summer of 1951 embarked on courses in new music at 

Darmstadt. There he became obsessed with serialism, a post-war method of composition in which elemental parts of the sound (pitch, duration, volume and timbre) are ordered according to row structures. The year after that he studied with Messiaen in Paris and, with a few ground-breaking works, managed to establish himself at the forefront of new music. From the second half of the 1950s onwards he achieved great artistic successes with a freer approach to the principles of serialism. At the WDR-studio in Cologne (which he went on to direct in the 1960s) he experimented with electronica as well as the placement of the orchestra in relation to the audience, extremes of tempo and music from all over the world. In 1964 an ensemble was established, dedicated exclusively to the performance of his work and in 1970 he set up his own music press.

In the 1970s his approach to music took a markedly cosmic turn: he wanted to find a way to express his connectedness to the cosmos, nature and his fellow man. With LICHT (1977-2003), a cycle of seven colossal operas, one for each day of the week, he created a work intended to encapsulate the whole of his life. In 2019 Holland Festival, The Dutch National Opera and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague will present a broad selection from the series under the title aus LICHT. From 2003 to his death in 2007 Stockhausen worked on Klang, a comparable cycle about the hours in the day.

 

Lucas (1993) and Arthur (1996) Jussen received their first piano lessons from Leny Bettman in Hilversum. In 2005 the brothers studied for a year with the Portuguese master pianist Maria João Pires. After that came lessons with Jan Wijn and Ton Hartsuiker. Lucas also studied with Menahem Pressler in the United States and with Dmitri Bashkirov at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofia in Madrid. Lucas and Arthur are former winners of the Concertgebouw Young Talent Award (2011) and the Audience Award of the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (2013). In the Netherlands the duo have appeared alongside the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hague Philharmonic and the Radio Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra amongst others, as well as playing internationally with orchestras such as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra and the London Chamber Orchestra. During these collaborations they have worked with such conductors as Valeri Gergiev, Jaap van Zweden, Jukka Pekka Saraste, Elihu Inbal, James Gaffigan, Sir Neville Marriner and Frans Brüggen.

Arthur and Lucas are also known internationally for their solo recitals. They appeared in the series Meesterpianisten (Master Pianists) and the Robeco-series at the Concertgebouw and gave concerts at the invitation of the former Dutch queen Beatrix. In 2014 the brothers accompanied King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima on their first state visit to Poland. In 2010 Lucas and Arthur signed a record deal with Deutsche Grammophon. Their debut CD of works by Beethoven went platinum and was awarded the Edison Classical Audience Award. After a well-received recording of Schubert pieces and a release dedicated to French piano music (Jeux) their fourth CD, of Mozart piano concertos, came out at the end of 2015. This collaboration with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields led by Sir Neville Marriner was awarded the Edison Classical Audience Award 2016. Grammophone UK selected this recording in their top 50 greatest Mozart recordings. With their performance of Mantra Lucas and Arthur take on their first large-scale contemporary work.

 

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Credits

music
Karlheinz Stockhausen
music performed by
Lucas en Arthur Jussen
sound engineering
Jan Panis

This performance was made possible with support by