Stockhausen: Mikrophonie – conversation with Péter Eötvös

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was one of the most influential composers of the second half of the last century. We celebrate him with four of his composition played at the festival. Since September the students of the Liszt Academy have had the chance to participate at workshops led by László Hudacsek, percussionist living in Austria and Bálint Bolcsó, composer, teaching at the Liszt Academy of Music. Their focus was Stockhausens ́s Mikrophonie I from 1964, a unique composition both from technical and aesthetical point of view. Peter Eötvös was a member of Stockhausen ́s Ensemble until 1976 was among the performers of the world premiere of this work.


Transparent Sound: Mr Eötvös, you met Stockhausen at the age of 22 in Cologne. What was your experience like in relation with your previous years spent in Budapest prior to this engagement?

Péter Eötvös: I used to say that in Budapest whatever we learned about a flower was about that part what is above the ground, meanwhile at Stockhausen we heard about what is below and what ”will make a flower”. In Budapest everything was deducted from the tradition, the aim was that it should be beautiful like a flower and everything should remain on the path of the tradition. At Stockhausen there was no other part of the tradition than what is physically constant, and the aim was that to make it be like it has never been before. Budapest was in past-time and did not reach the present-time, meanwhile at Stockhausen life began with the ‘tomorrow’. So to me everything was very new from all aspects of composition, acoustic and the physical ‘science’ of the sound. It is similar to a case of an instrument-maker when he is choosing the base-material for his work to create a new instrument so he is very conscious about the relevancy of the dimensions and proportions. A Stockhausen-type of composer always starts from nothing and creates himself his own material – from silence to the noise, from noise to the sound, from sound to the spirit. The knowledge you need to work in an electro-acoustic studio and the experience of playing instruments together are forming out carefully through sound by sound, so all these type of works requiring a lot of practical know- ledge and precise organization beginning with the very first details until the very last ones.

T.S.: How was the rehearsal period of the Mikrophonie? Was it hard with a lot of research and dead ends, or it went all the way strictly under a strong control?

P. E.: It was very hard and very precise. It took quite a long time when the performers got the know-how and find their ways, but the result was amazing. It was a huge pleasure to listen and to hear all the tiny noises we created.

T.S.: How influential do you feel the time Spent with Stockhausen today, and how do you think that this experience could be shared today?

P. E.: The best thing is to read the first four Stockhausen books (Texte zur Musik Vol 1-4), study and understand it. The experiences of the ’70s are ingrained in me. I was hammered into steel, so I won ́t be rusted so easily. Meanwhile my music is different than Stockhausen ́s.

T.S.: What could be the reason that you composition professor in Hungary (Ferenc Szabó) told you to avoid contact during your scholarship in Cologne with Stockhausen.

P. E.: Well, the truth is, that Stockhausen was more a right wing person, meanwhile Szabó was an old school left wing (which I respect a lot), but I don ́t think it was what he meant. That was more that narrow framework that kept him in, meanwhile Stockhausen was outside of this. To tell the truth, he could have absolutely no idea about who Stockhausen really was.