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Karlheinz Stockhausen, No. 9 Zyklus For One

Zyklus was written in 1959 and is one of

the first solo pieces to utilize such a large
number of percussion instruments
(twenty-one). All the notes are written
out specifically with respect to loudness
(shown by one of twelve sizes of notes),
the instrument to be played (by a
symbol for the instrument), the pitch on
that instrument (by a staff of some sort),
and when the note occurs in time (by
correlating time with horizontal space on
the page).
However, in the case of many of these
notated groups of notes the performer is
given specific choices in their
juxtaposition. These decisions can be
made either before or during the
performance. The performer begins with
any note, plays through the complete
piece, and ends with the note he began
with. If the score is placed in one
position, the performer's main playing
area moves gradually in a clockwise
direction; if it is turned upside down, so
to speak, the playing area naturally
moves counter-clockwise. These
recordings include performances in both
directions and with various starting
When I first started to learn to play
Zyklus there were only three other
percussionists in the world who could
play it one Japanese, one French, and
a German, Christoph Caskel. It was the
latter who did the first performance.
Stockhausen's idea was that a performer
would play the piece spontaneously,


making its complex decisions on the fly.

No one played it that way; it was too
difficult. Everyone wrote out his own
version of the score and played from it.
I decided to play it for my graduation
recital from Manhattan School of Music.
Coming from the world of jazz I also
wanted to take up the challenge of
playing it spontaneously.
At that time percussionists generally
played only one instrument at a time.
Playing twenty-one simultaneously was
unheard of. I quickly realized that the
only way to do it, in fact, was to think of
all of them together as just one
instrument one multi-surfaced bank of
timbre. Actually playing this huge group
of instruments as if they were one was
quite another matter. The challenge was
gaining control over the large number of
surfaces. In order to be able to do a
pianissimo on a surface behind your
back, without looking, you have to have
a precise kinesthetic sense of exactly
where the surface is. In order for this to
happen, the instruments always had to
have the same spatial relationships. I
had to find a way that they were always
in the same position every time I set
them up; otherwise I would never find
them with just may hands. I invented
some special frames which allowed me to
always place the instruments in the
same precise relationships and that were
possible take apart and light enough to
I also had to invent some new
techniques. For example several times in
the work you have a trill on the
vibraphone at the same time as you're
playing fast riffs on other instruments.
How do you trill on the vibraphone and
riff on other things at the same time?
You do the trill by taking two mallets in
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one hand; you put one under the

vibraphone bar, one on top and quickly
move them up and down. You play the
riffs with two sticks in the other hand. It
sounds simple but nobody had ever
thought of that before.
I decided to travel to Europe and go to
Darmstadt where Stockhausen was
teaching. I wanted to talk to him about
the piece. When I met him, he was
interested in my idea that the twentyone instruments had to be physically
formed into one instrument and in the
fact that I had done so much work on it
already. Six months later, when he was
preparing his first US tour, he
remembered our conversations and
asked me to perform Zyklus on the tour.
I was twenty-three. It was a big
He came to New York to hear me play it,
but wasn't satisfied with my improvised
version. It was too long. I was
determined to teach myself how to do it
for this tour. I had another six months. I
got it down to seven minutes; and I was
still improvising it, not writing it out.
The first concert of the tour was in New
York, and Zyklus was the first work on
the program. The whole music world was
there to see who this German composer
was. Just before I went out to play,
though, Stockhausen went out on stage
and made an announcement disavowing
responsibility for me, implying that a
young American could never do justice to
his music. It backfired on him. I was
ready to play that piece, and I played it
like nobody had ever heard it before. The
applause afterwards was tumultuous.

Stockhausen, Neuhaus, Zyklus

This compact disc, with its four
realizations by the solo percussionist Max
Neuhaus of Karlheinz Stockhausen's
Zyklus, is of interest in itself, because it
sounds cool, but also for the larger
careers of both Stockhausen and
Neuhaus. The Stockhausen score and its
realizations mark a time in music and in
both men's careers when the roles of
composer and performer were blurring,
and when Neuhaus' latent ambitions as a
composer, or architect of sound, were
taking shape.
Stockhausen, born in 1928, is a strange
case, but a strange case who has
composed some wonderful music. He
started as an ambitious young man on
the German avant-garde scene of the
1950's, and Zyklus, composed at the end
of that decade, can be heard as an
example of that era's fascination with
fragmentation and disjunction, yet with a
powerful coloristic component that was
to prove prescient.
In the 60's, after Zyklus had been
composed, Stockhausen evolved into
almost a full-bore hippie, capped by
stints in northern California. His music of
that decade, extending into the early
70's, remains his most powerful and
beautiful, blending the freedom and
mysticism of California counter-culture
(although it was never purely popular in
any commercial sense) with the grand
tradition of European art-music. Since
the 70's, Stockhausen has been
obsessed with his seven-part operatic
cycle Licht; what posterity will make of
these cosmic musical grab-bags remains
to be seen.
Stockhausen claims to have written the
first notated score for solo percussionist
with Zyklus, although he was actually


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beaten to that mark by John Cage, with

his 27' 10.544". Neuhaus suggests that
Stockhausen's graphic notation here also
owes much to Earle Brown's pioneering
works from the early 1950's. In any
case, the notation for Zyklus gives the
performer considerable latitude, within
strict Teutonic limits. Hence the four
different realizations here, each a
separate and equally legitimate response
to the suggestions proposed by
Stockhausen's notation, represent an
early example of Neuhaus making his
own compositional choices.
He had a good head start, to be sure,
given his early interest in jazz
improvisation. In a sense, the system set
up by Stockhausen's score, which points
directions and sets limits, is rather like
the tune and chord changes of jazz, or
the rules Neuhaus invents for himself in
his own later sound-works, whether on
the radio or the Internet. And his ample
use of electronic instruments to
supplement pure percussion in other

works also points in the direction on

which he was to embark in the early
The result is a technical tour de force,
less evident from a purely aural CD than
it would be from a DVD, let alone from
having attended one of these
performances. Each of these four
recordings is a document of a true solo
performance, one person and two hands,
with no additional live help and no
overdubbing (not that the technical
constraints of the mid-60's, with editing
limited to what could be accomplished
with Scotch tape and a razor blade,
would have permitted much in that
This CD also offers four different kinds of
beauty, four proofs that the latitude that
Stockhausen allowed, when capitalized
on by a performer with creative
imagination, could validate Stockhausen
as a composer and an entire aesthetic of
freedom and control.
John Rockwell, New York City, 2004

These texts were published as liner notes for

the CD Max Neuhaus, Four Realizations of
Stockhausen's Zyklus (Alga Marghen, planaN 23NMN.054), released in 2004.


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