German composer and pioneer of electronic music.
Orphaned during World War II, Stockhausen had to work to finance his own musical education. He studied first with the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890–1974) at the Cologne Musikhochschule (1947–50) and later with Olivier Messiaen in Paris (1952–53). He also studied physics (especially acoustics) and phonetics at Bonn University (1953–56). His early works for conventional instruments include Kreuzspiel (1951), for oboe, bass clarinet, piano, and percussion, and Kontra-Punkte (1952; revised 1953), for ten solo instruments, which is the first of Stockhausen's pieces to use groups of notes as units within a total serialism. Gruppen (1955–57), for three orchestras, reflects Stockhausen's preoccupation with the spatial aspect of music.
Stockhausen's electronic works date from 1953, when he joined the newly founded electronic music studio of the West German Radio at Cologne. Here, working in conjunction with its director, Herbert Eimert, he used three signal generators to produce a form of music. In Gesang der Jünglinge (1956), the human voice is combined with electronic sound. In the 1960s he developed means of electronic transformation, as in Kontakte (1960) and Momente (1962). In Stimmung (1968) and Mantra (1970) much is left to the intuition of the performer or the player. At this time his music was also influenced by eastern mysticism. Stockhausen invented a method of music notation for his works, using graphs and geometrical figures, in which each note or group of notes is precisely notated, although it also allows for controlled aleatoric elements. With Donnerstag (1980), he began a planned heptalogy of operas for performance on each evening of a week; Samstag followed in 1984, Montag in 1988, Dienstag in 1991, and Freitag in 1996. He completed the cycle in 2003.