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The Importance of Stockhausen’s ‘INORI’

The ImporlaDce of .

SlockhauseD’s IINORl’

On Wednesday 23


ing artistic importance took place at the London
Coliseum: th~ first English performance of Stockhausen’s latest work, Inori, subtitled ‘Adorations
for Soloist and Orchestra’. The soloist on this
occasion was a mime, the extraordinary Elisabeth
Clarke, and I am not sure whether the work should
be looked at from the point of view of music, of
mime, of ballet or of theatre. Its importance, I
think, lies in the fact that it forces us to rethink all these categories and the barriers we
normally erect between them. Musicians will no
doubt soon be commenting in detail on the score.

Here I only want to make a few tentative suggestions about the nature of the total experience.

Stockhausen’s work has always been intensely
dramatic; even the most abstract works have sprung
from a strong sense of the conflict or dialogue of
sounds or instruments. In some cases the players
have had, at key moments in the score, ·to break out
into shouts or grunts which remind one of nothing
so much as the sounds made by animals as they
stalk and circle each other, whether in game or
earnest. He has even, in Momente, given·us a huge
semi-dramatic work. But Inori is the first piece
in which he has introduced a figure on the stage
whose function is not primarily to make music.

And since with Stockhausen, as with Stravinsky,
each new work is not only a logical extension of
all that has come before, but also a radically new
departure, and since each such departure has a
meaning not just for music but for all the arts,
it is worth trying to understand the function and
importance of the. mime in Inori.

To make sense of a photograph it is sometimes
helpful to hold up the negative to the light. In
trying to understand the role of gesture in Inori
it may be more helpful to focus on the often ludicrous and aggressively meaningless gestures of the
heroes of Kafka or Beckett than .on the hieratic
gestures for which Keats longed and which are exemplified in the arts of Japan, or to consider the
theories of Le Coq or Martha Graham. There is,’

for example, an extraordinary letter written by
Kafka to Max Brod in the first year of their
friendship, 1904, which sheds a great deal of
light on our subject.

‘It is very easy to be
cheerful at the start of the summer,’ Kafka begins.

‘One has a light heart, an easy step, a taste for
what is to come… This season, which has only a
beginning and no ending, plunges us into a state
so strange and yet so natural that it might well
kill us. We are literally carried along by a wind
that blows where it will, and nothing stops us
from being a little cross when, caught in a draught,
we clutch our foreheads or try to calm ourselves
by ‘speaking certain words, the tips of our narrow
fingers pressed hard against our knees ••. As I was
opening my eyes after a short siesta, still rather
uncertain of my existence, I heard my mother ask
from th~ balcony, in a perfectly natural tone:

“What are you doing?” A woman replied from the
garden: “I am revelling in the grass.” And I was
amazed at the assurance with which people know how
to live their lives ••• ‘

At the start of this letter there is a latent’

anguish at the openendedness of the summer: there
is too much time, there are too many possible ac-

to be written. And this plethora of po;Sibilities
renders ludicrous whatever one actually does do.

From the focus on gesture Kafka goes on, in a
terrifying passage I have omitted, to meditate on
moles, implicitly identifying himself with those
little animals who, in their burrows, have only
one direction in which to go and no room at all
for superfluous gesture ~ yet who also live in such
anguish and insecurity. Out of this passage
emerges the overheard exchange between his mother
and the lady in the garden, a scene which made
such an impression on Kafka that he included it
verbatim in his first published story, ‘Description of a Struggle’. What the exchange reveals
to Kafka is that for other people living seems to
be a perfectly natural activity. But not for him.

Not only his actions but even his smallest gestures appear redundant, and when he settles down to
write, feeling that this activity will at last
give meaning to his life, he discovers that words
are as arbitrary as gestures: if the writer is free
to use any words then how is he to decide which to

Artistically, Kafka’s dilemma is the same as
C~zanne’s or Schoenberg’s: how to find rules which
will allow their artistic language to escape from
the personal and arbitrary. And though Schoenberg,
as is well known, found a solution to the problem
of musical language, neither he nor Berg ever
solved the problem of the relation of this musical
language to dramatic language, when they came to
write works for the stage. The music of Wozzeck
or of Moses and Aaron may be as strict as anything they ever wrote, but in terms of drama and
staging they do not differ essentially from Tosca
or Elektra.

This may at first sight appear to be a nonsensical statement, so it is worth going into the
question a little more fully. If we take the broad
sweep of drama, opera and ballet, there appear to
be three alternatives open to writer/director/
choreographer. First, the work can ‘be ‘realistic’,
the gestures employed by the people on the stage
finding their justification be reference to the
gestures we see people making all round us all
the time. This is where Kafka can help us. For
Kafka the context of gesture has gone; he sees the
world around him as if it was framed on a stage.

The world seems to be a play into which he has
wandered, and whose author and plot he does not
and cannot know. Now gestures are normally related
to specific actions, such as running for a bus,
lifting food to the mouth, and soon. In Kafka we
are made aware of the fact that people act as
though their lives at large were given· meaning by
projects in the same way, when in fact that is not
the case. At the same time he draws attention to
the fact that in a play a person does not really
make a certain gesture in order to bring about a
certain end, but only so as to maintain the
illusion of reality. People on a stage do not act
the way they do because that is somehow inherent
in the material, ‘natural’, but because they want
to suggest to an audience ordi~ary people going
about ordinary iives. And their gestures are in
fact determined for them by the director’s sense
of what will look natural. Ultimately these ges-


tures, like the words they speak if the¥ are taking part in a play, will be the product of choices
made by the author and the director, and will be
heavily dependent on the prevailing ideology.

But this uneasy mixtur ~ is precisely what a composer like Schoenberg wanted to escape from. In his
case he wrote an opera which solved the problem
in a typically modern and desperate way: it enacted
a condemnation of the very form in which that
, condemnation was uttered.

Secondly, the work can be stylised so as to
remove it from the arbitrary nature of the everyday
and suggest its own status as art. This is what
one finds in most ballet and in Mozartian opera.

But there is also another kind of stylisation,
which one might call mythification, or the attempt
to raise the action to the status of myth, and
therefore, of necessity. This was Wagner’s way,
which Nietzsche at first applauded as the way back
to the truly meaningful drama of Aeschylus and
Sophocles, and then condemned as a fraud, the
attempt to impose an ersatz religion on audiences
hungry for certainty. ‘In attending a Wagner opera
one is immediately’aware of the composer’s will,
coercing one into submission. This is part of the
experience, to which we may react with pleasure or
with revulsion, depending on our temperament, but
which we cannot deny. The reason for this is that
Wagner presents us with what he insists is ‘the
world’, ‘the Truth’, as opposed
the frivolous
spectacles of a Puccini or a Verdi. But in reality
Wagner’s opera is just as much the product of an
ideology as is theirs. At every stage decisions
are made about gesture, lighting, movement, and so
on, just as with every new production decisions
have to be made about the sets. All these piecemeal decisions (‘a master of miniature’ Nietzsche
called Wagner) are precisely what a composer like
schoenberg wanted to get away from. How he did so
is part of the history of modern music. Unfortunately the lessons to be derived from Wagner’s
grandiose attempt to enforce a private vision as
the Truth have not been learned, as a work like
Henze’s The Bassarids (also recently seen at the
Coliseum, and hailed by many who should know
tietter as the most important musico-dramatic work
of the post-war years) shows only too clearly.

~ot all the cunning of the librettists, Auden and
Kallman, and of the composer himself, can hide the
fact that the dramatisation of the conflict between
Apollo and Dionysus is something very different
from the reconciliation of the two in the very con
ception of the work. In Euripides, as in Henze,
the clash of reason and sensuality is the product
of a false dualism, imposed by reason itself.

When this is presented on the stage it strikes the
viewer as a mixture of titillation and sentimentality more reminiscent of Strauss than of

The third possibility, total abstraction, cannot be found in opera or drama, since both use
words, but only in ballet. Here too, however, the
movement of the dancers remains arbitrary, subject only to the multiple decisions of the choreographer.




What we see in all three kinds of stage work
(and many of course combine what I have separated
out for convenience) is a condition of false transcendence. At each stage the work could clearly be
other than it is; it is only what it is because
someone has decided that this is how it will be.

But of course as it stands the work suggests that
it can oniy be what it is and not other – that it
is as it is through some divine sanction. In Inori
Stockhausen by-passes all three approaches. The
work is not realistic, it is not mythical, and it
is not abstract in the sense in which modern dance
is often abstract. What then is it? In his
programme note Stockhausen has explained the underlying structure of the work and it is worth quoting
him at some length. ‘The whole work,’ he writes,
‘is developed from an URGESTALT (primal shape) or
even formula, which was composed first of all. It
has 13 different pitches, plus 2 repeated at its
end. The 13 pitches are associated with 13 tempi,
13 dynamic levels, 13 timbres, and 13 gestures of
prayer (plus 2 final gestures).’ This primal
shape, which has five parts, lasts for about a
minute. It is then projected onto a scale of about
an hour, the duration of the piece. By projection,
Stockhausen is careful to say, he does not mean
development; rather, we must think of those exercises in elementary topology in which a piece of
rubber is stretched until it covers a far larger
area than it originally did, but remains the same
piece of rubber. All this, so far, is very close
to the compositional procedures of Mantra, stockhausen’s rece~t piece for two pianos and electronic
modulation. What is new is the presence of the
mime. ‘The gestures of prayer,’ the composer goes
on, ‘are per~ormed absolutely in synchronisation
with the orchestra by a person raised on a podium
in the. middle of the orchestra. A gesture performed with clasped hands in the region of the
heart, close to one’s chest, corresponds to the
pitch middle G, pianissimo, and with the longest
duration. When this gesture is made in a forward
direction, away from the be-‘y, .this corrf!!sponds to
a crescendo from pianissL , to be graduated in 60
levels. When the hands are raised or lowered, this
corresponds to an alteration of pitch, and the
vertical alterations of the gestures of prayer
become a sort of chromatic scale of pitches distributed over 3 octaves ••• The different gestures of
prayer are used like timbres and tempi.’

What stockhausen has done in effect is to
create the choreography as he creates the music.

What the viewer experiences may at first seem
rather like a form of Indian dance: thousands of
highly stylised gestures, learned and mastered,
each for an appropriate occasion. But Indian dance
is the product of a long tradition: the dancer
learns the repertory of gesture in his youth and
the relation of each gesture to the tale it helps
tell is laid down by tradition. To try and transplant this to Western Europe would only be a form
of dilettantism and mystification. Inori is indeed,
as the composer insists, a mystical work, but only
because there is absolutely no mystification. The
work stems neither from a source in the
st outside

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