In going through the many, many posts, obits, articles, etc. about the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen, I keep noticing one thing: that he seems to be the most under-appreciated composer of the 20th century, at least according some of those writing. This baffles me: for years, as a composer, Stockhausen was a force with which to reckon. In my time in school, his name was known as well as Ligeti, Carter, Boulez, Berio, Cage and Messiaen. Exquisite company, I'd say. And those composers are hardly unknowns.
Which leads me to wonder: what defines an "appreciated composer?" Do you have to win prizes (Stockahusen certainly did), have your music played (ditto), written about (ad nauseam), discussed, admired? Do you have to have an impact on the tradition (in which case Philip Glass, who has few imitators, is perhaps the least
appreciated composer), have your name in history books, be on the cover of Sgt. Peppter's Lonley Heart's Club Band
, have innumerable recordings, draw forth plenty of "he walked among us and we never knew him" articles from the volunteer army of bloggers, get written about in the New York Times? From where I sit, Stockhausen, though not often played on the glamorous orchestral concerts in the United States, was more than appreciated. And regardless of what I do or do not think of the music, his position in the firmament of the tradition has never really been a question.
Like the recent death of Norman Mailer which elicited a stream of articles and memorials about his bellicosity and how he once stabbed his wife--missing the point of his contribution to skate immediately to the more glamorous and eye-catching aspects of this now-departed complicated artist--it seems that the death of Stockhausen has forced him into the mold of under-recognized genius. This is as divisive and glossy as Mailer's love of prizefighters. I think what we ought to do now, once the shock of someone's demise settles in, begin to write not about his place in the at-large music world but about the music.