Formula composition

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Formula composition is a serially derived technique encountered principally in the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, involving the projection, expansion, and Ausmultiplikation of either a single melody-formula, or a two- or three-voice contrapuntal construction (sometimes stated at the outset).

In contrast to serial music, where the structuring features are more or less abstract and remain largely inaccessible to the listener's ear, in formula composition the musical specifications of pitch, dynamics, duration, timbre, and tempo are always directly evident in the sound, through the use of a concisely articulated melodic tone succession, the formula, which defines the large-scale form as well as all the internal musical details of the composition.[1]

Stockhausen's music[edit]

Though foreshadowed in Stockhausen's once-withdrawn Formel ("Formula") of 1951, the technique made its first appearance in Mantra in 1970, and became the central focus of Stockhausen's music up to 2003. Stockhausen's mammoth opera cycle Licht is based on a three-strand "super-formula".

Hermann Conen identifies two kinds of formula composition in Stockhausen's works prior to Licht:

formula compositions in which the form results from projection of the formula, ... [and] works in which melodies in themselves possess many internal characteristics of formulas, but where the formal idea itself does not originate from the formula(s) used in their realisation[2]

Works of the first type include Mantra (1970), Inori (1973–74), Jubiläum (1977), and In Freundschaft (1977); works of the second type comprise Alphabet für Liège (1972), the “Laub und Regen” duet from Herbstmusik (1974), Musik im Bauch (1975), Harlekin (1975), Der kleine Harlekin (1975), and Sirius (1975–77). Other works from the 1970s, such as Sternklang (1971), Trans (1971), Ylem (1972), the first three parts of Herbstmusik, Atmen gibt das Leben (1974/76–77), Tierkreis (1974–75), and Amour (1976) do not employ formula technique, according to Conen, though the composer includes Atmen gibt das Leben amongst the works composed using "formula complexes".[3]

Other composers[edit]

Pierre Boulez describes his composition Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (1975) as a "ceremony of memory", based on "numerous repetitions of the same formulas", and it has been seen as an analogue to Stockhausen's formula compositions—especially to Inori, because of the shared ritual character of the two compositions.[4]

York Höller, who studied with Stockhausen in 1971–72, uses a similar method, which he names Klanggestalt (literally, "sound-shape"), and at least one writer has used the expression "formula composition" to describe it.[5] Finbar O'Súilleabháin, however, while accepting there are parallels between the techniques in Höller's opera Der Meister und Margarita (1984–85) and Stockhausen's Licht cycle (1977–2003), concludes that Höller's conception is "perfectly distinct".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blumröder 1982, pp. 184–185.
  2. ^ Conen 1991, p. 57.
  3. ^ Stockhausen 1989.
  4. ^ Blumröder 1982, pp. 183–184.
  5. ^ Stenzl 1991, pp. 12–15.
  6. ^ O'Súilleabháin 1992.

Cited sources[edit]

  • Blumröder, Christoph von. 1982. "Formel-Komposition—Minimal Music—Neue Einfachheit: Musikalische Konzeptionen der siebziger Jahre." In Neuland Jahrbuch 2 (1981/82), edited by Herbert Henck [de], 183–205. Bergisch Gladbach: Neuland Verlag.
  • Conen, Hermann. 1991. Formel-Komposition: Zu Karlheinz Stockhausens Musik der siebziger Jahre. Kölner Schriften zur Neuen Musik 1, ed. Johannes Fritsch and Dietrich Kämper. Mainz: Schott's Söhne. ISBN 3-7957-1890-2.
  • O'Súilleabháin, Finbar. 1992. [Letter to the Editor]. Tempo New Series, no. 181 (June): 68.
  • Stenzl, Jürg. 1991. "York Höller's The Master and Margarita: A German Opera." Translated by Sue Rose. Tempo New Series, no. 179 (December): 8–15.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989. "Multiformale Komposition". In his Texte zur Musik 5, 667. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. ISBN 3-7701-2249-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blumröder, Christoph von. 1976. "Karlheinz Stockhausens Mantra für 2 Pianisten. Ein Beispiel für eine symbiotische Kompositionsform." Melos 43, no. 2/Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 137 (March–April): 94–104.
  • Bor, Mustafa. 2008. "Pitch and Duration Contours in Karlheinz Stockhausen's Super-formula for Licht". In Musical Currents from the Left Coast, edited by Jack Boss and Bruce Quaglia, 129–154. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 978-1-84718-642-3.
  • Hufschmidt, Wolfgang [de]. 1981. "Musik aus Zahlen: Prinzipien der musikalischen Formgestaltung in der seriellen Kompositionspraxis." In Reflexionen über Musik heute, edited by Wilfried Gruhn, 24–57. Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 1983–84. "The Evolution of Macro- and Micro-Time Relations in Stockhausen's Recent Music." Perspectives of New Music 22:147–185.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 1990. "Into the Middleground: Formula Syntax in Stockhausen's Licht." Perspectives of New Music 28, no. 2 (Summer): 262–291.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 1993. "Time and Light." Contemporary Music Review 7, no. 2:203–219.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 2004. "Der Aspekt der Harmonik in Licht." In Internationales Stockhausen-Symposion 2000: LICHT. Musikwissenschaftliches Institut der Universität zu Köln, 19. bis 22. Oktober 2000. Tagungsbericht. Edited by Imke Misch and Christoph von Blumröder, 116–132. Münster, Berlin, London: LIT Verlag. ISBN 3-8258-7944-5.
  • Misch, Imke. 2016. "Karlheinz Stockhausen: The Challenge of Legacy: An Introduction". In The Musical Legacy of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Looking Back and Forward, edited by M. J. Grant and Imke Misch, 11–19. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag. ISBN 978-3-95593-068-4.
  • Petazzi, Paolo. 1993. "Karlheinz Stockhausen: dalle tecniche seriali alla 'Formelkomposition'". In Due serate monografiche dedicata a Karlheinz Stockhausen, edited by Mauro Conti and Alberto Paloscia, 17–27. 56° Maggio Musicale Fiorentino 1993: 21 and 23 June. Florence: Teatro Communale di Firenze.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989. "Die Kunst, zu hören". In his Texte zur Musik 5, 669–700. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. ISBN 3-7701-2249-6.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989. "Musikalische Metamorphose". In his Texte zur Musik 5, 701–736. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. ISBN 3-7701-2249-6.
  • Ulrich, Thomas. 2017. Stockhausens Zyklus LICHT: Ein Opernführer. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau Verlag. ISBN 978-3-412-50577-6.
  • Wager, Gregg. 2003. "Symbolische Aspekte der Formel-Komposition". Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 164, no. 4 (July–August): 42-44.