Stockhausen: Helicopter String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Stockhausen
LABELS: Auvidis Montaigne
WORKS: Helicopter String Quartet
PERFORMER: Arditti String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MO 782097
Even by Stockhausen’s own standards the Helicopter Quartet, performed at the Holland Festival in 1995, is one of his most extraordinary creations. The members of a string quartet circle above the performance venue in four helicopters; the sounds and video images of their playing are transmitted back to the concert hall, where the results are projected to the audience. Originally conceived as part of Stockhausen’s latest opera Mittwoch aus ‘Licht’ (though that connection is not mentioned in the composer’s own booklet notes to this recording), the work comes in a theatrical package – the players are formally introduced to the audience before they embark on their joyrides and on their return take their bows alongside the pilots who have flown them.

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A recording of the Amsterdam premiere has already been released by Stockhausen’s own publishing company (CD 52 A-B). This version, including three minutes of extra music, was made the following year in the composer’s home town of Kürten with all the performers’ feet strictly on the ground; each of them played in a separate room, co-ordinating by means of click-tracks; the sound of the helicopters’ rotors was added at the mixing stage. Without all the trappings, though, it turns out to be a surprisingly serious and ungimmicky piece – the strings predominantly play tremolos, so that they merge to and emerge from the background continuum of the engines, broken occasionally by virtuoso flourishes and vocal exclamations from the players themselves. Even in the most indulgent circumstances Stockhausen’s sheer musicality still manages to express itself. Andrew Clements