TIERKREIS (German for zodiac) is a musical composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), written in 1974–75. The composition consists of twelve melodies, each representing one sign of the zodiac. This website informs you about the composition itself and how it is connected to astrology.


TIERKREIS was originally written for music boxes as a component part of a theater piece for percussion sextet titled MUSIK IM BAUCH. When Stockhausen’s youngest daughter was two years old, he used to make her laugh by teasing her about her growling stomach and the “music” she was making there. Later this inspired him to write a performance art piece called MUSIK IM BAUCH. The dreamlike theatrics of this work come to a climax when a performer reaches into the belly of a life-size puppet and pulls out twelve music boxes. Stockhausen’s task of actually writing something these music boxes could play yielded twelve melodies, one named after each constellation of the zodiac. On the Stockhausen CD´s website you can hear them all. As the melodies are composed for music boxes, their range and duration (26-30 seconds) is limited and dynamics are absent. After laboring over the contours of these twelve almost tonal-sounding melodies so that they would symbolically depict the traditional personalities of ancient Babylonian astrology, they were published and performed separately under the title TIERKREIS (work 41), to be played or sung with or without accompaniment. 


"They’re touching in a way that combines awkwardness and grandeur, as if superior beings from outer space were trying to ingratiate themselves with humanity by writing something catchy." (Ivan Hewett)


The twelve melodies of TIERKREIS are character pieces, representing the twelve signs of the Zodiac. A complete performance begins with the melody corresponding to the zodiac sign within which the day of the performance falls, and proceeds through the twelve melodies of the cycle, ending with a return to the starting melody. Each melody is to be played at least three times through, with variations or improvisations. The melodies can also be played individually, or in smaller numbers. In addition to Musik im Bauch, Stockhausen employed the TIERKREIS melodies in the central "wheel" section of SIRIUS (1975–77), an hour-and-a-half-long chamber opera for soprano and bass voices, trumpet, bass clarinet, and eight-channel electronic music. Stockhausen also prepared a number of versions for various specific forces: vocal versions for five different voice ranges (high soprano or high tenor, Nr. 41⅔; soprano or tenor, Nr. 41¾; mezzosoprano, alto, or low tenor, Nr 41⅘; baritone, Nr. 41⅚; bass, Nr. 41 6/7 all 1975), version for octet or chamber orchestra (clarinet, horn, bassoon, strings), Nr. 41 7/8 (1977), a version for clarinet and piano, Nr. 41 8/9 (1981), a "trio version" for clarinet, flute/piccolo, and trumpet/piano, Nr. 41 9/10 (1983), a "version 2003" for soprano or tenor with chording instrument, Nr. 41 10/11 (2003), and, finally, two orchestral versions of five melodies each, titled FÜNF STERNZEICHEN, Nr. 41 11/12, and FÜNF WEITERE STERNZEICHEN, N. 41 12/13. The latter was his last completed composition, finished on 4 December 2007, the night before he died. Stockhausen was planning further work in January 2008, which was probably the orchestration of the remaining two pieces, Cancer and Leo. 


Source: Wikipedia, Jerome Kohl

A lot more background info by Ingvar Loco Nordin you find here.

In 1975 Karlheinz Stockhausen composed 12 melodies for each sign of the zodiac for MUSIK IM BAUCH (Werk 41), which he re-used to create TIERKREIS (Zodiac, 41½), leaving the performer much freedom to make a co-creational version of the piece by choosing instruments and adapting the musical material within a set of rules. Nowadays with the sheet music comes Christel Stockhausen's "Introduction, Analytical Description and Performance Instructions":

"The following variations are possible: a) dynamic nuances, either within a melody or from repetition; b) change of articulation (staccato, portato, legato); c) use of various octave registers, either on the same instrument or on auxiliary instruments (for example, flute, piccolo, alto flute); d) duet interpretation: when a chordal instrument accompanies a melody instrument or a singer, variation can be achieved by the arrangement of solos and duets. e) melodic variation: by leaving out certain pitches of a melody, its structure - in terms of rhythm, interval successions, introduction of new pitches, repeated pitches (principle of 12-tone music) - can be made clear. Rhythmic variations can be made by playing / singing the central pich only at the places where it originally occurs, replacing all other pitches by rests. This last possibility can, for example, be used in LEO. f) clarification of the interval sequence: the first occurence of each interval can be especially emphasized (in certain melodies - LEO for example - all the different intervals, both rising and falling, are melodically related to the central pitch). Alternatively play only the new intervals, replacing their recurrences with exact rests (in the given rhythm of course). g) dissection of a melody: certain sections of melodies may be emphasized by leaving out others. The resulting spaces between sections can be bridged either by holding the last pitch of the previous phrase or by an exact rest during which the player remains motionless. All of these possibilities are valid both for solo and for duet versions, the latter having the additional freedom to combine several variations. The choice of variations is left to the interpreters, but they should only use them to clarify the inner structure and to bring out the distinctive characteristics of the melodies."





Over the years a family of ‘Tierkreises’ sprung up, TIERKREIS became Stockhausens most-performed work and finally the composer himself arranged ten of the twelve melodies for chamber orchestra, FÜNF STERNZEICHEN (2004) and FÜNF WEITERE STERNZEICHEN (2007), finished the night before he died. Together they present the TIERKREIS melodies from Virgo to Gemini. Very beautiful music with an ethereal quality not often found in his work. The orchestra consists of flute/piccolo, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, percussion (vibraphone, glockenspiel, gong), strings: 4-4-3-3, no contrabass. Taurus has a bass tuba soloist. The parts are for rent. It is a very demanding work. The score comes with detailed performance instructions. Stockhausen was unable to finish this project; the last two signs, Cancer and Leo, I have set for chamber orchestra as Stockhausen himself might have done. I basically expanded the octet version to the Sternzeichen orchestra. Here you can see the score, parts are available on request.

Sebastián Tellado - flute
Constancia Moroni - clarinet
Florencia Ciaffone - violin
Pablo García - violoncello
Manuel Moreno - guitar
Sebastián Gangi - piano
Bruno Lo Bianco - percussion

Haydée Schvartz - direction



Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) is one of the great figures in modern composition, a revolutionary whose shadow stretches across contemporary music in all its incarnations. Along with such avant garde goliaths as Pierre Boulez and John Cage, he embodies the iconoclastic spirit that has torn away old certainties such as melody and fixed time-signatures, and recast the fundamentals of music in the 20th century: "His influence has been enormous," says Boulez. "He invented a new kind of relationship between music's components. He has changed our view of musical time and form." Often said to be excruciatingly "difficult", Stockhausen's early work is the epitome of "total" serialism, taking the precepts of Schoenberg's 12-tone system - which, instead of the more familiar seven-note diatonic scale with its keys and keynotes, employed an atonal model, in which 12 chromatic tones were marshalled into rows - and applied them to every musical element: pitch, tempo, timbre, duration and intensity. With the music now obeying mathematical or spatial (or even spiritual) rather than harmonic principles, this approach unleashed such ground-breaking pieces as Gruppen (Groups, 1957), in which three separate orchestras, each playing at a different tempo, seem to shear painfully into each other like instrumental buzz-saws. Equally radical is the infamous Helikopter Streichquartett (Helicopter String Quartet, 1995), performed as the musicians hover above the audience in four helicopters. However, modern electronic music is where Stockhausen has been most influential, touching artists as diverse as the Beatles (who recycled his Hymnen - Anthems - in the White Album's Revolution Number 9), Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, Laurie Anderson and many more. With the most rudimentary technology, Stockhausen created electronic pieces as neurotically beautiful as Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths, 1956), in which a young boy's hymn is periodically dipped in what can only be described as an electronic groan. Later, the composer would be the first to experiment with "live electronics", feeding sounds through the electronic grinder during performance to produce his Mikrophonie pieces (1964-65). "Teutonic exactitude combined with anarchistic bollocks, is how I'd describe him," says producer William Orbit. "There are so many musicians who have made a whole career out of one of his periods," says the Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk. "He goes one step ahead, discovers something that's never been done musically, and by the time other people have grasped it, he's on to the next thing."  

Source : The Guardian