Karlheinz Stockhausen Biography

(German Composer Best Known for His Compositional Series and Analytical Contributions to Music Theory)

Birthday: August 22, 1928 (Leo)

Born In: Mödrath, Kerpen, Germany

Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer who is widely regarded as one among, if not the most influential figure of the world of music in the 20th century. Stockhausen’s contribution to the world of music is most aptly reflected by the title given to him as the ‘Father of electronic music’. He was one of the earliest composers who used electronically created sounds to create works of music and definitely the person who changed the landscape of electronic music forever. Karlheinz Stockhausen will rightly be remembered as the person who brought about a radical shift in the methods of work of a composer. He was a pioneer in the field of using electronically produced sounds in compositions when most others could not or would not think beyond what was conventional and traditional. To say Stockhausen changed the landscape of music composition would never be an exaggeration. The very fact that The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Yoko Ono, Frank Zappa and Miles Davis among many others cite him to be their influence speaks volumes of the impact that Stockhausen had on the musical scene.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In August

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Doris Andreae (m. 1951–1965), Mary Bauermeister (m. 1967–1972)

father: Simon Stockhausen

mother: Gertrud Stockhausen (née Stupp)

children: Markus Stockhausen, Simon Stockhausen

Born Country: Germany

Composers German Men

Died on: December 5, 2007

place of death: Kürten, Germany

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

Notable Alumni: Hochschule Für Musik Und Tanz Köln

More Facts

education: University Of Bonn, Hochschule Für Musik Und Tanz Köln

  • 1

    What is Karlheinz Stockhausen known for?

    Karlheinz Stockhausen was a renowned German composer known for his groundbreaking contributions to electronic music and serial composition.

  • 2

    What are some notable works by Karlheinz Stockhausen?

    Some of Karlheinz Stockhausen's most notable works include "Kontakte," "Gruppen," "Stimmung," "Gesang der Jünglinge," and "Helikopter-Streichquartett."

  • 3

    How did Karlheinz Stockhausen impact the world of contemporary classical music?

    Karlheinz Stockhausen played a significant role in shaping contemporary classical music through his innovative use of electronic sounds, spatialization techniques, and complex serial structures.

  • 4

    What was Karlheinz Stockhausen's approach to composing music?

    Karlheinz Stockhausen had a highly systematic and methodical approach to composing music, often employing serialism and exploring new ways of organizing musical parameters.

Childhood & Early Life

Karlheinz Stockhausen was born on 22 August 1928 in the village of Mödrath, currently a quarter of the German city of Kerpen.  His father, Simon Stockhausen, was a schoolteacher.

His mother, Gertrud née Stupp, could sing and play the piano. In 1932, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized, where she died in 1941. It is believed that she was actually gassed along with 89 others in accordance with the Nazi policy of killing "useless eaters".

Born eldest of his parents’ three children, Karlheinz had a sister named Katherina, born a year after him and a brother Hermann-Josef, junior to him by four years.  From his father’s second marriage, he had two half-sisters.

Possibly in 1935, when Karlheinz was seven years old, the family moved to Altenberg. It was here that he received his first piano lessons from Franz-Josef Kloth, the chief organist of the Altenberger Dom.

In 1938, his father married the family housekeeper, Luzia. Because his relationship with his stepmother was not cordial, he left home in January 1942 to become a boarder in Xanten.  Sometime now, his father was conscripted into the army.

At Xanten, he continued with his piano training, also studying oboe and violin. It all came to an end in 1944, when at the age of sixteen he was conscripted to serve as a stretcher bearer in Bedburg. In the following year, his father died in action, leaving him an orphan.

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After World War II

In 1947, Karlheinz Stockhausen entered Cologne Conservatory of Music, where he studied music pedagogy and piano till 1951. Concurrently, he also studied musicology, philosophy, and German studies at the University of Cologne, supporting himself by playing piano in dance bands.

In the third year of his studies at the Conservatory, a part of the curricula consisted of free stylistic exercises in composition. Thus in 1950, he wrote his first music, Chöre nach Verlaine being one among them. It was later re-titled Chöre für Doris and dedicated to his future wife Doris.

In 1951, he attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt. During this period, he met Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts, who had been studying with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud in Paris. Inspired, he too decided to do likewise.

In 1952, Stockhausen moved to Paris, where he attended Olivier Messiaen's courses in rhythmics and aesthetic. He also worked in Pierre Schaeffer's newly established musique-concrète laboratory, returning to Cologne in 1953.


In 1953, Karlheinz Stockhausen began his career in Cologne with the West German Broadcasting, an institution widely known for its electronic music. In the same year, he started giving lectures on new music at Darmstädter Ferienkurse summer courses and wrote Elektronische Studie I, the first musical piece composed from sine-wave sounds.

In 1954, he wrote Studie II, which became the first work of electronic music to be notated and published. Concurrently, he continued to upgrade himself, studying, acoustics, and information theory with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn from 1954 to 1956.

Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces) completed in 1954-1955 was another of his important works of this period. It was followed by three more outstanding works; Gesang der Jünglinge (The Song of the Youths), Zeitmaße (Time Measures), and Gruppen, all written between 1955 and 1957.

In 1957, the world première of Klavierstücke XI was held in New York, making him internationally known. Also in the same year, he began teaching composition at Darmstädter Ferienkurse.

In 1958, he went on concert lecture tours across the USA. Around this time, he also began experimenting with electronic sound synthesis and spatial projections, writing Kontakte, mixing piano and percussion with electronic sound.

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In 1959, he went on an extended tour to USA, taking small groups of soloists with him and it was while flying from one location to another that he experienced the slowest temporal rates of change. The experience resulted in the creation of Carré, which was premiered in Hamburg in October 1960.

Stockhausen's next important work, Momente (Moments), was written in 1962.  Some other important works of this decade were Prozession (1967), Kurzwellen(1968), Spiral and Aus den sieben Tagen (1968), Stimmung (1968), Für kommende Zeiten (1968-1970), Hymnen ( 1969) (1966-67)3 etc.

In 1963, concurrently with writing music, he began teaching composition at the Rheinische Musikhochschule in Cologne and wrote Plus-minus, 2 × 7 pages for realisation for the students attending the course.  He was also the guest professor for composition at the University of Pennsylvania in 1965, and at University of California in 1966(1)-1967.

In 1970, he turned to formula composition, composing Mantra for two pianos and electronics.  Also in the same year, he traveled to Japan to perform at the World Fair, held at Osaka. There his works were performed for five and half hours every day over a period of 183 days. 

Concurrently with writing music, he served as the professor of composition at the State Academy for Music, Cologne from 1971 to 1977. His important works of this period include Trans, Ylem, Herbstmusik, Am Himmel wandre ich, Atmen gibt das Leben, Der kleine Harlekin, Jubiläum, Musik im Bauch, Tierkreis, Inori etc.

In 1977, he took up a new project, writing a cycle of seven operas, representing the seven days of the week. Entitled Licht (Light) and subtitled Die sieben Tage der Woche, the work was completed in 2003.

In 2004, he started working on Klang - Die 24 Stunden des Tages, intending to write 24 chamber-music compositions, each representing one hour of the day. However, he could complete only 21 before his death in 2007.

Major Works

Karlheinz Stockhausen is possibly best remembered for his 29-hours long opera cycle, Licht. The seven operas, each of which represented a day of the week, were Montag aus LichT, Dienstag aus Licht; Mittwoch aus Licht; Donnerstag aus Licht; Freitag aus Licht; Samstag aus Licht and Sonntag aus Licht.

His other notable works include the series of nineteen Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces), Kontra-Punkte Gesang der Jünglinge, Gruppen, Zyklus, Kontakte, Momente, Mikrophonie I, Hymnen, Stimmung, Aus den sieben Tagen, Mantra, Tierkreis, Inori etc. 

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Awards & Achievements

Karlheinz Stockhausen received numerous awards and honors, beginning with German gramophone critics’ award in 1964. It was followed in 1966 by SIMC award for orchestral works and in 1968 by Grand Art Prize for Music of the State of North Rhine-Westphali and Grand Prix du Disque.

In 1968, 1969, 1971, and 1996; he received Edison Prize, an annual Dutch music prize comparable to American Grammy Awards.

Other awards include Prize of the Italian Music Critics (1981), German Phonograph Academy Award, (1982), Diapason d’or ( France, 1983), Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (1986), Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (1986), Cologne Culture Prize (1996) etc.

In the new millennium, he received International Festival for Animated Film Golden Dove Award (2000), the German Music Publishers Society Award, (2001, 2003 ), the Royal Swedish Academy of the Arts Polar Music Prize (2001).

He also received several distinctions such as Distinguished Service Cross (Federal Cross of Merit)1, first class (Germany 1974); Commandeur de I’ordre des arts et des lettres (France 1985) etc.

Personal Life & Legacy

On 29 December 1951, Karlheinz Stockhausen married Doris Gertrud Johanna Andreae. By profession a piano teacher, she was also his inspiration, to whom he had dedicated several of his early works.  Together they had four children: Suja, Christel, Markus, and Majella.

In 1961, he fell in love with artist Mary Hilde Ruth Bauermeister. Although initially Doris was willing to live in a ménage à trois, she later decided to remain in Cologne for the benefit of the children.  Eventually the couple was divorced in 1965.

On 3 April 1967, he married Mary Bauermeister in San Francisco. They had two children, Julika and Simon with her. They were divorced in 1972.

Among his six children, Markus, Christel, Majella, Simon became professional musician.

On 5 December 2007, Karlheinz Stockhausen died of a sudden heart failure in Kürten and was buried in the town’s Waldfriedhof or woodland cemetery. He was then 79 years old.

On 22 August 2008, the Rathausplatz in Kürten was renamed Karlheinz-Stockhausen-Platz. In October, the Studio for Electronic Music of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague in the Netherlands was renamed as Karlheinz Stockhausen Studio.

In 2010, the municipality of Kürten adopted the designation, Stockhausengemeinde, meaning Stockhausen municipality, in his honor.

Facts About Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen once composed a piece of music that required the performers to play while floating in a helicopter above the audience.

He believed in the power of music to connect with the spiritual realm and often incorporated elements of mysticism and spirituality into his compositions.

Stockhausen was known for his innovative use of electronic music and was a pioneer in the field of electronic music composition.

He created a series of operas collectively known as "Licht" (Light), which took him over two decades to complete and is considered one of the most ambitious and complex works in the history of opera.

See the events in life of Karlheinz Stockhausen in Chronological Order

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