Atmen gibt das Leben

Atmen gibt das Leben

Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1980

Atmen gibt das Leben (Breathing Gives Life), is a choral opera with orchestra by Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1974 and expanded in 1976–77. It is Number 39 in the catalogue of the composer's works, and lasts about 50 minutes in performance.


  • History 1
  • Structure and technique 2
  • Orchestra 3
  • Discography 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The first part of Atmen gibt das Leben was composed for a cappella choir during a composition seminar on 1 February 1974. This was in response to a request from the German Choral Association for a piece that could be sung by amateur choirs, and Stockhausen's original idea was that his students should each write a simple choral piece using a text from The Bowl of Saki, by Hazrat Inayat Khan, and then all the pieces would be published together in a single volume. Not all of his students reacted favourably, and so the piece he composed himself for the project became the first part of Stockhausen's choral opera (Kurtz 1992, 195–96). This part was premiered by the Choir of the North German Radio (NDR Choir) in a public concert in Hamburg as part of the series Das Neue Werk on 16 May 1975. The choir soloists in this performance were Susanne Denman (soprano) and Ulf Kenklies (tenor). This first version of the score is dedicated to Doris Stockhausen on her birthday, 28 February 1974 (Stockhausen 1978, 243; Stockhausen 1979).

Stockhausen interrupted work on Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, as a pre-celebration of Chagall's 90th birthday, made possible by a commission from the French Minister for Religious Affairs. The two new sections (printed as a single part II in the score) were dedicated to the composer's daughter Christel Stockhausen on the occasion of her 21st birthday, 22 January 1977 (Kurtz 1992, 208; Stockhausen 1978, 243–44).

Structure and technique

The libretto is by the composer, with the German text of part one being based on an aphorism by Hazrat Inayat Khan (Maconie 2005, 360). The German, English, and French text for the remainder incorporates six quotations: three haiku (by Shiki, Buson, and Issa), and one passage each from Socrates, the Gospel according to St. Thomas, and Meister Eckhart (Stockhausen 1979). There is no plot, and though the score is furnished with copious instructions and photographs of the German premiere in 1979, very little stage action is actually specified (Maconie 2005, 360, 362).

The musical core of the work is a four-voice refrain consisting of canonic variations on a serial formula. This theme is relatively diatonic, and more than one commentator has noticed a similarity to Stockhausen's chromatically tonal student choral compositions, written under the tutelage of Hermann Schroeder, some of which Stockhausen released on the same recording as the 1974 version of the choral opera. The similarity is especially close to the Chöre für Doris (1950) which, like the first part of Atmen gibt das Leben, is dedicated to Stockhausen's first wife (Frisius 2008, 285; Maconie 2005, 360)

By comically juxtaposing a variety of texts and references to different world cultures, Stockhausen creates a "phantasmagoria about the universe" and, in so doing, ensures that the "humble posture of admiration for God in the process of listening does not turn into bigoted false piety" (Peters 1999, 110–11).


The orchestra is scored for:

  • 3 flutes
  • 3 oboes
  • 3 clarinets
  • 3 bassoons
  • 3 trumpets
  • 3 high horns
  • 3 low horns
  • 3 trombones
  • tuba
  • triangle, large cymbal, bass drum
  • glockenspiel
  • piano
  • first violins
  • second violins
  • violas
  • cellos
  • double basses

The number of string players per part is ad libitum; the score suggests 9-9-6-6-4 as an example.


  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Chöre für Doris; Choral; "Atmen gibt das Leben . . ." ; Punkte für Orchester. [first version of Atmen gibt das Leben]. North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hamburg [in Punkte only]; Choir of the North German Radio Hamburg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, cond. Deutsche Grammophon LP 2530 641. Hamburg: Polydor International, 1976.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. "Atmen gibt das Leben . . .". Choir and Orchestra of the North German Radio Hamburg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, cond. (Orchestra recorded in Hamburg, April 1977; choir recorded 9 February 1979 at WDR in Cologne, with the pre-recorded orchestra played over loudspeakers.) Deutsche Grannophon LP 410 857-1. Hamburg: Polydor International, 1984. Reissued on CD, Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 23. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag, 1993.


  • Dirmeikis, Paul. 1999. Le Souffle du temps: Quodlibet pour Karlheinz Stockhausen. [La Seyne-sur-Mer]: Éditions Telo Martius. ISBN 2-905023-37-6.
  • Frisius, Rudolf. 2008. Karlheinz Stockhausen II: Die Werke 1950–1977; Gespräch mit Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Es geht aufwärts". Mainz, London, Berlin, Madrid, New York, Paris, Prague, Tokyo, Toronto: Schott Musik International. ISBN 978-3-7957-0249-6.
  • Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London and Boston: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-14323-7 (cloth) ISBN 0-571-17146-X (pbk).
  • Maconie, Robin. 2005. Other Planets: The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-5356-6.
  • Peters, Günter. 1999. "'... How Creation Is Composed': Spirituality in the Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen", translated by Mark Schreiber and the author. Perspectives of New Music 37, no. 1 (Winter): 97–131.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1979. "Atmen gibt das Leben . . . ": Chor-Oper mit Orchestra (oder Tonband) 1974/77, Werk Nr 39 (score). Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1978. "Atmen gibt das Leben . . ., Chor-Oper mit Orchester (oder Tonband) (1974/77)". In his Texte zur Musik 4, edited by Christoph von Blumröder, 243–45. DuMont Dokumente. Cologne: Verlag M. DuMont Schauberg. ISBN 3-7701-0493-5.

External links

  • Ingvar Loco Nordin. Review of Stockhausen Complete Edition CD 23 (Accessed 24 August 2011).