The Observer from London, Greater London, England on September 22, 1985 · 9
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Observer from London, Greater London, England · 9

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 22, 1985
Start Free Trial

SUNDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 1985 THE OBSERVER 9 NEAL ASCHERSON Open secnts of romantic spies KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN FOR 35 years now, Karlheinz Stockhausen has been at the centre of the musical avant-garde, and while many of his colleagues have fallen by the wayside or become diverted into other paths, Stockhausen has propelled himself onwards and upwards with a constant instinct for confident self-renewal. He is a composer with an extraordinarily definite sense of his own cosmic vision. His vast opera ' Donnerstag,' which opened at Covent Garden last week, is only one day Thursday in a week-long cycle of operas called 'Licht' with which Stockhausen has planned to occupy himself. ' I am commissioned, so to speak, by a supernatural power to do what I do,' he declared in 1971 . When someone asked one of Stockhausen's closest colleagues ' Who does he think he is Jesus Christ?', the laconic German replied 'Jesus Christ, minimum.' 'You can't win with him,' says a former collaborator. ' If you disagree, it's because you're not tuned into the right spiritual wavelength.' Stockhausen's sense of his own rightness, though still paramount, is far less overbearing than it used to be. 'He has learned the value of being charming and affable, and he does it very well.' In fact, Stockhausen has an absolutely winning public personality charismatic, concerned, highly practical in both musical and administrative matters, a brilliant talker and explainer of his own music, with a relaxed, witty sense of humour, easy in his contact with all the technicians, players and staff that his massive works involve. But he is also absolutely uncompromising in his demands, both personal and artistic. Stockhausen has provided his own early biography, in a condensed statement which emphasises his absolute solitariness, his lack of debt to anyone, even his parents : Karlheinz Stockhausen, born on 22 August (Leo), 1928, at 3 a.m., first child of the elementary school teacher Simon Stockhausen from Engelsbruch and his wife Gertrud. Both parents came from a rural background. The mother, bearing three children in just three years and living in utter poverty, began suffering deep depressions and was committed to a mental hospital, where she was officially killed. The father managed for a few more years with housekeepers,, marrying one of them, who bore him two more children ; he then volunteered for the army in 1939, dying a 'heroic death' somewhere in Hungary. What Stockhausen says little about is growing up under the Third Reich, or coming to maturity as the Germans lost the war, or realising the results of Nazi atrocities. He is a self-made man, and his upbringing has left only a distaste for all politics and a hatred of those who attempt to attribute political motives to his work. He sees himself as decisively above politics, with a supra-national approach symbolised by the combining and distorting and manipulating of national anthems in his huge 1966-67 piece, 'Hymnen.' Stockhausen had played the piano from the age of six, and while studying in Cologne from 1947, he made money by appearing with a magician, Adrion: he improvised piano accompaniments. But it was study with Olivier Messiaen, as well as some lessons with Frank Martin, and the intoxicating atmosphere of the post-war compositional generation whom he encountered at the Darmstadt Summer School, which set Stockhausen firmly on the road as a composer. Music's pre-Stockhausen past may have little interest for him, but his own personal and musical past is of immense importance to him. He has reiterated over the years his claim that in 1953 he composed 'the first piece of electronic music,' a claim his detractors have variously dismissed as ingenuous, misleading or just plain wrong. But it is true that his work in the electronic studio of West German Radio at Cologne in the years after 1953 was enormously influential both in setting an agenda for composers using electronic media, and in creating the first masterpiece in the form: the mingling of a boy's voice with electronic sounds in ' Gesang der Junglinge ' of 1955-56. Stockhausen's rapid rise to fame provoked some bitter quarrels and some personal crises. Pierre, Boulez and Stockhausen, who worked closely together in the early Fifties and fed off each others' ideas, became increasingly competitive and drifted apart after 1958 when, according to the pianist David Tudor, ' Stockhausen surpassed Boulez Where doYOUstart? I mm You know thinss shnnM h k u.i: . .i Li mj t t " 1 . ucucve uuojf lwi p oc ociier. no war. iNO injustice. No prejudice. You h uuu i uccu icuimuing or we problems - u ine news aoes tnat daily. What you need is answers to your y questions; clear analysis; 5j fresh inspiration. And that's n just what New Internationalist q will give you. We start from where you are - busy, tired, over- D loaded with ennfliWino Q information - and put H you in the picture. With a compelling argument, vivid illustration. One key issue B each month: Nuclear War, Famine in Africa, Feminism, S Junk Food. Not just facts, ideas nj for action too. See for yourself! Fill in the form below and we'll send you tne next tnree issues and a large colour world map - all completely FREE. I irainmatSimaI!nsa P Monthly magazine Winner of UNA Media Peace Prize 11.70 a year 'Invaluable' Bruce Kent CND 0 8nd off today, you don't own mod tmp to: H Ntw Internationalist. FREEP0ST. MitchMn CR4 9AR Q bVV VVV 1 i- Bwr -. L I QSEB3I35 g J ri New Internationalist FREEPOST, Mitcham CR4 9AR Heats send me, without obligation, my free copies of the next three issues of the New Intemationalistpus the world map. If I do not wish to continue after the three monthly issues I will write and let you know wiinin ten uays of receiving my third issue and will not owe you a penny. If I do wish to continue receiving the New Internationalist each month I need do nothing. The direct debit mandate will be paid on the 1 t of the fallowing month. And you will charge my account annually until cancelled the New Internationalist subscription price- now1 1 .70. DIRECT DEBITING MANDATE lwe authorise you until further notice in writing tochargemyouraccount with you unspecified amounts-fixed at the subscription price of the New Internationalist which may be debited thereto at the instance of New Internationalist Publications Ltd by direct debit Signed Name and address of your bank m BLOCK LETTERS please Name of account to be debited Data Your name and address BLOCK LETTERS please MrMs Bank account number (if known) m II AA39 Banks may decline to accept Instructions to charge Direct Dabfts to certain types of account other than currant accounts. Offer applies only to Direct Debits and in the UK. ttm huMI ftmotatt UA in EqM Ni I00S2JJ H Ota 42 HfM lt Si Mai IK ' I am commissioned by a supernatural power to do what I do.' as a power in Europe.' Boulez, the slowj meticulous composer, could not keep pace with the outrageous flow of Stockhausen's ideas. There have been subsequent quarrels, and Boulez is dismissive of Stockhausen's later work. Stockhausen for his part sees himself as a more human figure than the solitary Boulez: after an evening's jam session of Thirties tunes with his family around the piano, he says to a visitor, 'Can you imagine Pierre Boulez doing that?'. Near to suicide In the early Sixties, Stockhausen was acknowledged as a leader of the avant-garde; following that, he admits to a personal crisis which brought him near to suicide in 1968 (just after his second marriage). But, as usual, he turned the experience to positive creative use, recreating his ' dark night of the soul ' in ' Aus den sieben Tagen,' a wholly improvisa-tional collaboration. When in the late 1960s, he extended these improvisational pieces to the orchestra, he found himself up against solid incomprehension. 'Move your note slowly until you reach perfect harmony and the total sound turns into gold ' did not signify much even to those orchestral musicians who had struggled to play all the notes in his ' Gruppen ' for three orchestras; the results, in London performances at least, were embarrassing. Stockhausen's life-style has changed little in 20 years. He still lives in the house in the woods outside Cologne which he helped to design: all the rooms are hexagons, but none is the same size as another, and all the ceilings slope in different directions. Stockhausen lives a well-organised, almost ascetic life : the whole administration of the Stockhausen empire is based here. If Stockhausen were to die tomorrow, they say, the building could at once become a Stockhausenhaus, a museum of memorabilia already perfectly organised. And even if the holocaust were to happen, they say he has built in the kitchen a lead safe encased in concrete, containing glass slides of all his compositions. Stockhausen married his first wife Doris in 1952, and then the painter Mary Bauer-meister in 1967. There are six children : Markus, Majella, Christel, Suja, Simon and Julika. Three of them play a vitally important part in all Stockhausen's current compositions including 'Licht,' as does Suzanne Stephens, a close companion who plays the basset-horn in 'Donnerstag' and also runs his own publishing business, the Stockhausen Verlag. His mistress, Kathinka Pasveer, is a flautist who, for 'Donnerstag,' acts as his personal assistant. Perhaps, by surrounding himself with family and friends, Stockhausen ensures that those who now are most prominent in bringing his music to the public are firmly in agreement with his own all-encompassing concepts. He certainly ensures that the family circle receives all the fees. There are none of the tensions and rivalries that led the members of his previous performing group to split up and go their own ways. Relations at Covent Garden with technicians and stage staff have been excellent ; rehearsals have been long and hard, but Stockhausen knows how to get what he wants. One moment of acute tension occurred when the complex electronic system appeared to be emitting a persistent bleep which no one could cure. Stockhausen became frantic; the bleep turned out to be his own alarm clock in his suitcase. But Stockhausen may never complete 'Licht'; he may be deflected into other things. In 1954 he planned a series of 21 piano pieces, of which only 12 have materialised. There is much more, economically, at stake in 'Licht,? for future instalments are already commissioned and their component parts will be premiered, separately in advance of the complete opera a procedure which even Stockhausen's admirers feel has destroyed any dramatic unity in the next complete opera, ' Samstag,' premiered to howls of abuse in Milan last year. To assess Stockhausen's present standing, however, you have to take account of his quite remarkable following among younger audiences. While critics carp and conventional concert-goers and players look aghast, young people have flocked to Stockhausen's creations at Expo in Tokyo; his recent concerts at the Barbican were packed, and any personal appearance is crowded with devotees. And this is not a passing fashion but has been sustained for more than a decade. Whether Stockhausen turns out to be a priest of the musical cathedrals of the future, or the supreme technical operator of the electronic world, he has already assured himself a prominent place in the history of Western music. And he knows it. Peter Heyworth on ' Donnerstag,' page 23 THE little exchange of populations between Britain and the Soviet Union has stopped. It has cost us our Moscow correspondent, Mark Frankland, a shrewd but not unaffectionate watcher of the Russian scene. It has devastated Anglo-Soviet relations, damaged the careers of some quite blameless individuals, and brought joy only to transcontinental furniture-movers. The British, though shocked by the force of the Soviet response, are not as outraged by the activities of the KGB in London as they affect to be. An open political system invites spying, among other prices which are not too high to pay. But Whitehall sees a decent limit to everything, and Soviet intelligence has become indecently greedy. The Foreign Office view is that the KGB should show some table manners when faced with this luscious buffet of easy information, and should not push their luck too hard. It is a stoic way of looking at what has happened. It also reveals how generations of Cold War have taught the West to live with the fact of espionage, or at least to think in terms of a ' reasonable ' level of spying. Many years ago, when the use of spies in international relations was considered as disgraceful as the use of poison gas in war, moral categories were firmer. Later, 'our' spies were secret heroes, while 'their' spies were monsters. Today, there are those who regard foreign intelligence as no more than a shady section of the mass media. Writing in the Spectator, Tim Garton Ash has attacked this moral indifference : those who ask whether the new flock of West German spies can really be described as 'traitors' forget that the democracy and tolerance of the Federal Republic deserve the patriotism and loyalty of its civil servants and secretaries. But this fan: comment also asks us to go on treating the Cold War as a real war as an emergency in which a good end justifies the means used by the secret agent, while an evil end does not. This is what people in the West find increasingly hard to accept. They do not wish to be ruled by the KGB ; they don't seriously deny the need for secret intelligence work. But encouraged by John le Carre and a tribe of other novelists they have become-fascinated by the nature of the spy, by the traits which make him. resemble his ' colleague ' in the opposite camp rather than by the contrast between the systems which divide them. What are they like, these special people who carry a card dispensing them from the first rules a child is taught not to lie, not to cheat, not to steal and, in certain cases, not to kill ? Paternal power And there's a new, sharp resentment of secrecy. Once almost out of memory the man with secrets aroused only respect. He was patriarchal, he was priest-like. His great locked brief-case made lesser mortals feel safer. In Imperial Germany, a senior official was a Geheimrat a secret counsellor. But in the 1960s, Ray Hawkey designed a memorable book-cover for a Len Deighton spy novel. The crested leather briefcase gaped open and inside there was only a toothbrush, loose pistol cartridges, a packet of condoms, a girlie magazine. Secret authority, the paternal power, is exposed and its mystery ridiculed. This is an adolescent democracy in which we demand -the right to know, but in which the secrecy of the State is actually spreading as rapidly-as respect for the habit of official secrecy is crumbling away. The Official Secrets Act still survives ; the BBC journalists whose job is to inform and to dispel ignorance now know that they only hold their posts by permission of the Security Seryice. This is a contradiction which is going to explode. In childish revenge against secrecy ('No, For a year, ever since the last round of Dartv conferences, we have heen saying that the Social Democrats and the Liberals are two different parties, both equally worthy, but one dull, the other dotty, Social Democrats earnest, and Liberals silly. Indeed, we could hardly be blamed for holding this view, held also as it was by Dr David Owen himself, even though he expressed it in politer terms, at any rate as far as his own party was concerned . It remains valid. Different the two parts of the Alliance undoubtedly are. But the Liberals at Dundee wanted to be more like the Social Democrats at Torquay. At any rate their leaders or those responsible for organising their assembly wanted them to resemble the SDP. On the whole, their wish was fulfilled. Thus the subject of defence was kept off the floor, apart from an early debate on Star Wars. For further and better particulars we had to turn to the television interviews, or attend the fringe meeting at which Mr Paddy Ashdown was received as if he were an early Christian who had decided to go into business as a supplier of lions. In the circumstances, Mr Ashdown's response that Liberals should not put their faith in ' personalities' struck me as rich, not to say fruity. It was reminiscent of the East End trader who asked his small boy to jump into his arms, deliberately neglecting to catch him and consoling the tearful infant with the reflection that you should not trust anyone in this world, my son, not even your own father. Then again, there used to be a young man at these assemblies though it was difficult to determine his age who was enormous, shaggy haired, bearded and dressed as if he had lost interest in the operation about half-way through it. Liberals said that he was all ( irgrunra Two weeks of Alliance froth right really and would do you no harm. He was at Dundee this year too but was kept well away from the platform and the television cameras. So also was a lady dressed entirely in cardboard boxes. Mr David Steel tells his friends that in some ways he regrets the eclipse of those old Liberal characters with their traditional ways. But on balance he is not sorry, not really . For last week was reminiscent of Llandudno in 1981, when, it may be remembered, Mr Steel concluded his peroration with the injunction that his audience should go away and prepare themselves for government. How, I asked myself then, asldid last week, were these bemused citizens supposed to be preparing themselves ? What were they meant to be doing, apart from attending meetings more regularly, canvassing voters more assiduously, addressing envelopes more enthusiastically? It was, I assumed, more a matter of state of mind, of being government- rather than opposition-minded ; sensible rather than silly. As then, so now. Whether Mr Steel went about his task in the best possible way is debatable. Certainlylwasinerroraweekago in stating that he was more reluctant than Dr Owen to instruct Her Majesty in the correct performance of her constitutional duties. The doctor has appeared taciturn by comparison. I wrote about these grave matters many times between or before Llandudno and the last election ; saw Mrs Margaret Thatcher win more seats with ' ALAN WATKBNS fewer votes ; and now propose to hold my fire until I know a fight is on . I retain my Do-it-Yourself Constitutional Law Kit, which I bring down from the shelves occasionally for my own private amusement, even edification. This, I agree, is no reason why Mr Steel should be similarly reticent as far as the public is concerned. But the course he seemed to be taking at the beginning of the week has its perils . He risks either boring or confusing voters whose taste for constitutional disputation is not as highly developed as his, or mine. He is liable to be accused by the old parties of ' dragging the Queen into politics.' ' Above all, perhaps, his own active supporters are likely to become dispirited not least because neither he nor Dr Owen has ever been wholly clear about the circumstances in which the Alliance would go into coalition rather than provide parliamentary support. Some of the adumbrations by Mr Steel last week, such as the speedy departure of Mrs Thatcher after a Conservative defeat (how large a defeat this would have to be, he did not tell us), were perf ectly fair as pieces of political commentary : less satisfactory as examples of political leadership.. And yet, as Mr Steel says, he didn't walk up the Clyde yesterday (a homely phrase I had not heard before). He kept himself and the assembly on the front pages of the heavy papers at the beginning of the week and, more important, on the television. He did not expect any response to his proposal for talks from Mrs Thatcher or Mr Neil Kinnock . But he thought it worth teasing them a little. He is certainly right to emphasise that neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party can properly insist on being given an absolute majority. He is right to do this because of the persistence, in British politics, of the myth (which, like most myths, reflects a reality) of ' the wasted vote. ' Dr Owen is equally correct to take the same line. But they are both wrong to proceed from there to speculate, endlessly and often contradictorily, about coalitions, the price of parliamentary support, the departure (or not) of Mrs Thatcher, the position of the Queen and other equally fascinating matters. They should confine themselves to saying that they want 326 or more seats and that, in any case, they aim to be the largest party but that if, regrettably, neither of those happy conditions is realised, why, their influence will still be deployed to ensure thatmenand women of jnodera- you can't come in, you Kavertt got the password!'), it's put about that there's nothing interesting in the brief-case, that spies are drab little bureaucrats anyway. Like most foreign correspondents, I have run into a good many spies no doubt, into many I still don't know were spies but they were certainly not drab. I used to carry Kim Philby's typewriter for him around this office, because he seemed so frail, and he was good company. George Blake was aggressive, because the girl he was courting was a childhood friend of rnine. There was the boastful, boozy gang who tried to recruit me as a student into MI6 (that mercifully ended almost before it had begun, when one of them made a homosexual pounce on me). There was the melancholy double agent in Berlin, no more than a black-marketeer in information (a good definition of most inter-German spying). There was the nasty little Pole who handed me a choking glass of Passover slivovitz and said: 'Mr Ascherson, I have you on my hook!' He hadn't, and I found a way to settle his hash. All this taught me that intelligence work spells death for journalism. Whatever you do, the other side is sure to know about it. This may not matter much to a professional spook, but a mere hack is dispensable for the hard men in either service. Silent appeal But it also gave me a sense of the strain, ill-fittingness, of those who lead secret lives. All of them seemed oppressed, even to emit a silent appeal for sympathy. All but one, that is. He was the Czech journalist in the next office in Bonn. Every evening, he would give me a wink and patter off down the street dressed to kill, shoes twinkling, silver-grey blow-wave tossing. He turned out to be a Komeo, one of the agents who seduce secretaries in Bonn ministries, but he was back in Prague before they could arrest him. All decent people fear and despise informers. Yet I have known some who were more than narks, people who so much longed to talk to a Westerner that they were willing to pay the price of having to pass on a version of the talk to the police. This isn't far from the position of the censor who admires the writer he mutilates, who feels he understands him better than any normal reader. I have no doubt that there have been KGB officers in London who told themselves that their intelligence reports might help to make the Soviet Union a more liberal and 'British' place. There are romantic twilights here. And, I admit to finding something essentially romantic about the whole profession, after all. By that I mean the feigning, the cover names and cover jobs, the playing of parts in street, office and bed, which amount to the old romantic game what Karl Miller, in his book 'Doubles,' calls 'the dynamic metaphor of the second self.' The Cold War itself offers an escape from self, into the other half of a dual world. There is a sort of rebirth, in a quiet dacha among the birch forests or in a country house smelling of floor-polish and roast lamb ((jordievsky's second birthplace). No less of a romantic escape, though an inward one, is pertormed by the spy and specially by the double agent or mole, who realises our buried longings to release and confront our second self. ,.Jie. ""ned George Blake, in the end. When they arrested him, she wrote in a newspaper that she had never been married because her husband had turned out to be somebody else quite unknown to her. I sympathised with her, but felt that she had overlooked the terrifying capacity in all of us to be more than one person. In that, spies are more like us than we are. tion and goodwill come together, and wiser counsels prevail. There is aii no need for any more than that, at tins stage. There is, however, need for considerably more in areas other than the constitutional. This need is not for more 'policy' though defence will have to be sorted out. The Alliance in general and the Liberals in particular have policies as dogs have fleas. For example, devolution is to be forced on the helpless citizenry whether they like it or not. Itisfor their own good, stands to reason ; it must be Liberal. But, to the voters, 'policies' are themes they can isolate and politicians they can recognise. The Liberals have produced few themes, even fewer politicians. They ought to blame Mr Steel not for reposing in Dr Owen's shadow but for failing to encourage and develop talent inside their own party. For there is surely something wrong with a party whose main attractions, at its annual conference, are speeches by leading figures in another party in this case, Dr Owen and Mrs Shirley Williams . 'They haven't got the chaps' is almost always a bogus cry when uttered by opposing parties, as it was, for example, by the Conservatives of the Labour Party in the early 1960s. But it can nevertheless have an effect. The trouble with the Alliance is not so much that it is a one-man band consisting of Dr Owen as that it is a four-person band consisting of him, Mr Steel, Mrs Williams and Mr Roy Jenkins. And the last's talents remain wasted by a jealous Dr Owen. Mr Jenkins should surely speak on Treasury matters both for the SocialDemocratsandfor the Alliance as a whole. Despite what Mr Steel asserted on Friday, the last year has seen scarcely any progress in parliamentary co-operation within the Alliance. To this extent, the happy events of the past two weeks are so much froth.v

Clipped articles people have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 21,100+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra® Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Observer
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free