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Avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen dies at 79

Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of Germany's most important postwar composers, has died, German state broadcaster ZDF reported Friday. He was 79.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of Germany's most important and controversialpostwar composers, has died, German state broadcaster ZDF reported Friday. He was 79.

Stockhausen gained fame through his avant-garde works in the 1960s and 70s and later moved to composing works for huge theatres and other projects.

He died on Wednesday. No cause of death was announced.

Stockhausen was known for electronic compositions that are a radical departure from musical tradition and have influenced both a generation of classical composers and musicians from genres as wide-ranging as jazz, rock and electronica.

Stockhausen composed more than 280 works, and conducted first performances of most of them himself in his idiosyncratic style.

Some music lovers never accepted work without traditional harmonies, but others loved the varied newness of his music.

"What happened to my work since 1951 was comparable to what happened to the Viennese School [of composition]," Stockhausen said in an interview with BBC.

"They had even a lot of faithful followers, but in Germany, generally we had a situation after the war — we still have a situation — where the traditional music is over-estimated. The baroque, classical, romantic is dominating, whereas new developments, new discoveries and sounds are not wanted."

Stockhausenwas born in the village of Moedrath near Cologne in western Germany on Aug. 22, 1928.

His mother was hospitalized for most of her short life and may have been killed by the Nazis in their campaign to be rid of the mentally ill, a story he dramatized in the opera Donnerstag aus Licht.

His father was killed in the Second World War and he also was drafted.

After returning from the war, Stockhausen completed his studies in musicology, philosophy and German literature at the University of Cologne,then went on to study under composer Olivier Messiaen in Paris from 1952 to 1953.

In the early 1950s Stockhausen experimented with the style of composition called serialism, creating atonal music strictly governed by mathematical systems. Early performances were greeted with horror and confusion.

After moving to Paris, he began experimenting with electronic music and one of his earliest successes was Gesang der Jünglinge.

He used transformers, generators, modulators and magnetophones in his work, as well as musicians. In Gruppen, another success from the 1950s, three orchestras are arranged around the audience.

Other works from this period include Klavierstück XI, Zeitmasze for five woodwinds and Zyklus, a score written so that the performance can start on any page, and it may be read upside down, or from right to left, as the performer chooses.

In 1960, Stockhausen turned to the composition of vocal music, with works such as Carre, Kurzwellen and Spiral.

In the 1970s, hetook up "formula composition" and created a simple style that became a model for a new generation of German composers. Tierkreis (Zodiac) and In Freundschaft (In Friendship) are his most recorded works from this period.

He spent from 1977 and 2003 composing a cycle of seven operas called Licht: Die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: The Seven Days of the Week) which uses elements of Japanese Noh theatre and ritual.

One of Stockhausen's operas involves four members of a string quartet performing in a helicopters flying near the concert hall, while the audience inside listens.

Stockhausen said this idea came to him in dream in which he conceived of the sound of the helicopters and the strings merged.

"I've dreamed quite a few works completely in a dream — not all the notes, just how it was performed," he said.

Stockhausen's image was used on the cover of The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and artists such as Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd say he was a source of ideas.

Jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Yusef Lateef acknowledge him as an influence as do Bjork and Sonic Youth.

German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and German experimental band Can studied under Stockhausen.

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould occasionally played a humorous characterhe based on Stockhausen, and who can be seen in the Glenn Gould Collection videos.

In the early 1990s, Stockhausen reacquired the licences to most of the recordings of his music he had made to that point, and started his own record company to make this music permanently available on compact disc.

Considered an eccentric member of a European elite, Stockhausen got into trouble in 2001 with he said theSept. 11 attacks in the U.S. were "the greatest work of art one can imagine."

The remarks were made in Hamburg, where several of the pilots had begun their journey to the U.S., and the city cancelled several of his concerts.

The composer is survived by six children from two marriages.

With files from the Associated Press

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