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Studying the Beatles


(c) Ian Hammond 1999
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Revolution 9 (14)
Lennon and Stockhausen

This article examines the potential influence of Stockhausen and his 1967 work Hymnen on Revolution 9. If, as has been suggested, Hymnen provided a direct model for Lennon's piece, then a major reassessment of Lennon's experimental work would be appropriate.

I begin with an overview of the major events, then present at the Stockhausen information before briefly examining Hymnen, the work said to have influenced Revolution 9.

1954 Stockhausen records Gesang der J�nglinge (Song Of The Youths)
1964 Stockhausen forms a touring group for his Electronic Music.
1966/1967 Hymnen is composed and recorded. Stockhausen added parts for soloists in 1967 (portions of Hymnen are heard in the opening sequence of the film Walkabout).
1967 Stockhausen is pictured on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Nominated by McCartney (MYFN336), Stockhausen is fifth from the left in the back row, partly obscured by W.C. Fields. He is at the far left in fragment shown in the left hand column of this page.
The photo.. dates from the time of Gesang der J�nglinge [1954] and was reproduced in Bill Hopkins's translation of the Karl Woerner monograph (Faber 1964) which is the most likely place Lennon [sic] would have seen it. Robin Maconie, private e-mail

1968 Lennon records Revolution 9
1969 Lennon is reported to have initiated arrangements for Stockhausen to appear at a joint concert. Stockhausen goes to pre-arranged meeting but Apple representatives do not attend.
19xx Lennon and Stockhausen are said to have telephoned a number of times. The period has not been specified.

Stockhausen On Lennon
The following passage from a 1994 biography of Stockhausen raises some interesting questions:

[In 1969] Stockhausen drove to see [Lukas] Foss; it was winter and a snow storm was raging over New York. Foss's apartment had been appointed as the meeting-place for discussions about a joint concert with Stockhausen and the Beatles. The other party (either one of the Beatles or a manager) was delayed for hours because of the weather, and finally Stockhausen returned home. A concert that would have united avant-garde and pop music for the first time never even reached the planning stage.

In 1967 the Beatles had honored Stockhausen by putting his photo on the cover of their Sergeant Pepper [sic] album. When John Lennon was murdered in December 1980, Stockhausen said in a telephone interview:

"Lennon often used to phone me. He was particularly fond of my Hymnen and Gesang der J�nglinge, and got many things from them, for example in Strawberry Fields Forever. And his texts also made young people prick up their ears. In my eyes, John Lennon was the most important mediator between popular and serious music of this century." Michael Kurtz; "Stockhausen: A Biography", 1994

Another report concerning the planned concert and "Revolution 9":

Shortly before contacting Stockhausen to request his participation in a Beatles' concert, John Lennon appears to have used Hymnen as a model for his infamous Revolution 9.

The questions posed by these reports are:

1. Did Lennon envisage a concert together with Stockhausen in 1969?

Although plans came and went quickly in 1969, I have found no other record of such a performance nor can I identify a suitable concert. One would have thought that this kind of event would have been noted in Anthony Fawcett's book One Day At A Time. (Fawcett was Lennon and Onos personal assistant in 1968 and 1969.

2. How often was Lennon in contact with Stockhausen and in what period?

Lennon's actions are fairly well documented, yet I have no record of him being in contact with Stockhausen.

I have no record of contact between McCartney and Stockhausen. Now, while Paul would fit the profile better (he suggested Stockhausen for the Pepper cover and had Stockhausen's work) Stockhausen says he had multiple contacts with Lennon and was aware of Lennon's work mentioning "Strawberry Fields Forever" explicitly. Thus, I think a juxtaposition, while possible, is doubtful.

3 When did Lennon first start listening to Gesang der J�nglinge (1954) and Hymnen (1966/1967).

We know that McCartney had Gesang in 1966. Frank Zappa admired and met Stockhausen, who in turn attended a Zappa concert in 1968. Lennon was an early fan of Zappa.

MacDonald reports that Gesang influenced Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and Faust (Revolution In The Head, p199).

Lennon created his own electronic music at home. On the night of Two Virgins recording he played Ono his comedy tapes and Electronic Music. Some of that was used as a backing track for Two Virgins. In the light of Stockhausen's comments we need to investigate his interest in Electronic Music more deeply. Perhaps he did have Stockhausen's works at home and had studied them. However, until now, no record is available of such an interest.

4. Was Strawberry Fields influenced by Gesang or Hymnen?

The reference is believed to be to the speeding up of part of the piece rather than the electronic effects at the end. Others note that Gesang might have played some general model role.

5. Was Revolution 9 influenced by Hymnen.

I'll address this issue in more detail below after reviewing Hymnen below.

Hymnen: Region One
The parallels between the two works are seen chiefly with the first of four regions in Hymnen:

Hymnen has had an enormous--though often unacknowledged-- influence in popular and classical music. For instance, it is hard to listen to John Lennon's Revolution 9 without noting the parallels with Hymnen's Region One. Certainly much of today's ambient music is in Hymnen's shadow.

Excerpts from a description of Region One:

Stockhausen describes the first region, ... as having two 'centres', the Internationale and the Marseillaise. These anthems are used more than any others. The essential idea of the region, however, is a development of the very first sounds, the sounds of a short wave radio receiver (or several of them) being rapidly switched through the stations.

The restless gibbeting of more or less distinctly heard sounds ceases now for the two-minute interlude on the names of red in four different languages, chanted clearly and simply by the composer, some friends and the croupier on a few liturgical tones, ending with international red. Colour, paint . . . likewise an international vibration language?

There is one element more. Four times, every four minutes, a sinister, filtered casino croupier's voice says a few words, such as "Faites votre jeu, Messieurs et 'dames, s'il vous plait." He is nearly always surrounded on either side by complete silence. He seems to be separate, to belong to some other world running concurrently, but hidden. He appears thrice in the last movement with the same words. Does this ambiguous Joycean figure, perhaps a symbol of another sort of internationalism, have the function here that the Japanese chimes had in Telemusik: keeper of the musical time?

A more direct association is found in this report:

I must add that the experience of hearing Hymnen... is very startling for a Beatles fan--there, right up front, is the source for the mysterious Revolution 9 voice saying "Number 9" over and over--Stockhausen has a croupier's voice, as a divider of the sections between "regions," saying "Neuf--the Nine." Even his intonation is the same... Jim Chapman, RMBM 14-Jan-2000

These passages raise three additional questions:

6. Was the overall structure and sound of Revolution 9 influenced by Hymnen?

Progress on this issue will have to wait until the 1966 recording of Hymnen is examined. However, these reports look more promising than those of Cage's Variations IV.

While Hymnen was completed and performed a half dozen times before Lennon composed Revolution 9, it was not available as a commercial recording until 1969, well after Lennon had created Revolution 9. Thus, Lennon could have only have heard the piece if he acquired it privately. While this is more than possible (the Beatles lived at the center of the sixties maelstrom) there is currently no evidence to suggest that he did acquire Hymnen. Without such evidence, or extremely strong musical pointers, this whole exercise is reduced to mere speculation.

7. Was the choice of the "Number 9" fragment influenced by Hymnen?

The information above on this point is fascinating.

Revolution 9 also has a repeated fragment where "Number 31" is followed by the mechanical actions of a gaming machine. Perhaps this was an earlier attempt to incorporate a "Number X" passage.

Presumably the recording Lennon found with "Number 9" would also have had "Number 1", "Number 2" etc, leaving Lennon the choice. The Rolling Stones album cut of She's Like A Rainbow begins with an avant garde section that concludes with a busker spinning the wheel.

8. Was the precise division of Revolution 9 into two and three minute sections influenced by the four minute divisions of Hymnen?

In a recent article on the origins of Revolution 9 I pointed out that two of the three aspects of the work that had no known model were the use of a home group and the precise division on one minute boundaries:

What remains unexplained is how and when he decided to adopt the technique of using loops to orchestrate Revolution 9 and to structure the work so clearly. There is no parallel for either of these features in *any* of the works cited as potential influences. Hammond, R9 (12) Origins of Revolution 9

If Hymnen displays these properties (among others) then the musical evidence would be very strong for a connection, or at least point to the works having a common ancestor.

We know that Lennon created tapes of experimental music at home. Some of these have been bootlegged. Lennon worked with Starr to create long backwards outro of Flying. Two Virgins was based on Electronic Music that Lennon had created before the session with Ono. Photos of the period show a battery of tape decks and equipment in his home studio. Revolution 9 and What's The New Mary Jane also reflect this interest.

Lennon was rarely asked and spoke about his home recording activities. He treated it as a private hobby. We sometimes assume that his interest in experimental art began when he met Ono when in fact it's very clear that his involvement preceded her arrival. Perhaps we should view Yoko Ono as Lennon's ticket into a world he had already been exploring. That would help explain the sudden burst of energy in that direction.

If Revolution 9 was deliberately structured around forms found in Stockhausen's work then we would have definite evidence of an overtly intellectual approach to this project by Lennon. This would have significant implications for the conventional wisdom that holds Lennon to be intuitive idiot savant (a position I don't take).

Corroboration of contacts between Lennon and Stockhausen and other detail is required and could be difficult to achieve. However, coming from the accepted elder statesman of Experimental Music, Stockhausen's closing statement, made shortly after Lennon's death in 1980, is definitive:

In my eyes, John Lennon was the most important mediator between popular and serious music of this century. Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1980

Stockhausen definitely has a point.

Hymnen: Recording and Performances Here is a brief rundown of the initial performances of Hymnen.

30 November Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne, Germany

Stockhausen, an employee of the WDR (West German Radio), synthesized the 4-track composition on 1-inch tape at Studio 2 in Wallrafplatz Cologne, in the 1966/1967 period. This tape is the basic performance work.

The tape of Hymnen was produced by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk WDR and first performed (and presumably broadcast) on 30 November 1967 in a Musik der Zeit concert.
Lennon... may have been able to obtain a tape if he had written to Stockhausen at the time. Stockhausen is generous in that way. The broadcast tape would be most likely a mono or stereo mixdown of the 4-track master. Robin Maconie, private e-mail, January 2000

1-2 April Smolenice, Slovakia
4-5 April Prague, Czech Republic
23-24 April Paris, France
22 August Darmstadt, Germany
12 September Vienna Biennale, Austria

Stockhausen Discography
A good discography is found at:

These are the relevant entries for Gesang and Hymnen:

Gesang der J�nglinge
1955-56 Stereo realization of 4 track master tape
Stockhausen Complete Edition 3

Hymnen Electronic and Concrete Music 1966
The WDR electronic tape.
Stockhausen Complete Edition 10 (4CD)
Hymnen Electronic and Concrete Music with Soloists
1966 Aloys Kontarsky, Alfred Alings, Rolf Gehlhaar, Johannes G. Fritsch, Harald Boj�, Karlheinz Stockhausen, electronic tape
Stockhausen Complete Edition 10 (4CD)

Hymnen: Dritte Region mit Orchester 1969 G�rzenich-Orchester der Stadt K�ln, conducted by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Stockhausen Complete Edition 47

Stockhausen Web Links Stockhausen's website has news, scores and CDs available.

Robin Maconie's analysis of Hymnen (which treats it as a radio-drama):

A detailed analysis of Hymnen by Jonathan Harvey (1975):

This Unofficial Stockhausen Home Page has some good links:

Thanks to Jim Chapman for sparking this article. I'm indebted to Robin Maconie for his patience in providing source information on the Stockhausen photograph, the performance history of Hymnen and for correcting a draft of this article.

IAN HAMMOND'S BEATHOVEN: PAGE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, - Back To Revolution Number 9

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