Karlheinz Stockhausen is a composer who has never been prone to self-doubt; otherwise he couldn't have persevered through the process of creating his monumental seven-opera cycle LICHT (Light), a project that occupied him from 1977 until 2003. At just about twice the length of Wagner's Ring cycle, and requiring extraordinary performing forces (including four helicopters flying over the theater in one opera) it's probably safe to call LICHT the largest musical piece ever executed. The cycle follows the interactions of three archetypes -- Eve, Lucifer, and the archangel Michael -- and each opera is devoted to one day of the week. "DIENSTAG" (Tuesday), the shortest, lasts a mere two and a half hours; "SONTAG" (Sunday), the longest, clocks in at just under five hours.
The music for all the operas is derived from a single "super-formula," which gives the works a unity not immediately aurally apparent, but which must have been hugely helpful to the composer in organizing over 29 hours of music. "DIENSTAG" is scored for conventional solo instruments, some of which have dramatic as well as musical roles, vocal soloists, actors, dancer-mimes, orchestra, chorus, and electronic tapes. The music is very broadly eclectic, incorporating solo chant, extended instrumental solos, massed choral and instrumental sections, long silences, interpolations of jazz, and very prominent electronics. "DIENSTAG," like the other operas in the cycle, conveys an undeniable gravity and monumentality that would make it difficult to dismiss, even by listeners for whom Stockhausen's modernism is not exactly their cup of tea. The aural experience of the music can be so overwhelming that one wonders whether its effectiveness might be trivialized or diluted by any kind of stage action. Stockhausen's operas are by no means easy listening, but their inventiveness, variety, and sense of dramatic inevitably offer much to engage the adventurous listener. For the listener who wants a fuller understanding of the technical compositional processes used in developing the music, the composer's minutely detailed notes in the sumptuously produced program booklet should answer just about any question.