Stockhausen in the Sky

An old lady eagerly turns the knobs of her radio, trying to fix the sounds coming out of the speakers: “My radio is broken!” she complains, a moment before the broadcaster announces: “This was Stockhausen”. – “Oh no!” cries the lady in despair – “Modern music is broken!”

I was playing a concert in Cologne the other day, where I fell in the same trap. The rehearsal was over and I went outside to find lunch. It was 12 o’clock when I heard bells playing chaotic sounds. The bells are broken! I thought… but a second later realised that the bells are perfectly in shape and seam to be playing modern music. A brief investigation on my phone led to this astonishing information: Cologne is a city where the bells downtown play Karlheinz Stockhausen, every day at lunchtime.


Throughout the year the city hall bells play Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (German for Zodiac), a cycle of 12 short pieces, each representing one zodiac sign, composed in the mid 70’s. Towards the end of July, for example, the Lion can be heard from the top of the tower:


Image source:


The 48 bells ring four times a day in an urban concert, sending not only Stockhausen’s music up in the sky. On my second day in town I went there at 9 o’clock, to listen to an old German folk song. Die Gedanken sind frei dates back to late 16th century and speaks about the freedom of thought:

“I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!”
Die Gedanken sind frei was the unofficial hymn of the anti-Nazi resistance movement The White Rose. It also inspired the Jewish composer Gustav Mahler in Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing these important words: