Tuning the Helicopters

Helikopter-Streichquartett four helicopters and string quartet
The Dutch Grasshoppers aerobatics team, flying the Alouette helicopters they used in the world premiere of the Helikopter-Streichquartett

Musical instruments can be costly, and any band student who has had to lug a tuba or bell set on a school bus knows they can be unwieldy, too. The Sousaphone or cello is nothing, however, compared to the principal instruments in  Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Helikopter-Streichquartett” — four operational and flying helicopters.

“Helikopter-Streichquartett” (German for “Helicopter String Quartet”) was first performed in 1995. Stockhausen spent several years working on the piece, which went through several iterations, one of which contemplated the use of a large swarm of bees.

The final result was inspired by the composer’s dream of flying above four helicopters. He was able to see into each helicopter and see a member of a string quartet. This dream ultimately gave birth to the 32-minute opus. You can watch this magnificent work below:

In 2001 Angelin Preljocaj choregraphed “Helikopter”, a modern dance set to Stockhausen’s music. Watch this performance here:

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