Zodiac Composing at Home (Children) >

In this activity you will create simple melodies to describe friends and family thorough the lens of the zodiac, using a music box app and/or a real music box, inspired by Tierkreis by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen

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On Thursday 20 August 2020, BCMG Cellist Ulrich Heinen performed Tierkreis by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Brindley Place, Birmingham. Tierkreis is German for zodiac and the piece is made up of 12 short melodies, one for each of the zodiac.

Uli Tierkreis 2

Stockhausen composed a number of pieces inspired by stars and constellations and was interested in astrology and spirituality. This is what Stockhausen said of the Tierkreis melodies:

'In inventing each melody, I thought of the characters of children, friends, and acquaintances who were born under the various star signs, and studied the human types of the star signs more thoroughly'

There are lots of versions of the melodies for different instruments including one for 12 specially made music boxes.  Here is Aquarius, composed for his daughter Julika:

The Tiekreis melodies are part of a bigger piece of music called Musik in Bauch (music in the belly) which Stockhausen was inspired to compose when he remembered joking with his 2-year-old daughter Julika that, the noises coming from her stomach were 'music in (her) belly'.

Each of the melodies has its own tone row, a tone row is group of notes/pitches in a particular order. Each of the melodies has a different note that is the main note. This note starts and finishes that melody and appears throughout the melody. Leo (Stockhausen's sign) = the note A, Virgo = A#, Libra = B, Scorpio = C and so on.

As well as being able to be played by different instruments, there are also many different versions of the Tierkreis melodies including a jazz one by Ulrich's son Bruno Heinen. Here is his sextet playing Scorpio:

For a printable version of this resource CLICK HERE

Please send any music you create to learning@bcmg.org.uk 

We would like to thank the Stockhausen Foundation for Music for the use of the image from the score of Tierkreis. This resource is for educational purposes only and is designed to illuminate and otherwise share the great work of the composer/sound designer Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Please support the Stockhausen Foundation for Music by purchasing CDs, DVDs and scores from their website. 

Your Turn!

In this activity you are going to create your own zodiac melody for a music box. To do this, we suggest you use Music Box Composer, an inexpensive app (Android and Apple) on which you can create and play music box melodies. You can also buy a more expensive DIY 15 note music box kit (for an example CLICK HERE) which you can programme to play the melodies you have composed. 

First of all, download, have a play and learn how the Music Box Composer app works.

Music Box Composer

Being a music box, you can't change the dynamics or the timbre (type/quality of sound) so this activity will focus on pitch and rhythm. Decide on who your melody will describe - a friend or family member. Find out what their star sign is and what characteristics are attributed to that star sign. This will give the character of your music. 

tierkreis wheel

Set up your app using the settings icon (cog):

  • Set the music box composer app to use 15 notes
  • Don't allow non-music box notes (sharps)
  • Set the snap interval to 1/8 
  • NB notes can be added to your melody by simply touching the grid.

Rules for creating your melody: 

As we saw in the introduction, Stockhausen composed his melodies with certain rules about which notes he could use when. Below is a simplified version to use as you compose your melodies:

  • Choose a main note (the notes are listed down the side). Your melody should start and finish on this note. You can use this note as many times as you like in your melody
  • The other 14 notes you are allowed to use only once. You can repeat them consecutively (immediately after each other) but not return to them later on in the melody.  This is like how Stockhausen uses his tone rows
  • How close or far apart your place your notes will determine the rhythm of your melody
  • You can speed up or slow down your melody by changing the number - this goes from 0 (slow) to 4 (fast). This is a great way to change the character of your melody

Once you have created you melody you can:

  • Save your melody
  • Share your melody
  • Print out your melody to play on a real music box
  • Create a new zodiac melody for a different friend or family member

music box kit