Gyorgy Ligeti

One of the world's best known living composers, Gyorgy Ligeti is widely acknowledged as a musical pioneer of the late twentieth century. In response to a general stylistic crisis in the mid-century avant-garde, Ligeti forged his own musical alternative, based on texture and sound density, that has become one of the major influences on contemporary music. His varied output, which he began in pre-communist Hungary and continued in western Europe after the Hungarian communist revolution, is searingly intense at times and full of vivacity, humor and irony at others.

Sony Classical features Ligeti's music in the award-winning Ligeti Edition, a series of recordings supervised by the composer. Volumes 1 - 7 feature solo and chamber music, and Volume 8, to be released in 1999, will be Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre (S2K 62312). Volume 6, an album of his keyboard works (SK 62307), won a Gramophone Award in 1997.

Born in 1923 to Hungarian parents in Dicsoeszentmerton (now Tarnarveni) in Transylvania, Romania, Ligeti and his family moved to Cluj (Kolozsvar, Klausenburg) when he was still a child. He began studying composition with Ferenc Farkas at the Cluj conservatory in 1941 and continued his studies in Budapest with Pal Kadosa. In 1943 his education was interrupted when he was sent into forced labor as a Jew for the remainder of World War II.

Ligeti survived, although the Nazi occupation destroyed his family, and after the war he resumed his studies with Farkas and Sandor Veress at the Franz Liszt Adademy in Budapest. He spent a year doing field research in Romanian folk music after his graduation in 1949 but returned to the Liszt Academy in 1950 as a teacher of harmony, counterpoint and formal analysis.

He remained there until he fled from Hungary after the revolution in 1956.

Before Ligeti emigrated to the West, his work was limited by political repression and censorship, which restricted access to new musical ideas and discouraged public presentation of experimental music. His publications of those years included only folksong arrangements and music based on Romanian or Hungarian folk music. His arrival in Vienna late in 1956 therefore provided him with fresh opportunities. He was introduced to key figures in the avant-garde of western European music, notably Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gottfried Michael Koenig and Herbert Eimert. Eimert invited Ligeti to join the Electronic Music Studio of Westdeutscher Rundkfunk (West German Radio) in Cologne in 1957, and there Ligeti had the freedom to develop his style, consolidating musical ideas that had begun to emerge in his scores as early as the late 1940s. His electronic composition Artikulation (1958) and the orchestral Apparitions (1958-59), the first pieces in the mature style, attracted critical attention, and the premiere of Apparitions at the ISCM Festival in 1960 launched his international career.

The success of Apparitions was confirmed by Atmosphères (1961) and the organ work Volumina (1961-62), making clear that Ligeti was forging for Western music a powerful alternative to post-Webern serialism. A key feature of his style was the use of extraordinarily dense polyphony, which he called 'micropolyphony' -- complexes of musical color and texture so rich and intense that they virtually dissolved the distinctions of melody, harmony and rhythm. At the same time, Ligeti experimented with a coloristic language that was no less polyphonic but was built on the kaleidoscopic use of articulate speech sounds and inflections, as heard in Adventures (1962) and Nouvelles Aventures (1962-65). His music throughout the 1960s relied on one or both of these contrasting techniques. In the later 60s Ligeti injected a renewed contrapuntal complexity into his work, beginning with Requiem (1963-65) and Lux aeterna (1966). Requiem made a powerful impression at its Stockholm premiere in 1965, and it went on to win the Bonn Beethoven Prize in 1967. The Cello Concerto (1966) is closely related to Lux aeterna (itself a reflection of Requiem) in sound and design -- a combination of dazzling intricacy and the most lucid of musical images. Two years after its premiere, Lux aeterna -- along with Atmosphaeres and Requiem -- reached a mass audience when an excerpt from the score was used on the soundtrack and the best-selling soundtrack recording of the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the 1970s, Ligeti's writing became more transparent, even melodic, though in a highly personal, elusive manner. The flickering melodic shapes of Melodien (1971) seem to be a step ahead of the listener's ear, and, in later works, he transforms the idea of melody and harmonic structure through the use of micro-intervals and deviations from the tempered scale.

As early as Ramifications (1968-69), Ligeti wrote for two string ensembles that had been tuned a quarter-tone apart.

Wit and satire color the composer's later work as well, occassionally with scathing results. The work, perhaps the shortest known composition, pokes fun at John Cage's 4'33". In a similar vein, The Future of Music (1961), for non-speaking lecturer and audience, ridicules the idea of performance art and, at the same time, questions the nature of musical communication. The opera Le Grand Macabre (S2K 62312), premiered in Stockholm in 1978, is suffused with dark comedy, though in general the opera relates an ominous tale.

Ligeti's ever-evolving style shifted again in the 1980s, when he left behind the static structures of his earlier works and began working with dynamic polyrhythmic techniques. The Piano Concerto (1985-88) is typical of this period -- the composer himself considers it his most complex and difficult score, but it immediately disarms the listener.

After 1956 Ligeti lived in Germany and then Austria, where he became a citizen in 1967. For many years he was a visiting professor of composition at the Stockholm Academy of Music, and from 1973 until 1989 he served as professor of composition at the Hamburg Music Academy. In 1972 he spent a year as a visiting professor and composer-in-residence at Stanford University.

The composer was awarded the German decoration "Pour le merit" and the Bach Prize of the City of Hamburg in 1975. In 1986 he received the Grawemeyer Prize, and in 1996 he was awarded the Music Prize of the International Music Council.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1951-1953 Musica Ricercata 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Comments:

Mei Yo Foo - Piano

1953 Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
London Winds
1953 6 Bagatelles (arr. for saxophone quartet) 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Comments:
Habanera Saxophone Quartet
1963-1965 Requiem 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
Choir and Orchestra cond. Ernest Bour

The Requiem has been used by Stanley Kubrick in  2001 A Space Odyssey

1966 Lux Aeterna (für 16stimmigen gemischten Chor a capella) 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti - Lux Aeterna [für 16stimmigen gemischten Chor a capella] Comments:
Part of the  Avant Garde 1968 edition. Cassette with 6 records by Deutsche Grammophon.

Music like a Fata Morgana.

Chor des Norddeutschen Rundfunk Hamburg cond. Helmut Franz.
1961-1967 Volumina / Etude nr. 1 3.50 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti - Volumina [1961] / Etude nr. 1 [1967] Comments:
Part of the  Avant Garde 1968 edition. Cassette with 6 records by Deutsche Grammophon.

Ligeti makes an organ sound like electronic music.

Gers Zacher - Organ
1967 Lontano 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
Orchestra cond. Ernest Bour
1968 Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti - Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet Comments:
Vienna Wind Solists
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
London Winds
1968   Streichquartett No 2 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti - Streichquartett Comments:
Part of the  Avant Garde 1970 edition. Cassette with 6 records by Deutsche Grammophon. Very German oriented, so think Darmstadt or Donauesschingen.

This is the Second String Quartet. Played by:
LaSalle Quartet. (Ligeti dedicated all his string quartets to them.)
1968-1969 Ramifications 4.00 out of 5 stars LP
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
For 12 string instruments

Orchestre National de Chambre de Toulouse cond. Louis Auriacombe

1969-1970 Chamber Concerto 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
For 13 string instruments

Schoenberg Ensemble cond. Reinbert de Leeuw

1969-1970 Chamber Concerto 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Comments:
For 13 string instruments

Ensemble InterContemporain cond. Pierre Boulez

1971 Melodien 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
For orchestra

Schoenberg Ensemble cond. Reinbert de Leeuw

1982 Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
Saschco Gawrilow - Violin
Marie-Luise Neunecker - Horn
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Piano
1985-1988 Piano Concerto 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Piano
ASKO Ensemble cond. Reinbert de Leeuw
1991-1994 Sonata for Solo Viola 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti -  Studio-reihe Neuer Musik [Wergo] Comments:
Tabea Zimmermann - Viola
Compilation Works For Piano 4.50 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Works For Piano (Ligeti Edition Volume 3) Comments:

1. Piano Etudes (Book One): I. De'sordre - Molto vivace, vigoroso, molto ritmico
2. Piano Etudes (Book One): II. Cordes a' vide - Andantino con moto, molto tenero
3. Piano Etudes (Book One): II. Touches bloque'es - Presto possibile, sempre molto ritmico
4. Piano Etudes (Book One): IV. Fanfares - Vivacissimo molto ritmico, con allegria e slancio
5. Piano Etudes (Book One): V. Arc-en-ciel - Andante molto rubato, con eleganza, with swing
6. Piano Etudes (Book One): VI. Automne a' Varsovie - Presto cantabile, molto ritmico e flessibile
7. Piano Etudes (Book Two): VII. Galamb borong - Vivacissimo luminoso, legato possibile
8. Piano Etudes (Book Two): VIII. Fe'm - Vivace risoluto, con vigore
9. Piano Etudes (Book Two): IX. Vertige - Prestissimo sempre molto legato, sehr gleichmassig
10. Piano Etudes (Book Two): X. Der Zauberlehrling - Prestissimo, staccatissimo, leggierissimo
11. Piano Etudes (Book Two): XI. En suspens - Andante con moto, (avec l`e'le'gance du swing)
12. Piano Etudes (Book Two): XII. Entrelacs - Vivacissimo molto ritmico, sempre legato, con delicatezza
13. Piano Etudes (Book Two): XIII. L'escalier du diable - Presto legato ma leggiero
14. Piano Etudes (Book Two): XIV. Coloana infinita' - Presto possibile, tempestoso con fuoco
15. Musica ricercata: I. Sosenuto - Misurato - Prestissimo
16. Musica ricercata: II. Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale
17. Musica ricercata: III. Allegro con spirito
18. Musica ricercata: IV. Tempo de Valse (poco vivace - a' l'orgue de Barbarie)
19. Musica ricercata: V. Rubato. Lamentoso
20. Musica ricercata: VI. Allegro molto capriccioso
21. Musica ricercata: VII. Cantabile, molto legato
22. Musica ricercata: VIII. Vivace. Energico
23. Musica ricercata: IX. Adagio. Mesto - Allegro maestoso
24. Musica ricercata: X. Vivace. Capriccioso
25. Musica ricercata: XI. Andante misurato e tranquillo
26. Piano Etudes (From Book Three): XV. White on White

Beautiful piano recording.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Piano

The music is a big step forward into the past.

Compilation Mechanical Music 4.50 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
Continuum, for harpsichord
Hungarian Rock (Chaconne), for harpsichord
Capriccio No. 1 for piano
Invention for piano
Capriccio No. 2 for piano
Poeme symphonique, for 100 metronomes, 10 performers & 1 conductor
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 1, Sostenuto-Misurato-Prestissimo
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 2, Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 3, Allegro con spirito
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 4, Tempo de Valse
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 5, Rubato. Lamentoso
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 6, Allegro molto capriccioso
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 7, Contabile, molto legato
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 8, Vivace, Energico
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 9, Bela Bartok in memoriam
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 10, Vivace, Capriccioso
Musica ricercata, pieces (11) for piano No 11, Omaggio a Girolamo Frescoba ldi
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 10, Der Zauberlehrling
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 9, Vertige
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 11, En suspens
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 13, L'escalier du diable
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 14a, Coloana färä stârsit
Etudes (8) for piano, Book 2 No 7, Galamb borong
Continuum, for harpsichord, adapted for 2 player pianos

Pierre Charial - Barrel Organ
Francoise Terrioux - Metronomes
Juergen Hocker - Player Pianos

Compilation African Rhythms 4.50 out of 5 stars CD
György Ligeti - Ramifications Comments:
Aka Pygmies - Traditional instruments
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Piano