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Ligeti, György

György Ligeti

Composer

Stepping into the intriguing, multi-dimensional, thought-provoking musical world of composer György Ligeti is an intellectual and spiritual adventure. This is a composer whose richly textured and deeply compelling music makes references, playful and serious, to great European poetry, the conundrums of science, the realism of M.C. Escher, and the visions of Hieronymus Bosch. Attempts to define Ligeti's music (critics have called it ironic, light, paradoxical, melancholy, mysterious, grotesque, and haunting) barely capture the essence of an art which defies labels and categories. Difficult to define, Ligeti's art nevertheless reflects the elusive substance of its creator's extraordinary spirit.

A pioneer but also a maverick, Ligeti has consistently refused to adopt any particular variety of musical modernism. After some early involvement with electronic music, Ligeti began to compose in a largely tonal idiom, using traditional instruments. For Ligeti, innovation and tradition do not exclude each other. He has never lost sight of modern music's historical background, and many listeners hear echoes of medieval and Renaissance music in Ligeti's works, as well as the musical archetypes of folklore. In certain works, such as the Sonata for Viola, Ligeti has been able to incorporate fundamental sonorities into finely crafted expressions of a highly sophisticated musical language. Despite his immense learning, Ligeti has composed accessible music. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has insisted that music is not a code to be deciphered by a chosen group of initiates.

Born in 1923 in a part of Hungarian Transylvania which had been ceded to Romania in 1918, Ligeti grew up in an atmosphere that was conducive to his talents, and his great-uncle was the legendary Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer. The family moved to Cluj, which enabled Ligeti to study composition with Ferenc Farkas at the Cluj Conservatory. In 1944, during World War II, Ligeti's studies were interrupted when he was sent to a labor camp as a Jew. He survived the war and resumed his studies, this time at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he graduated in 1949. The following year Ligeti accepted a teaching post at the Academy.

Post-1945 Hungary was a Stalinist country, and artists, including composers, were expected to glorify the state in their works. Since any innovation was considered "decadent," composers had two options: kitsch or folklore. Ligeti wisely turned to researching the immense treasures of Hungarian and Romanian folk music, keeping his more daring creative efforts hidden from the authorities. In 1956, after the Hungarian uprising against Soviet domination was savagely crushed, Ligeti escaped to the West, reaching Vienna toward the end of the year.

Ligeti's talent was immediately recognized by the musical avant-garde, and Europe's most prominent composers, including Karlheinz Stockhausen and Herbert Eimert, greeted him with enthusiasm. In 1957 Ligeti accepted Eimert's invitation to join West German Radio's Electronic Music Studio, and the following year Ligeti started teaching summer classes at Darmstadt. Although he had composed some electronic pieces, Ligeti soon abandoned experimentation with electronic media and decided to follow a different path. In his Apparitions for orchestra, Ligeti offered a personal alternative to the serialist paradigm of Western music. In this haunting, dream-like composition, Ligeti introduced orchestral clusters, a new technique used to create original sonic effects. Apparitions was such a sensational success that it literally established Ligeti's international reputation.

For Ligeti, an artistic triumph meant that it was time to try something different. In his composition Atmosphès, the orchestral clusters that had been used to create a somewhat static feeling in Apparitions now formed a sonic cloud that was illuminated by harmonic and coloristic transformation.

Ligeti combined his minute, almost obsessive, awareness of details and nearly imperceptible distinctions with original imagery and affective depth. These qualities were vividly exemplified by Lux eterna and in his admirable Requiem, first performed in Stockholm in 1966, for which Ligeti received the Beethoven Prize in 1967. Ligeti's music reached movie audiences worldwide when his music, including fragments of Lux eterna, was incorporated into the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey.

The early 1970s found Ligeti in Berlin and Vienna. He served as a visiting professor at Stanford University in 1972 and then settled in Hamburg the following year. His focus now was now on composing an opera titled Grand Macabre. The story was based on a play by Michel de Ghelderode, which Ligeti set to music. In Grand Macabre Ligeti introduced original instrumental timbres, as well as an array of ingeniously executed procedures including collage, quotation, and fragmentation, to create a topsy-turvy world dominated by a feeling of eerie estrangement and grotesque absurdity. Hailed as a masterful meditation on the macabre absurdities of twentieth-century history, the opera was produced in Hamburg in 1978, and many successful European productions followed.

In the 1980s and 1990s Ligeti turned to the fundamental questions of modern music. He returned to choral music, a medium he had cultivated in the 1940s, and set to music the works of his favorite poets—Hölderlin and Sándor Weöres. Ligeti also realized the absurdity of the compulsion to choose between tonality (the idea that a composition should have a tonal center, or "home") and atonality. In his Etudes for piano, the first volume appearing in 1985, Ligeti demonstrated the coexistence of different tonalities in the same work, thus identifying the tonality issue as a false problem. In works composed in the 1990s Ligeti successfully applied these techniques in his orchestral projects. Ligeti's Violin Concerto in many ways represented a synthesis of his extraordinary artistic quest. The work contained compositional breakthroughs that integrated the tonalities of various types of instruments and created a compelling musical narrative.

In his discussion of Ligeti's Sonata for Viola in Exploring Twentieth-Century Music: Tradition and Innovation, Arnold Whittall felt that the work expressed sadness and rage in reaction to a century of mindless violence, but added "a sense of a wordless, breathing human voice reasoning with the void, in a spirit which seeks to assuage the Dionysian turmoil of modernity in Orphic songs." Whittall concluded: "There is no resolution of the conflict in Ligeti's sonata, however—no wry, rueful cadential gesture, like Berio's, no Boulezian celebration of science, and little of Carter's poise and refinement." In other words, Ligeti knows that the questions he poses only lead to further questions. As a composer in the twenty-first century, Ligeti still experiences music with the wonderment and enthusiasm of his youth. In 2003 he received the prestigious Polar Music Award, which was created by the founder of the Swedish rock group ABBA. One of Ligeti's fellow laureates was legendary bluesman B.B. King.

For the Record …

Born on May 28, 1923, in Dicsoszentmárton, Romania; son of Sándor (a bank employee) and Ilona (a physician) Ligeti; married Vera Ligeti; children: Lukas. Education: Attended the Music Conservatory of Kolozsvár, 1941-43; Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, graduated in 1949.

Taught harmony and counterpoint at the Franz Liszt Academy, 1949-56; started lecturing at the Darmstadt summer sessions, 1958; appointed visiting professor of composition at Stockholm Academy of Music, 1961; visiting professor at Stanford University, 1972; professor at the Hamburg Musikhochschule, 1973-89.

Awards: Beethoven Prize for Requiem, 1967; Bach Prize of the City of Hamburg, 1975; Grawemeyer Prize, 1986; Adorno Prize, 2003; Polar Music Award, 2003.

Addresses: Record company—Teldec Classics International, Schubertstrasse 5-9, D-22083, Germany, website: http://www.warnerclassics.com/gyorgyligeti.

Selected compositions

Idegen fölgön ["Abroad"] (women's voices), 1945-46.

Two Capriccios (piano), 1947.

Musica ricercata, 11 pieces (piano), 1951-53.

String Quartet No. 1 "Mëtamorphoses nocturnes," 1953-54.

Éjszaka, Reggel ["Night Morning"] (chorus), 1955.

Artikulation (tape), 1958.

Apparitions (orchestra), 1958-59.

Atmosphères (orchestra), 1961.

Three Bagatelles (piano), 1961.

Volumina (organ), 1961-62, rev. 1966.

Aventures (3 voices, 7 instruments), 1962, rev. 1963.

Poème symphonique (100 metronomes), 1962.

Nouvelles aventures (3 voices, 7 instruments), 1962-65.

Requiem (vocal soloists, chorus, orchestra), 1963-65.

Cello Concerto, 1966.

Lux aeterna (16 voices), 1966.

Lontano (orchestra), 1967.

Continuum (harpsichord), 1968.

String Quartet No. 2, 1968.

Ramifications (strings), 1968-69.

Coulée (organ), 1969.

Chamber Concerto (13 instruments), 1969-70.

Melodien (orchestra), 1971.

Double Concerto (flute, oboe, orchestra), 1972.

Clocks and Clouds (women's voices, orchestra), 1972-73.

San Francisco Polyphony (orchestra), 1973-74.

Le Grand Macabre (opera), 1974; rev. 1996.

Monument-Sebstportrait-Bewegung (2 pianos), 1976.

Trio (violin, French horn, piano), 1982.

Etudes I (piano), 1985.

Piano Concerto, 1985-88.

Nonsense Madrigals (6 men's voices), 1988-93.

Etudes II, 1988-94.

Violin Concerto, 1989-93.

Sonata for viola, 1991-94.

Etudes III, 1995.

Hamburg Concerto (French horn, chamber orchestra, 4 obbligato natural horns), 1998-2003.

Sippal, dobbal, nádihegedurvel ["With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles] (percussion, whistles, harmonicas), 2000.

Sources

Musical America, September 1987.

New Statesman, December 13, 1996.

—Zoran Minderovic

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György Ligeti

György Ligeti

The Austrian composer György Ligeti (born 1923) was one of the most important figures in the avantgarde of music in Europe.

György Ligeti was born to Hungarian Jewish parents on May 28, 1923. After high school, he studied composition with Farkas at the Kolozvár conservatory (1941-1943) and also took private lessons with Paul Kadosa during the summers of 1942 and 1943. After graduating from the Budapest Academy of Music, he devoted himself to the study of Rumanian folk music. From 1950 to 1956, he taught harmony, counterpoint, and musical analysis at the Budapest Academy.

Following the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 by the Soviets, Ligeti left his country and moved to Vienna. He soon came into contact with the elite of the Western European musical avant-garde, including Karlheinz Stockhausen, Herbert Eimert, and Gottfried Koenig. In 1957 Ligeti was invited by Eimert to work at the West German radio electronic studios of Cologne; there, he wrote Artikulation (March 1958). He suddenly achieved fame after the performance of Apparitions for orchestra at a 1960 music festival in Cologne. He had already sketched this piece in Hungary, where he used a different title: Viziok (Visions). Starting in 1959, he gave lectures at the Darmstadt summer sessions, and from 1961 he regularly taught composition at the Stockholm Academy of Music as a visiting professor. He moved for a year to West Berlin, holding a scholarship, and then went to Stanford University in California in the spring of 1972 as composer in residence. In 1973 Ligeti was appointed professor of composition at the Hamburg Musikhochschule. Then a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and of the West Berlin Academy of Arts, he was awarded a German decoration for merit and the Bach Prize of the city of Hamburg in 1975.

While living in Hungary most of his works were for piano; he also wrote songs and chamber music with piano, for example Idegen Foldon (In Foreign Land) for female chorus (1945-1946), Two Capriccios (1947) for piano, and Musica Riservata, 11 pieces for piano (1951-1953). For political reasons, most of his compositions could be neither printed nor performed (except for his folksong arrangements and a few other pieces). During the 1940s, Ligeti had begun to develop an individual style. His Piano Trio (1941-1942) was the first of his works to be performed. But the new political situation of 1948 compelled him to put a halt to most of his research. In order to retain his position of composer he had to write a lot of arrangements of popular songs.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, cultural restrictions were less rigid, and Ligeti was able to continue some of his research. The influence of his countryman Bela Bartók remained important in works such as the two choruses Ejszaka (Night) and Reggel (Morning) and the string quartet Métamorphoses Nocturnes (1953-1954). They all used a free tonal language far from his post-1956 works, although some structural elements indicated Ligeti's future musical evolution.

His Musicafter 1956

Moving to Vienna in December 1956, Ligeti quickly integrated with his music the styles of the Western avantgarde. A drastic change of orientation in Ligeti's music occurred while he was working on Pièce électronique (1957-1958) and Artikulation (1958) at the electronic studios of Cologne. Although Apparitions is fully notated in conventional terms, it had a strong impact on the European avant-garde throughout the 1960s. The composer introduced his "chromatic cluster technique." Density and volume of the texture became structural elements in place of the traditional pitches or rhythmic figures. In Atmosphères for orchestra (1961) and Voluminia for organ (1961-1962), Ligeti developed his sophisticated effects of texture to their ultimate consequence. Far from the strong European post-Webern movement and the rigidity of its ultra serial system, Ligeti's works in the 1960s led to the evolution of avantgarde music as it developed a more flexible language.

Trois Bagatelles for piano (1961) and Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes (1962) were parodies of John Cage's "happenings." In a lecture on the future of music (Die Zukunft der Musik, 1961) Ligeti attacked the idea of the "happenings" and demonstrated their futility.

More important were his two theatrical works Aventures (1962-1966) and Nouvelles Aventures (1962-1965), in which he used an invented language drawing on a large variety of speech sounds. In the Requiem (1963-1965) and the choral Lux Aeterna (1966), Ligeti developed the style of Atmosphères countrapuntally. He introduced microtonal intervals in his Second String Quartet (1968) as well as in Ramifications (1968-1969, for two strings ensembles tuned a quarter-tone apart) and also in the Double Concerto for flute, oboe, and orchestra in order to create a new texture with false harmonic and melodic relations. It was also during the 1960s that Ligeti wrote pieces which were used by director Stanley Kubrick for his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Superimposing different meters to produce a perpetual change in rhythm and color, Ligeti invented a very personal world of sound easily recognizable in such pieces as Continuum for harpsichord (1968), Coulée for organ (1969), Chamber Concerto (1969-1970), Clocks and Clouds for female chorus and orchestra (1972-1973), or San Francisco Polyphonie for orchestra (1973-1974). Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre, whose premiere took place in Stockholm in 1978, was an enormous success and was performed in several opera houses, including La Scala in Milan and the Paris National Opera. In 1982 he wrote a new Trio for horn, violin, and piano, which was well received, and the next year wrote two vocals, the Drei Phantasieu for 16 Voices and the Magyar etudok (Hungarian Studies). Ligeti has been honored internationally for his abilities, having been made a member of the Swedish Academy of Music, the American Academy of and Institution of Arts and Letters, and the Akademie der Kdotnste in Berlin and becoming a Commandeur in the Ordre National des Arts et Lettres in Paris.

Further Reading

A biography, György Ligeti by Paul Griffiths, was published in 1983 (London, Robson Books). Additional information of Ligeti and his work can be found in O. Nordwall, Ligeti Dokument (Stockholm, 1968), which includes letters, sketches, scores, and lectures, in A. Jack, Ligeti, and in "György Ligeti: Distinguished and Unpredictable," by D. Soria in Musical America (September, 1987). An interview is featured in Music and Musicians (1974) and another one by Dermot Clinch in the New Statesman (December 13, 1996). □

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Ligeti, György (Sándor)

Ligeti, György (Sándor) (b Dicsöszentmáron, 1923). Hung.-born composer (Austrian cit. 1967). Lect., Budapest Acad., 1950–6. Left Hungary 1956, going to work first at Cologne EMS 1957–8, then settling in Austria. Lect. at Darmstadt mus. courses 1959–72. Prof. of comp., Hamburg Mus. Acad. 1973–89. Though elec. stimulated his urge to compose, since 1958 he has written only for ‘live’ performers. His orch. writing uses precisely calculated textures and dense (but not thick) scoring, deriving ultimately from Webern (Ligeti's term is ‘micropolyphony’). Prin. works:OPERA: Le Grand Macabre (1972–6, in 2 acts, f.p. Stockholm 1978).ORCH.: Apparitions (1958–9); Atmosphères (1961); Lontano (1967); Melodien (1971); San Francisco Polyphony (1973–4).SOLOIST & ORCH.: vc. conc. (1966); double conc., fl., ob. (1972); pf. conc. (1985–8); vn. conc. (1990, 1992).CHORAL: Requiem, sop., mez., 2 ch., orch. (1963–5); Lux aeterna, 16-part ch. (1966); Clocks and Clouds, 12-voice women's ch., orch. (1972–3); Scenes and Interludes from Le Grand Macabre, sop., mez., ten., bar., opt. ch., orch. (1978); Nonsense Madrigals, 6 vv. (1988).SMALL ORCH.: Ballad and Dance on Romanian Folk Songs (1949–50); 6 Miniatures, 10 wind instr. (1953, scored 1975 by F. Wanek); Fragment, 11 instr. (1961); Adventures, 3 singers, 7 instr. (1962); Nouvelles Aventures, 3 singers, 7 instr. (1962–5); Ramifications, str., or 12 solo str. (1968–9); Chamber Conc., 13 instr. (1969–70).CHAMBER MUSIC: vc. sonata (1948–53); 10 Pieces, wind quintet (1968); str. qts. No.1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes) (1953–4), No.2 (1968); 6 Bagatelles, wind quintet (1953); hn. trio (Hommage à Brahms) (1982).KEYBOARD: Musica Ricercata, 11 pieces, pf. (1951–3); Continuum, hpd. (1968); 3 Pieces (Monument, Selbstporträt, Bewegung), 2 pf. (1976); Passacaglia ungherrese, hpd. (1978); Hungarian Rock, hpd. (1978); Etudes, pf. (1985); L'escalier du diable, pf. (1992–3).ORGAN: Volumina (1961–2, rev. 1966); 2 Studies (1967, 1969).MISCELLANEOUS: Artikulation, tape (1958); Poème symphonique, 100 metronomes (1962); Horizont, recorder (1971).

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"Ligeti, György (Sándor)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Ligeti, György

György Ligeti, 1923–2006, Hungarian composer. He studied music in Romania and Hungary, and was a teacher at the Budapest Academy of Music until he fled to Vienna (1956) after the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He worked (1957–58) at Cologne's electronic music studio and later taught at music schools in Darmstadt (1959), in Stockholm (1961), at Stanford (1972), and in Hamburg beginning in 1973. In the 1950s he began composing electronic music, such as Artikulation (1958), and came to worldwide attention with his orchestral Atmosphères (1961). An extremely innovative composer who became a key figure in Europe's musical avant garde, Ligeti created a distinctive and highly influential style of music that relies on the density and texture of sound masses. Some of his works also employ a satirical wit. From the 1980s on his music tended to be somewhat melodic. His compositions include orchestral works, e.g., Lontano (1967) and concertos for the violin (1989–93) and horn (1998–2001); chamber music, e.g. Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano (1982); keyboard works, e.g., Etudes for Piano (1985–90); theater pieces, e.g., Aventures (1962) and the comic opera Le Grand Macabre (1976, rev. 1997); and choral works, e.g., Lux Aeterna (1966) and Clocks and Clouds (1973).

See György Ligeti in Conversation (1983); biographies by P. Griffiths (1983) and R. Toop (1999); studies by F. Sallis (1996), M. Lobanova (2002), and R. Steinitz (2003); R. W. Richart, György Ligeti: A Bio-Bibliography (1991).

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Ligeti, György

Ligeti, György (1923– ) Hungarian composer whose avant-garde works involve shifting patterns of tone colours. After 1956, Ligeti's work on electronic sound influenced his compositions, especially Atmosphères (1961) and Lux Aeterna (1966). Since 1966, most of his work has been instrumental.

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