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György Ligeti

By Per F. Broman

TOCKHOLM, 7 November 1997 - György Ligeti makes some surprising statements concerning his first string quartet in the liner notes to Volume 1 of Sony's planned Complete Edition of Ligeti's work.

This composition was intended only for my bottom drawer, since a public performance was out of the question. Life in Hungary at that time was in the iron grip of the communist dictatorship, the country completely cut off from all information from abroad: outside contacts and foreign travel were impossible, Western radio broadcasts were jammed, and scores and books could neither be sent nor received.

What kind of piece could so have violated "Socialist Realism? Ligeti's first string quartet, Métamorphoses nocturnes, is a wonderful, often ecstatically playful piece in the Bartókian tradition with its roots in Hungarian folk music. Ligeti reminds us that, for many artists, "to work for one's bottom drawer was regarded as an honor". Fifteen years later we encounter a completely different Ligeti: he has left Hungary and been in contact with the Central European avant-garde. Timbre now plays an important role in his modernistic second string quartet which sounds almost like electronic music and benefits enormously from being heard on CD rather than live.

Volume 3 of Sony's remarkable Ligeti Edition features the piano études which occupy a significant place in the composer's development. In 1982, Ligeti's musical style was radically transformed when one of his students introduced him to music from Central Africa, an influence readily evident in the subsequent Fifteen Etudes for piano. The most fascinating aspect of African music for Ligeti is the way in which complex polyrhythmic structures can be coordinated with the help of a very quick basic pulse (up to 600 beats per minute). The composer considers this influence as important for his development as Debussy's encounter with gamelan music in 1889. Rapid rhythmic figures are apparent in several études and are set against different types of melodies: in the first étude (Désordre), two intense disconnected melodies gradually grow apart; in the fourth (Fanfares), trumpet-like fragments are superimposed over ostinato scale patterns; in the sixth (Automne ŕ Varsovie), the fast pulse is subdivided so that complicated polyrhythms emerge. Klassiknet has already reviewed Fredrik Ullén's recording of the Etudes on Bis: Ullen is the more elegant while Aimard is more tempestuous.

Ligeti's discusses his relationship to the piano in the liner notes to Volume 3, stating that the Fifteen Etudes are the result of his own inability to play the piano well.

Cézanne had trouble with perspective. The apples and pears in his still-lifes seem about to roll away. In his rather clumsy depictions of reality the folds of the tablecloth are made of rigid plaster. But what a wonder Cézanne accomplished with his harmonies of color, with the emotionally charged geometry, with his curves, volumes, and weight displacements! That's what I would like to achieve: the transformation of inadequacy into professionalism.

Volume 4 is devoted to vocal works, six of which are first recordings: Nonsense Madrigals (1988-93), Mysteries of the Macabre (an arrangement of material from Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre, 1974-77), Der Sommer (1989), Három Weöres-dal (1946-47), Ot Arany-dal (1952), and Négy lakodalmitánc (1950). The disc is completed with the well-known Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures (1962-65). Once again, the many facets of Ligeti's style are featured: his playfulness in Cuckoo in the Pear Tree from the Nonsense Madrigals, expressionism in Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, his romantic lyricism in A menyasszony szép virág from Négy lakodalmitánc.

György Ligeti Edition

Vol. 1
String Quartets and Duets
Arditti String Quartet.
Vol. 3
Etudes for piano, Musica ricercata Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano.
Vol. 4
Vocal Works, Madrigals, Mysteries, Aventures, Songs The King's Singers Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Sony Classical SK 62306, SK 62308, SK 62311

Internet Links of Interest:

Biography (Deutsch)

email to Per Broman

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