Personalities | György Ligeti | Contemporary | Classical
(Jörd’ji Le-get’-e) 1923–2006
Because of the disruption of World War II and the subsequent Communist regime in Hungary, Ligeti did not become aware of Western European musical modernism until he was over 30. Until then he wrote in the folk-song-based, Bartók-influenced style that was officially approved in his country. He left Hungary during the 1956 uprising, arriving in Cologne in a period of vigorous and optimistic avant-garde activity in music, which he enthusiastically joined. He became especially well known for works in which dense webs of lines weave in micropolyphony.
Ligeti retained a critical detachment from the avant-garde, however, and from the 1960s began to rediscover and redefine in a uniquely personal way first harmony, then melody. A work which dates from late in this process, after a long silence (partly due to illness) following his opera Le Grand Macabre, is the Horn Trio. It is subtitled ‘Hommage à Brahms’, no doubt because Brahms wrote the first masterpiece for this combination of instruments, partly perhaps as a good-humoured side-swipe at the avant-garde (Ligeti’s sharp sense of humour, including self-mockery, is audible in many of his works). Ligeti had become fascinated with the music of the American minimalists, Reich and Riley, and with the music for player piano (able to perform music which was unplayable by human hands) of Conlon Nancarrow, as well as with the complex rhythms of African music. These interests pervade the Trio, but they are not incompatible with a rediscovery of roots in the past (a half-quotation from Beethoven) or of emotion: the last movement is a lament. His later works showed an increased interest in African music and polymetre, a close identification with his Hungarian musical roots (3 Phantasien, 1983) and the Caribbean and Latin influence of his former student Roberto Sierra.
Horn Trio, Saschko Gawriloff, Marie-Louise Neunecker, Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Sony)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s cult science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey famously used music by composers such as Ligeti to evoke the dawn of civilization and the awesome expanse of time and space. Many pieces will be familiar, including (at the film’s opening) Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.
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