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Abstract

This article traces references to nature and naturalism (understood as an attempt to ground and legitimize art in natural phenomena) in Ligeti's writings, but also in selected aspects of his oeuvre. The references to nature recur here in various manifestations, with romantic depictions of nature appearing alongside more recent, modernist approaches. The concept of nature is associated with the romantic setting for human emotions, with the discovery of scientific laws, with listening to soundscape, with phenomena of auditory perception and with the spectral explorations of sound. Although nature is not a central, strategic concept for Ligeti, it remains a constant, even if hidden, context for his work, a point of reference.

Open access

For the Honorary Doctorate of Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Liszt Academy of Music, January 15, 2023

Studia Musicologica
Author:
Katalin Komlós
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Studia Musicologica
Authors:
Anna Dalos
,
Julia Heimerdinger
,
Márton Kerékfy
, and
Heidy Zimmermann
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Abstract

Discussing his Horn Trio, György Ligeti imaginatively describes the second movement as a dance that was “inspired by different folk musics of nonexistent people, as if Hungary, Romania, and all of the Balkans were located somewhere between Africa and the Caribbean.” And in more general remarks about his works, he goes on to suggest that, rather than overtly referencing their stylistic features, he abstracted technical principles from various traditions and combined them into an idiosyncratically amalgamated musical language. This essay shows an expansive approach to hybridity in Ligeti's Violin Concerto and Hamburg Concerto, going well beyond previous remarks about African rhythmic influences. Ligeti's practice encompasses not only rhythm, but also texture, pitch, and tuning systems; it spans a wider breadth of traditions as well, including newly identified sources such as flute and panpipe ensembles from New Guinea and yodeling traditions from across the globe. An analysis of passages from these late concertos – undertaken alongside evidence from his ethnomusicological sources, recordings, and sketches housed at the Paul Sacher Stiftung – demonstrates the intricacies and patterns of Ligeti's late style and the compelling statement it makes about the role of hybridity and globalization in contemporary life.

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Abstract

György Ligeti was very interested in many artistic and scientific fields and drew inspiration for his compositional work from them (his engagement with mathematics – particularly fractal geometry and chaos theory – is perhaps the best known). In this chapter I compare the concept of artistic research with Ligeti's practice and oeuvre. While the notion of artistic research was only appearing in embryonic form during the latter stages of Ligeti's career, many – though not all – of his statements seem to be suitable for describing his artistic processes. The benefit of this investigation is expected to be twofold: applying the concept of artistic research to Ligeti's approaches and practices should yield new insights on the relationship between his work and his interest in other humanities and sciences. Yet this look at Ligeti may also help to refine the concept of artistic research as discussed and applied to the artistic output of today.

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Abstract

Like his fellow members of the Western European musical avantgarde of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Ligeti often expressed himself in articles or lectures on theoretical and analytical topics. Unlike his contemporaries, however, he also wrote on matters autobiographical. Though his first self-examination, dating from 1971, is still concerned overwhelmingly with compositional theory, from the end of that decade he returned several times to personal experiences, especially those of his childhood years and early adulthood. These seemed to become important again now that the musical climate was turning from a hard objectivity that held the composer's personality to be almost irrelevant towards a fuzzier view of how composers could not but be subjectively engaged in their work. At the same time, in their variety of approach, Ligeti's autobiographical writings refuse to tell a single story.

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Abstract

The code word “Kylwiria” was mentioned by György Ligeti from time to time since the 1970s. At first, it functioned rather abstractly as a working title for the opera that had been in the making since the mid-1960s and eventually mutated into Le Grand Macabre. Later, Ligeti also shared details about the imaginary land of his childhood, providing glimpses of brightly colored maps of that land and underscoring the importance of his childlike fantasy world. This article explores the dimensions of this “private mythology” and its impact on the composer's creative thinking and work. Its documentary evidence – the description of the land of Kylwiria recorded in 1950 in a booklet of more than 70 pages – is presented in examples and examinated for its particularities. On the one hand, it seems that the pioneering exploration of geographical spaces is transferred as a model to the creative exploration of sound spaces. On the other hand, Ligeti's concept of a fantastic counterworld is to be seen in a literary and cultural-historical context, in which it is to be located somewhere between expedition report, travel guide and utopian design. Such an outline sharpens the meaning of Kylwiria as a cipher for creativity in a characteristic mixture of ratio and fantasy.

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Abstract

Sándor Weöres's poetry was a life-long passion and source of inspiration for György Ligeti. This article explores the role Weöres played in Ligeti's early development as a composer by providing insight into the genesis of all of his 13 early settings of Weöres, including the unpublished choral works Hajnal [Dawn] and Tél [Winter], the incomplete song “Nagypapa leszállt a tóba” [Grandpa descended in the pond], and the unfinished oratorio “Istar pokoljárása” [Ishtar's Journey to Hell], and by making some analytical observations on them. Ligeti's early settings of Weöres were composed in three periods. The first stage in 1946–1947 was his compositional discovery of Weöres's poetry, which seems to have acted as a fuel and a challenge for him, triggering something of a musical self-liberation. His Weöres settings in 1949–1950 may be seen as a sign of solidarity with the poet effectively silenced by Communist state authorities, while in 1952–1955, Weöres texts seem to have served specifically as material for Ligeti's experimentation with static music and serialism.

Open access

“Some Sort of Machine without a Body”

György Ligeti and Antoinette Vischer Explore the Modern Harpsichord

Studia Musicologica
Author:
Elisabeth Reisinger

Abstract

From the mid-1950s, Basel harpsichordist Antoinette Vischer (1909–1973) promoted the harpsichord as a modern instrument, commissioning numerous composers to contribute to a new repertoire. To this end, she turned to György Ligeti, who completed Continuum for her in 1968. The composer had already used the harpsichord in ensembles several times, but now he had to think about it in a soloistic function for the first time, starting from a specific performer with her specific instrument. In this paper, I focus on this relationship between composer, performer-commissioner, and instrument, drawing primarily on the correspondence between Ligeti and Vischer preserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. These unpublished letters document their collaboration and how both negotiated their artistic positions and aesthetic concepts of the harpsichord as “some sort of machine.” An in-depth analysis of Ligeti and Vischer's exchange about the instrument's peculiarities and performance issues allows us to better understand their self-conception as artists and their ideas of “modernity.” Furthermore, this case study sheds light on a specific period in the history of an instrument that through the efforts of performers like Vischer was transformed from an artifact of the past to an emblem of the present.

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Abstract

Conservative critic John Borstlap cited Ligeti as a partisan in his fight against the modernist myth of progress in the arts, based on the famous citation “I am in a prison. One wall is the avant-garde, the other is the past. I want to escape.” Ligeti's ambivalence reflected his distaste for art linked to utopian socialist ideals, and for all that was reactionary. Yet he admitted that his own youthful utopian strivings evolved into a desire for complex music that often defied audibility. This essay traces Ligeti's reception history from the late 1950s onward as a reaction to the thwarted utopian strains in his music. For some, Ligeti's music of the 1960s seemed to define “the contemporary problem itself.” But the composer's increased visibility in the 1990s led to demands that he deal with his Jewish heritage and wartime trauma, and cease writing music with a broad appeal. I argue that Ligeti's works reinscribe the past, the personal, and the extramusical as a conscious expression of his prison. They express the nonlinear notion of progress that defines modernism: a vast “tear in the historical process” able to lift music above the scrum of political-aesthetic skirmishes, to a “region which lies elsewhere.”

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