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CLASSICAL  June 2006

CLASSICAL June 2006

Subject:

Re: Ligeti Obituary

From:

Anne Ozorio <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 15 Jun 2006 13:07:27 +0100

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Here's a good Ligeti Obituary.  It's by Evan Dickerson, whose writing
is always thoughtful and original.

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/ligeti_obit.htm

   Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006): an obituary
   
   With the passing of Gyorgy Ligeti on 12 June 2006 at the age of
   83 in Vienna following a lengthy illness, the musical world has
   lost a true maverick. An independent thinker, Ligeti charted a
   singular route in his music with the evolution of a voice that
   is hard to ignore. In this respect one is tempted to put him
   alongside figures such as Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen and Xenakis
   when considering the major shapers of late twentieth century
   composition.

   Ligeti was born in Romanian Transylvania in 1923 to Hungarian
   parents. Musical studies began in 1941 with his attending Cluj
   conservatoire in Romania, which led to further study at the Franz
   Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he was later appointed Professor.

   Following his arrest in 1943, as a result of being Jewish, Ligeti
   was sentenced to forced labour for the remainder of World War
   Two.  Survival, however, was not without its cost: the war claimed
   his brother and father amongst other members of his family.
   
   The end of the war might have brought physical release but
   musically he continued to be heavily constrained by the Stalinist
   censorship in Hungary. For this reason much of his early work
   draws heavily on the use of Hungarian and Romanian folksong,
   reflecting the influence of Bartok and Kodaly.  'I am an enemy
   of ideologies in the arts.  Totalitarian regimes do not like
   dissonances', he commented ruefully.
   
   The Concerto Romanes,c (1951) is composed on the very limit of
   Stalinist dictates. One can pick up the folk music influences:
   Kodaly in the dour Andantino, Bartok in the scherzo and distant
   shades of Enescu in the breathless finale. After the 1956 Hungarian
   revolution Ligeti fled to Vienna, and to his first real contact
   with avant-garde composers of the day, becoming an Austrian
   citizen in 1967. The orchestral work Apparitions established his
   reputation and secured the important endorsement of Stockhausen
   amongst others. From that point on Ligeti rarely, if ever, looked
   back as a creative force.  Works such as Atmospheres and Volumina
   expounded a personal alternative to the serialism of Webern and
   his followers. However, if there was a single concern that
   dominated his music it was change. No other contemporary composer's
   work is filled with so many turning points. Some view these
   changes as organic growth, taking its cue from his research into
   chaos theory, fractal geometry and biochemistry.
   
   The 1960s saw his music consumed by the use of super-dense
   polyphony he called "micropolyphony". Poeme symphonique, written
   for 100 metronomes which run down at different speeds, is but a
   single example of this, and in extreme. Parallels of a kind were
   found in his use of speech sounds and nonsense syllables, which
   - perhaps unwittingly - can bring to mind the Dadaist conception
   of language- music-construction found in Kurt Schwitters' Ursonata.
   
   At the core of his artistic personality is the quality of fun,
   and that in no small measure has helped to make works accessible
   to a wide public. Extracts from Lux aeterna, Atmospheres and
   Requiem found their way into the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's
   film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick was not one to choose his
   music lightly, noting that Ligeti's work had 'an extremely urgent
   visuality' about it.
   
   As if to consciously exploit populist appeal (though I am sure
   he would not have agreed with this view) his works of the 1970s
   moved back to a whole-hearted use of tonality. By way of
   justification he stated unapologetically, ' I no longer listen
   to rules on what is to be regarded as modern and what as
   old-fashioned.'  This ran in parallel with several important
   explorations of the concerto territory. Musical 'forms with
   history', including the etude (his proved to be the most important
   recent contributions to the genre) were now back on the agenda.
   The Piano Concerto blends more than other works elements of
   polyphony and folk music. The Hamburg Concerto, a horn concerto
   in all but name, sets the soloist against instrumental groupings
   including four natural horns to make possible the exploitation
   of overtones. The Violin Concerto recalls with more than a little
   nostalgia his roots and the style of folk fiddling with intentionally
   varied tuning of the solo instrument, to an unreservedly
   polyrhythmical accompaniment. This reflects the growing influence
   that African drumming was having upon his music in the 1990s.
   
   Surrealist juxtaposition and the theatre of the absurd came to
   bear in equal measure upon the inception of his stage work Le
   Grand Macabre, an effortless mix of operetta and the darkest of
   black humour: 'Stage action and music should be dangerous and
   bizarre, absolutely exaggerated, absolutely crazy.' This, he
   felt, was the most direct way he could reach an audience.
   
   Among the many awards and prizes his work attracted a couple
   stand out. The 2004Polar Music prize recognised his ability
   to "stretch the boundaries of the musically conceivable from
   mind-expanding sounds to new astounding processes, in a thoroughly
   personal style that embodies both inquisitiveness and imagination
   ", as the judges put it. The same year also brought the ECHO
   KLASSIK Award given by the Deutsch Phono-Akademie for Lifetime
   Achievement.
   
   There can be little doubt that Ligeti was fortunate in having
   musicians with searching interpretive abilities perform his music
   in recent years with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Isabelle Faust,
   Charlotte Hellekant, Jonathan Nott, George Benjamin and the
   Arditti Quartet amongst them. Without the determination of such
   artists the Ligeti Edition on record might never have been
   achieved. Requiring several labels that were willing to get
   involved at various stages throughout the project, more than
   once it seemed as if the end might never be reached. How close
   Ligeti came to being a major victim of the recording industry's
   collective implosion.
   
   Ligeti is survived by his wife and a son, Lukas, a New York-based
   percussionist.
   
     * * *
   
   Personal recollections: My first extended contact with Ligeti's
   music came in 1989 with the 'Clocks and Clouds' Festival given
   on London's South Bank by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the
   committed baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. To say that each concert
   bemused me would be an understatement. What was valuable though
   was the context of contrasts
   
   Ligeti was set in: Debussy rang strongly at the time.  Each
   concert ended with a still sprightly Ligeti jumping onto the
   platform with armfuls of sunflowers, which he then distributed
   to the performers...  meeting with some bemused looks in the
   process! That 'Clocks and Clouds' helped announce some key works
   in the Ligeti oeuvre to London
   
   was important in itself. For me, it sparked an ongoing interest
   in his music (not that I always get his point first on first
   hearing, but that says far more about me than Ligeti).
   
   Diary notes made following Pierre-Laurent Aimard's 2005 Wigmore
   Hall recital that featured a selection of Ligeti's etudes record
   that I found:
   
   Across the Etudes many long shadows are cast, not least by
   Chopin's and Debussy's compositions in the genre with the
   techniques of Scarlatti and Schumann.  Satie, Liszt, Nancarrow
   or Hungarian and Balinese flavours (even the sculptures of
   Constantin Brancus,i) infuse and form the basis of individual
   studies.
   
   Indeed, it was interesting for me to note how it took such a
   refined pianist as Aimard to show that the =C9tudes could "grow
   from simplicity
   
   to great complexity, behaving like growing organisms [...]
   displaying high virtuosity as a response to my own inadequate
   piano technique", as Ligeti himself outlined they should.

   And tradition? 'There is only one tradition. Our music either
   stands up to it or not.' His certainly did.
   
   Evan Dickerson
   
   The complete Ligeti discography:
   http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-perl/music/muze/index.pl?site=3Dmusic&action=3Ddiscography&artist_id=3D830=324
   
   Further reading:
   Gyorgy Ligeti by Richard Toop (Pub: Phaidon Press, 1999) Based
   on interviews with Ligeti, this book surveys his life and music.
   
   Gyorgy Ligeti: Music of the Imagination by Richard Steinitz (Pub:
   Northeastern University Press, 2003) A scholarly traversal of
   Ligeti's compositions.

Anne
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