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In Memoriam: Gyrgy Ligeti

Author(s): Arnold Whittall


Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 147, No. 1896 (Autumn, 2006), pp. 2-4
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25434399 .
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BOOK REVIEWS

on

musics

the one

American

speaking

Specifically
Arnold Whittall

in music

Studies

109

not won

by David Lewin

Igor Stravinsky:
edited by Margarita

edited

Dead

Chris Walton

Mazo

Histoire

by Maureen

Downtown
Edgard
edited

the case

113
Les Noces

Stravinsky's
the sketches

& Millan

du Soldat:

of

& Heidy

the

put

prosecution:

Nancarrow

Whereas

is teeming with energy and the


very stuff of human existence,
Ligeti sounds very nihilistic. It's

115

beats

Ten

favour.

recent Ligeti with

Nancarrow.

a
facsimile

Carr

by Felix Meyer

for

Compare

Sachania

as if
something is being erased in
front of you, and the composer

V?rese

The virtuoso

interaction has

universal

years ago Michael Finnissy

the rushes

Among

on

experimentalism

the other. This

text

with

and

hand,

Zimmermann

isn't

rushing

to save

it,

or has

not realised the poignancy

118
conductors

or even

moment

by Raymond Holden

what

is

a mechanistic

It becomes

there.

of the

indeed

deviant.'
thing. Uninterestingly
even
more
And Finnissy gets

IN MEMORIAM

I experimented with

music,
forms

died

28May
12June

Vienna,

1923;

impressionated [sic]
some
of
works/
your
by
There is no record of any

2006)
response

InMarch

1957 the 34-year-old


to Edgard V?rese
wrote
Ligeti
explaining that, while he and
his wife had rights of asylum
inAustria, they 'would very
much

like to live in the USA'.

'if you see or know of


any possibility for me in the re
establishment of my life', Ligeti
describes his studies in Budapest,

Asking

as a

and his work


teacher:
piano
songs,

also,

and

My musical
to Bart?k,

Iwent

composed

chamber
and

choral

works,

journalist and

'I have

music,

theatre

style
but

music,

orchestral
music.

owes most

in recent

sound-montages

so

Iwas much

Gy?rgyLigeti
(born Budapest,

static
?

and

years

through
deep crisis,
I became interested in serial

from

V?rese

to this

career

it seems

especially

striking that, in the event, he


was able towork out the full
implications of his Bart?kian
inheritance
that
ence

without

emulating

unhappy
composer's
move
of a permanent

experi
to the

the USA eventually


came to Ligeti, to the extent that

USA. While

after 1970 he found Nancarrow,


Riley and Reich of greater inte
rest than his more determinedly
avant-garde

European

contem

to think
poraries, it is difficult
of his work as awhole without
invoking a particularly rich and
distinctive interaction between
cultivated

and ethnic European

in admitting

that Tor

measure

the greatest

of

work of art iswhether

itmakes

me feel uncomfortable

or excites

me

sexually. Ligeti doesn't do


of

either

appeal, and in view of Ligeti's


later

personal
me

does

those

and

things

neither

Kurt?g.'

The accusation of nihilism,


of being merely mechanistic
? even if this is
as
regarded
an understandable

attempt

*
to escape' from the horrific
memories of life inwartime
-

to be

needs

From

taken

'complex'

the predominantly

seriously.
perspective,

'moto

perpetuo' character of Ligeti's


Piano Studies, and many of
his

earlier

works,

can

appear

rhythmically and harmonically


impoverished, the grids that
underpin and control the music's
evolving processes audible
in the foreground instead of
filtered out. Ligeti's career might

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have had amore productive


final phase had he been more
conformist with respect either
to

avant-garde

But

processes.
anathema

Finnissy

its

adherents from allowing for the


possibility that the music does
?

in fact
the

of

'poignancy

its

transforming
associations

with

of

forms

war-torn

existence'.

might

excess

ing

that Finnissy

craves,

and its absence will be the more


regretted if it is felt that works
from the early 1960s ? especially

listeners

'feel

to a

But
other

greater

close

that

those
most

contemporaries

directly affected by World War


II

Bart?kian

roots,

to his
to cut

sought

back on prolix emoting, and to


avoid exploding conventional
genres and forms by way of
complex,

not

dialogues
and

has

coherent,

always

between

operas,

planning
in the case

acceptance

the one

completed

not

example,

to Bart?k's

powerful

Bluebeard

s castle.

of

admirers
sing,

the

to persons

restricted

who

positive

to

be held

that

irrationality

an
serves

theless, Ligeti's propensity

is no

return,

been

been

so

of

negative.

can

they

claimed,

Le

no

is not

macabre

with

to the concerto

with direct experience of World

Ligeti

for

to it in its concern

analogous

themes especially potent


those

of

Ligeti's

generation

for

to

complement

stoicism
deeply

expressive,

if no longer truly expressionist


quality,

was

never

lost. The

Horn Trio (1982) is amasterly


of

conscious,

from

if, as has

grand

as a

Never

jettisoned.

demonstration

as a

it is possible to feel that, despite


his eventual success at bringing
special imagination and energy

is

been

shoulder-shrugging
ensures
that a

intense

(1963?65)
Yet

had

lament

for a degradation

there

expressionistic

Even

respite.

quite

and

best,

represent

metaphor
which

At

projects underlines the degree


towhich the relative austerity
of the Requiem's

aventures

terms.

II, the possibility that the


opera's style could have been

aura

character

Aventures/Nouvelles

War

and

uncompromi

disturbing

The Requiem
mixed,

at

convincing,

entirely

extraordinarily

The quality of the result

genre,

are

Awards

their

adapted without great difficulty


for the later Tempest and Alice

of

Le grand macabre (1974?77),

rejection.

certainly

which,

have difficulty in describing their


effect in anything approaching

Stock

Henze,
Xenakis,
true
hausen
Ligeti,

time and effort

and

writing

radical

uncomfortable'.
extent

least if compared

to make

of how

on

was

aventures

? were
(1962?65)
exemplary
demonstrations

of their poverty.

to pursue

Completed application formsmust be returnedby 15October 2006.

spent too much

the discomfort

Aventures/Nouvelles

reason

are unable

who

this

True,

create

by

and craftsmen

London SW1H OBL email: hamishfrost@bdb-law.co.uk

to detach from 'the very stuff of


not

vocation

dancers

John Downes Memorial Trust (Ref:HCF) c/o 50 Broadway,Westminster,

mea

sured representations of grief


and acceptance that it is difficult
human

musicians,

Application forms may be obtained from the Trustees, The Oppenheim

expressionistic
into more

lament

sculptors,

subjects (Section 34 of the Race Relations Act applies) and applicants must
be over 30 years of age.

the moment',
early,

Awards

Memorial

are natural born British subjects, of parents both of whom are British

realise

acknowledge

Downes

JohnDownes Memorial Trustwill be making awards in


December 2006 to deserving artists of any kindwhether writers, painters,

the

prevents

John

The Oppenheim

or

principles

minimalist

Oppenheim

this

tradition

tradition-transcending
of

and many

manner,

the Piano

Studies, begun in 1985, displace


what Ligeti thought of as sterile
serial mechanics by way of play
with musical
invariancies

allusions
of

fractal

and demonstrate

found,
sistent,

for

example,

technique
in the con

complementary

THE MUSICAL TIMES

Autumn

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geometry,

the kind of

12-note

non-serial

to the

whole

2006

In memoriam

tone hexachords
'Galamb

of Study 7,

In the Studies 19th century


generic roots in Chopin and Liszt
give rise to entirely original
identities,

possible

it even

and

of

contemporary Kurt?g's cycles


of vocal and instrumental
To

this

extent,

they

are the fertile culmination

of that

capacity for critique which first


brought Ligeti to prominence
by way of his essay on Boulez's
Structures Az (1958). In its
-

insouciant

atmosphere
'grazioso',

played

to be

'avec

and

? the
study
l'?l?gance du swing'
dedicated to Kurt?g, 'En suspens'
(no. 11), is perhaps a gentle
to that composer for
reproof

his

occasionally

oppressive

No

less open-ended than the


Studies ? at least for the time
- is the
story of Ligeti's
being
life. Fully researched accounts
of his early years and work in
as of the actual
Hungary, as well
degree of association between
his pre-1956 compositions and
came

that

to refine

and

later,

even

probably the most fundamental


and long-lasting feature he
inherited from Bartok. No works
more
display such features
and
arrestingly than the
directly
Violin Concerto (1989?93) and
the solo Viola Sonata (1991?94).
For this listener, these make
such

promise

at times

(November 2004), pp.662?66).


If Ligeti's role as an 'outsider'
avant-garde

European

Lontano,

earliest

Ligeti's

music

even

written

essays,

for the German Me losmagazine


while he was still inHungary:
or

music

"new

tonality"?' (1950).
It is sad that illness helped to
make

the

last decade

composer's

relatively

Even

unproductive.

so, the Horn Concerto

(1998-99,
what

transforms

rev.2002?03)

could have been an awkward


of disparate

assemblage
fragments

non-harmonic

sound

imaginative
as the

sound-spectrum:

the

says, although

composer

are

harmonies

distinctly

'weird, [...] replete with spectra


of strange beats, the resulting
overall sound is soft and
ostinato

The

mellow'.

language of these

dominated
later works

gorised

might

even

be

cate

as that of an alternative

avant-garde,
attributes

sharing
the more

with

some

'thematic' quality of Boulez's


later compositions, yet with a
modal, post-serial lucidity that is
unique. When Ligeti claimed of
his studies that 'what I actually
compose is difficult to categorise:
it is neither

nor

"avant-garde"
tonal

neither

"traditional",

nor

atonal', he could just as well have


the presence of
acknowledged
elements from all these possibi
to say
Similarly,
in no way
post-modern,

lities.

that

'it is

as the

ironic theatricalising of the past


'
is quite foreign tome reinforces
his music's

richly

late-modern

sound

ambivalent,
world.

Since

1980 there has been nothing


more appealing, nothing with
greater potential for serving as
amodel

a coherent

into

sequence of timbral studies,


what Ligeti describes as the 'very

with

discussion

and

also reinforce the long-term


significance of the title of one of

Beckles Willson's

& Letters 85/4,

as

pieces

the Requiem, seem relatively


plain and unambitious. They

unusual

in

earlier

Atmosph?res,

the impressions given


by Ligeti himself in interviews
over the years (see Rachel
contradict

inMusic

iconic

reveal amagically

'natural'

technical

and art music which was

twelve-tone

solemnity.

those

the

reflects

music

?
pieces is Ligeti's response
or riposte - to his friend and

miniatures.

pre-1956

fascination with oppositions


between folk

virtuoso

allusive,

to

then this symmetry

Hungary,
also

in

insider

and connections

seems

that this open-ended

sequence

as an

function

borong'.

his aspirations

complemented

for future music,

and

therefore creating hopes and


expectations for such music. Like
who

Schoenberg,

wrote

about

spectra' of the four natural


horns in the orchestra interacting

this in his essay 'National music',


Ligeti offers something which

the solo horn (a Prospero


figure?) and the rest of the

other

ensemble.
concerto's
ments,

As

seven
dividing

result,
short
into

the

composers

'in order

to

possess

can

take
it': and

over
it can,

and does, lead to something new.

move
14 sections,

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Arnold Whittall