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Gyorgy Ligeti - composer

Posted by innersound on August 6, 2013 at 8:05 AM

A vital part of composition in the twentieth century, György Ligeti (b. 1923, Tîrnăveni, Romania – d. 2006, Vienna, Austria) received his formal education at the conservatory at Cluj where he studied with Fererc Farkas and Sandor Veress. He also spent a quantity of time studying with Pal Kadosa in Budapest. Ligeti was forced into labor, as a Jew, in 1943 and remained in that horrific capacity for the duration of the WWII. After the war, Ligeti settled in Budapest where he continued his studies with Farkas at the Franz Liszt Academy (Budapest Academy). As he developed his compositional prowess, Ligeti wrote in the vein of his predecessors and national icons, Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok. In 1950, a year after graduating from the academy, Ligeti was appointed to its distinguished faculty as a professor of composition.

In 1956, as revolution tore through Hungary, Ligeti traveled to Vienna where he met and befriended numerous influential artists including electronic music luminary, Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom he quickly befriended. As a result of this relationship, Ligeti became a participant, in 1957, at the electronic music studio at West German radio, in Cologne. Here, he and others explored the infinite possibilities of technology as they applied to composition, the "organization of sound." He was influenced in Germany by the available Western culture, and while involved at the studio, composed his, arguably, best work of that period, Apparitions, which received its premiere in 1960. As it was received with tremendous enthusiasm and critical acclaim, Ligeti's career as an important force in the promotion and production of contemporary music was, effectively, launched.

Continuing his exploration of sound, but not an advocate of serialism, a compositional technique that was highly popular, Ligeti developed his technique by exploring the acoustic qualities of what he referred to as "micropolyphony," or "tone-clusters." This writing style dedicated itself to the interest of musical "density." Certainly the most impressive, if not most recognizable composition utilizing this technique was his celebrated work Atmospheres, written in 1961, another great success. This work would eventually find its way onto the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's legendary motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. Subsequent to the triumph of that piece, Ligeti began to receive appointments to various professorships at a host of prestigious educational institutions.

In addition to his development of micropolyphony, Ligeti was intrigued by the seemingly endless possibilities of the acoustic qualities of human speech. While exploratory, his vocal works were (of that period) founded on a traditional polyphony, specifically canonic in nature. In 1967, his vocal masterpiece Requiem won the prestigious Bonn Beethoven Prize. Vocally, Ligeti utilized what he called the "cloud style" which is absolutely evident in this work. This work, as well as his Lux Aeterna, also was selected to appear on the soundtrack of Kubrick's celebrated film. During the 1970s, Ligeti investigated the minimalist techniques, specifically the element of "chance" that defined the work of American aesthete John Cage, who very much intrigued Ligeti. Cage had written a piece, 4'33" which presented to an audience a solo pianist who "rests" at the keyboard for that duration without playing a single note. Comically, Ligeti composed his own homage to the minimalist school, a work he wittily titled, 0'00". The next decade saw the composer use rhythm as his basis for creativity.

As his career has progressed, Ligeti has compositionally returned to his musical roots, writing again in the melodic vein and combining that ideal with his exploration of rhythmic possibility. Ligeti to date, has received numerous awards and distinctions.

Categories: Composers