Top Ear

Musician of the week: Gyorgy Ligeti

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Top Ear proudly introduces its FIRST Musician of the Week, and he is……

Yes, Hungarian composer György Ligeti is this week’s musician. A happy 89th birthday to him!

A short biography on him: Ligeti was born on 28th May, 1923. Having studied under Ferenc Farkas and Zoltan Kodaly among others, he graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in 1949. In 1957 he moved to Cologne and met with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who was working on electronic music at that time. He developed his own musical methods and styles and unlike his younger contemporary, he preferred to write instrumental works with electronic-like textures. He became the professor of composition at the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater in 1973 and retired in 1989, and during this period some of his most important works such as the Études for Piano (1985-2001), Le Grand Macabre (1978) and the Piano Concerto (1988) were published.  He died in Vienna on the 12th of June, 2006, and is buried in what has to be THE coolest grave in the entire world:

As one of the most original 20th century composers, Ligeti is best remembered for his atonal works, such as Musica Ricercata, piano Etudes, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Atmospheres (the last three compositions remained relatively popular since being in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), but he also composed a number of tonal works based on Hungarian folk songs, which are often startlingly beautiful. This wondrous little piece alone should be much better known than it is now:

In Ligeti’s atonal works, his unique musical language, which clearly distinguishes his music from Stockhausen and Boulez’s music, is fully in display: warmer, more jagged, more tangibly rhythmic (Bartokian moments aren’t too much of a surprise given both composers were Hungarian), more colorful and atmospheric, and for some ‘easier’ or ‘softer’ (but his conceptions were by no means retrograde). His language coupled with the medium chosen resulted in a few of the most haunting pieces ever written, including the Requiem (which scared Jeremy to death on his first hearing), Atmospheres, and Ramifications – all worth a good listen.

Here are some recommended recordings of his major works.

  • Piano music:  Ullen (BIS)
  • Piano Études:  Aimard (Sony)
  • String quartets:  Artemis Quartett (Virgin)
  • Le Grand Macabre:  Salonen/Philharmonia Orchestra (Sony)
  • Atmosphères:  Abbado/VPO (DG)
  • Compilations: Telarc’s ‘Ligeti Project’ remains the most comprehensive, but DG’s ‘Clear or Cloudy’ is an inexpensive way to obtain top-notch performances.

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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