10 essential facts about György Ligeti

1. As a kid he created an imaginary country called Kylwyria

Imagining parallel worlds is thing many kids do. But in true Ligeti fashion, he meticulously described Kylwiria, invented a legal system, created a grammatically coherent language and drew elaborate maps. At the age of 5.

2. His earliest favourite piece was “In the hall of the Mountain King” from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg

He first heard this piece on an old grammophone record as a little boy and it became his favourite until he was about six years old. Then he moved on to Wagner’s “Magic Fire Music” whose many orchestral colours fascinated him particularly.

3. Some of his closest family member died in concentration camps

Being from a jewish family, his father and brother were deported and killed by the Nazis. He saw anti-semitism and fascism during the second world war in Romania and Hungary and Communism after the war. For the rest of the life he didn’t trust in big ideologies and big words, as evidenced in his opera “Le Grand Macabre“.

4. As a teenager, he wanted to be a scientist

He was particularly fascinated by organic chemistry and kept a lifelong interest for natural science, like fractal geometry and later chaos theory.

5. The first time he came into contact with western avantgarde music was 1957 in the electronic studios of the WDR in Cologne

Having had very restricted access to the newest musical developments before his emigration to the west, in Cologne he discovered electronic music and the latest musical developments in Western Europe. And he made friends with many important composers of the time like Boulez, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Maderna.

6. He was sceptical towards total serialism

Even though he analysed the seminal works of serialism (including Boulez’ Structures and Marteau sans Maître) for his own classes, he was not convinced by total serialism. His main criticism was that even though the structural basis for the serialist works was strong, it couldn’t be aurally understood.

7. Of his contemporary composers, he admired mostly Igor Stravinsky and Conlon Nancarrow

He discovered Conlon Nancarrow’s music (who was nearly completely unknown up to then) in 1980, when looking for recordings of his own and of Messiaen at the FNAC shop in Paris.

8. Throughout all his life, he was fascinated with micro structures and complex polyphony

Apart from fractals, he admired the multi-layered flemish polyphony and the 14th century “ars subtilior”. In particularly composers like Ockeghem, Dufay and Jacob Senleches were strong influences.

9. His electronic studies in Cologne in the late 50s had a decisive impact on Ligetis compositions, because of the possibilities of structuring sounds from within. 

Electronic music opened a new world in terms of complex polyphonic textures and slowly shifting fields of sound, as apparent in “Athmospheres” (1961) or “Lux Eterna” (1966)

10. His later music is often inspired by the rhythmic structures of sub-saharan and caribbean music.

Particularly Sanza music and it’s rhythmic patterns were an inspiration for some of his Piano Etudes and the Piano Concerto.

 

 

 

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