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15.6.06

Ligeti Essentials

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Ligeti Project I

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Ligeti Project II

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Ligeti Project III

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Ligeti Project IV

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Ligeti Project V

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Ligeti - Concertos

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Ligeti - String Quartets

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Ligeti - Le Grand Macabre
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Ligeti - V.1

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Ligeti - V.2

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Ligeti - V.3

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Ligeti - V.4

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Ligeti - V.5

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Ligeti - V.6

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Ligeti - V.7
György Ligeti (*1923) is dead. Although getting to know his music might have been a better idea when he was still alive (at the very least he would have profited from it financially), it has been long known – even before the Beatles declared Paul McCartney dead – that death sells. If you don’t know much of Ligeti’s music, you might as well make this your excuse to catch up on one of the finest and most versatile composers of the second half of the 20th century. Ligeti, whose music was suppressed and often written for the drawer in his native Hungary, became an early member of the Darmstadt school of music (think Nono, Stockhausen, Boulez, but also Xenakis, very early Penderecki, Kagel, Lachenmann, Maderna) where, after emigration, he led some of the “International Summer-Courses.” Later on, he freed himself from what he thought too limiting a view of music – one suspects that the room for humor that can be heard over and over in his music was somewhat lacking in the ideologically narrow modernism of that school and era. He became a professor at the Hamburg Music Academy in 1973.


His string quartets, performed on at least three occasions in the last season (see side-box), are de rigeur; splendid, entertaining, eerie works full of buzzing insects, nightscapes, and ear-perking quirks. If you like David Lynch films, you should also like these chamber works. There have been several recordings of those two works (all of them very well played); most recently the Artemis Quartet’s rendition on Virgin – although I prefer previous recordings of the modernist specialists, the Arditti Quartet (volume 1 in Sony’s unfinished Ligeti collection; coupled with the violin duo Ballade and Dance, the violin-cello duo Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg, and the two movements for string quartet) and the LaSalle Quartet (on DG 20/21, coupled with Ramifications, for 12 strings, the cello sonata, and Melodien, for orchestra). For the price and couplings, I’d go with the Arditti.


The piano sonatas, too, are something else; it is the kind of music that Pierre-Laurent Aimard made his name with – his recording (volume 3 in the Sony series) being the prime example. Not only is the music worth hearing (Charles mentioned it already), but the playing is some of the finest and most dazzling pianism caught on record. Aimard also plays the astounding, blazing piano concerto on the Pierre Boulez-conducted Deutsche Grammophon disc that combines this work with the violin and cello concertos (Saschko Gawriloff and Jean-Guihen Queyras are the performers). Aimard recorded it once more, for the Teldec Ligeti cycle that completed what Sony couldn’t. Aimard is in any case the only player you will want to hear this with – and unless you are going to collect the Teldec series, the DG is the more attractive disc; the playing impeccable in either case, the sound good on both discs.


Ligeti on Ionarts:

György Ligeti Becomes "Blue Velvet" in the Hands of the Brentano Quartet (February 15, 2006)

Boston Symphony: Yo-Yo Ma & David Robertson (March 19, 2006)

Ligeti with the Pacifica Quartet (April 11, 2005)

Left Bank Ligeti (May 09, 2005)

Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre in San Francisco (November 12, 2004
For an example of avant-garde music with wry humor, go no further than the fifth volume of the Sony edition – the album of Ligeti’s “Mechanical Music” – written for (largely) human-less instruments: player piano, prepared barrel organ, and most intriguingly, his Poème symphonique, for 100 metronomes, 10 performers & 1 conductor. Perched somewhere between the comically absurd (although ever intriguing) and academic (the studies of different times, which remind of projects of Cage and the ideas behind some of the Carter string quartets), this is an ear-opener for what classical music of the kind you thought you did not like (for, on occasion, admittedly good reasons) can do. The "performers" are technicians starting the metronomes; the conductor is window dressing.


Ligeti’s opera, Le Grand Macabre, finally, is a hoot – albeit a very dark one – and you might as well go for the whole thing, in German as it is on the complete recording for Wergo. (The Mysteries from the opera can be heard, in English, on volume 4 of the Sony edition.) It is as different from most of the above-mentioned pieces of music as you can expect from Ligeti; predictable only in Ligeti’s own, unique unpredictability. (Charles previously commented on the San Francisco production in 2004.)

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