Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

'A "New Music" from Nothing': György Ligeti's Musica Ricercata

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

'A "New Music" from Nothing': György Ligeti's Musica Ricercata

Article excerpt

The last two decades have witnessed a growing interest on the part of both musicians and the public, as well as of musicologists, in György Ligeti's works composed prior to his emigration from Hungary in December 1956. While literature on Ligeti published up to the middle of the 1980s almost neglected the first phase of his oeuvre as being of little significance for his later development, new biographies tend to pay more and more attention to Ligeti's early compositions. Musica ricercata, a set of piano pieces written between 1951 and 1953, is widely regarded by both pianists and analysts as one of the most important work from this period.

Musica ricercata has been thoroughly analysed by Wolfgang Burde and Ferenc László, and careful analytical observations have also been made by Ulrich Dibelius and Richard Steinitz.1 Although Friedemann Sallis's book on Ligeti's early works does not include a detailed analysis of the set, Sallis succeeds in revealing significant connections between Musica ricercata and other pre-1957 compositions by Ligeti, as well as some of its links to Béla Bartók's and Girolamo Frescobaldi's music and Sándor Weöres's poetry.2 Analysts of Musica ricercata often note that despite obvious stylistic differences, the work has a number of features in common with many of Ligeti's 'mature' compositions, which are in a sense rooted in Musica ricercata.3

I think, too, that the fundamental aspects of Ligeti's compositional interest, his characteristic types of expression and even of his devices of composition already made their appearance in his early music, especially from Musica ricercata on. However, the unity of his oeuvre, as well as the web of connections between Musica ricercata and other works can only be shown if the compositional problems raised in the works are thoroughly analysed and fitted into the context of the composer's artistic development. Hence, the present study has a dual goal: it aims at examining the main compositional problems raised in Musica ricercata while fitting it into the context of Ligeti's early development. For this purpose reference will frequently be made to the most important work of this period, String Quartet no. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes) written in 1953-54, which is the most complete summation of Ligeti's achievements and development up to 1956.

1. Introduction

Ligeti began his studies at the Academy of Music in Budapest in Sándor Veress's composition class in the autumn of 1945. After Veress had left Hungary at the time of the Zhdanovian musico-political change in early 1948, Ligeti was taken on by his former professor in Kolozsvár (Cluj, Romania), Ferenc Farkas. During his four years at the Academy, Ligeti composed quite a lot: the catalogue of his early works compiled by Friedemann Sallis4 includes 36 finished compositions written between October 1945 and May 1949 (rewritten and rearranged versions of the same compositions are also counted). Half of them are vocal, half of them are instrumental; in the former group, there are mostly works for choir, while in the latter, piano pieces are in the greatest number. During these years, it was indisputably Bartók's oeuvre that most fascinated Ligeti:

I was completely awed by Bartók. He was the great, great model? it was simply Bartók's music. You know, the students at the Music Academy, they all knew Bartók's works.5

Ligeti mentions that Stravinsky, although to a much lesser extent than his idol, also influenced him at that time.6 However, with regard to his numerous works for choir, there is another composer that cannot be left unmentioned: Zoltán Kodály. Between 1945 and 1949, Ligeti's choral works, written in more or less folk-like idiom, easily met the demands of the flourishing choir movement of the period. Nevertheless, Ligeti's more adventurous compositions, that are tonally freer and more dissonant, are not his choral works but his songs and piano pieces (Három Weöres-dal [Three Weöres Songs], 1946-47, Capriccio I and II, 1947, Invenció [Invention], January 1948). …

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