An Austrian composer of Hungarian origin, György Ligeti was born in Diciosánmârtin (Dicsöszenmárton) on May 28, 1923. The small town, today known as Tîrnveni, is situated in the Transylvanian region of Romania.
Ligeti’s ancestors were middle-class Jews of German origin living in western Hungary. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the growth of Hungarian nationalism encouraged many members of this community and other cultural minorities to alter their names so as to better assimilate into the majority. The composer’s father changed his name from Auer to Ligeti, after being pressured by overzealous secondary school teachers. 1 Alexander Ligeti (1890–1945) went on to take a degree at the Budapest University and became the manager of a branch of an Anglo-Hungarian banking concern at Diciosánmârtin. Ligeti’s mother, Ilona Somogyi (1893–1982), was a practicing ophthalmologist. In 1929, the family moved to Cluj (Kolozsvár), the economic and cultural center of Transylvania.
Studies in music began with piano lessons in 1937 (Ligeti 1973b, 57–58). Four years later, Ligeti graduated from secondary school and applied for admission to the local university with the intention of obtaining a degree in physics. However, because Jewish students were subjected to a numerus clausus, he was refused entry. As an alternative, he enrolled at the Cluj Conservatory in 1941, with organ as his principal instrument. The earliest extant holograph is dated 1938–1939 and bears the title Sonatina (per quatuor) mi minore.2 A first public performance and a first publication of works came in 1942. 3 That same year, Ligeti decided to devote himself to composition, studying with Ferenc Farkas, then director of the conservatory (Griffiths 1983, 15). These studies were brutally cut off in 1944. Being Jewish, Ligeti was forced to do hard labor for the Hungarian army. In October, he escaped and returned to Cluj to find that his family had been deported. Later, he would learn that both his father and his brother (Gábor, 1928–1945) were murdered by the Nazis in the last days of the