Focus Point – Ligeti 100

György Ligeti is one of the most original and at the same time technically refined composers of the 20th century. In his work he combined constructive rigor with associative freedom.

Shortly before his 100th birthday, the Musikfestival 2023 dedicated a two-day festival focus to the composer, with outstanding interpreters illuminating important aspects of his work.

Growing up as a Hungarian Jew on the edge of the Carpathians in Transylvania, which had belonged to Romania since 1920, Ligeti was surrounded from an early age by foreign linguistic sounds that were incomprehensible to him. He heard the stirring chants of the wailers, and he marveled at the magical sound of the alphorn in the mountains, with its natural tones that deviated from the tempered intonation. All of this would later find its way into his music at crucial points – for example, in the Violin Concerto, which was heard in the festival with Barnabás Kelemen as soloist.

The composer evaded the postmodern dilemma between belief in progress and a return to the past at the beginning of the 1980s. Instead, he allowed for more of the strange and colorful: the hypnotic visual representations of fractal geometry, the rhythmic subtleties of the ars subtilior of the 1400s, the pulsation patterns of the music of Central Africa, or the crazy superimposition of different speeds in the studies for self-playing piano by the American Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997). The "excessively curious", as Ligeti once described himself, absorbed the impulses of a truly globalized culture.

While breaking away from the purity precepts of the avant-garde, he probed the models he chose primarily for their renewing potential. On the other hand, even where he proceeded with almost scientific methodology, Ligeti did not rely on any "formula," but followed artistic intuition in the last instance. Ligeti wrote complex, but never hermetic: his works sound virtuosic and immediately communicative, they behave playfully and humorously - and they also repeatedly give space to a very poetically conceived melancholy. Once a victim of two totalitarian systems – two of his family members died in concentration camps – Ligeti, who fled Hungary in 1956 and arrived in Cologne via Vienna, was already critical of the doctrinaire tendencies of New Music in the 1960s. "Atmosphères," the orchestral piece that premiered in Donaueschingen in 1961 and had to be repeated immediately, made the late thirty-something suddenly famous. The blindingly bright pianissimo cluster with which "Atmosphères" begins sounds so synthetic, so alien and all-encompassing, as if it actually came from another galaxy. Stanley Kubrick sensed this precisely when he used the piece (without the composer's consent) in his cult film "2001: A Space Odyssey" in the late 1960s. At that time, Ligeti used very similar procedures in his organ piece "Volumina", which was performed by Markus Uhl in the festival, as well as in the choral composition "Lux Aeterna", sung by KlangForum Heidelberg. Together with the Second String Quartet from 1969, which Quatuor Diotima put onto the stage, a differentiated view of the impressive oeuvre of the composer György Ligeti thus emerged.

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