György Ligeti – Organ Study No. 2 ‘Coulée’ (1969)


“Op-art” — short for “optical illusion” — first became a real trend in western painting in the 1960s, with artists like Josef Albers and Victor Vasarely. Often tricking the eye with tempting but suspect patterns, many of these paintings offered a vision of great, cool precision, of bright candy-colors and flawlessly hygienic brushwork; out of meticulous background grids arose great cubes or spheres that were — in truth — nothing more than the well-constructed fib of a flat canvas.

The late 1960s works of composer György Ligeti are often described as the musical equivalent to these visual essays. And in many ways, works like the composer’s 1969 Organ Study No. 2 (“Coulée”) are brilliant reports on the art of sonic illusion. On the one hand, “Coulée” — French for “flow” and also “casting” — obsessively exploits extremely fast arpeggios and passage-work in an unstoppable moto perpetuo of ever-shifting flurries. But, per its trompe-l’oreille tactics, “Coulée” manages such steadfast consistency in its technique that the ear begins to hear a slowly-evolving continuum, almost lyrical in its arching contours. Breakneck speed emanates an air of gradual, yawning curve; tiny, scurrying patterns lose their definition and sink into a larger sound-mass. In this sense, “Coulée” is the logical organ-child of its harpsichord precedent, 1968’s famous Continuum. In this work and the organ study, Ligeti exploited a fusion of two musical concepts, “dot-pattern music” and “grid-system music” — the former a music of surface perceptions, the latter its imperceptible architectural basis. The result of this fusion, in both pieces, is a music at once static and supremely mobile, a sonic contradiction between cognition and concept.

So, thanks to Ligeti’s “Coulée,” we’ve got our musical counterpart to “Op-art” all wrapped up. But of course, that’s not the whole picture, primarily because once one gets past the technical sympathies between a Vasarely and a Ligeti, one begins to perceive a disturbing rift. A painting like Vasarely’s Ziko is a resplendent objective paradise, psychedelic in color and antiseptic in effect — it works perfectly; but Ligeti’s “Coulée” carries mud on its shoes. It plays too hard, so to speak, pushing the organ to its limits of articulation and air-power, and the performer to her limits of stamina. Like Continuum, Ligeti’s “Coulée” carries a certain peril and anxiety with its illusionary strategies. One is reminded not of M.C. Escher’s witty retinal paradoxes, but of Franz Kafka’s horrible execution-machine from the story “In the Penal Colony,” — a device which obsessively, punctiliously tattoos its victims with their own sentences until they perish. In Ligeti, as in Kafka, the machine breaks down amidst its hysterical but ultimately inanimate rite. But perhaps “Coulée” is redeemed through its implied endlessness, a much more merciful vision than Kafka’s, or Ligeti’s own in Continuum; as one commentator put it, the organ fades away “dispersing into the higher vaults of the cathedral; the rhythmical grid is a transient section of an infinite movement…”

György Ligeti – Lontano (1967)

Componist Gyorgy Ligeti  *1 februari 1984

Componist Gyorgy Ligeti
*1 februari 1984

A few weeks after arriving in Vienna Ligeti left for Cologne. There he met several key avant-garde figures and learned more contemporary musical styles and methods. These included the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig, both then working on groundbreaking electronic music. During the summer he attended the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt. Ligeti worked in the Cologne Electronic Music Studio with Stockhausen and Koenig and was inspired by the sounds he heard there. However, he produced little electronic music of his own, instead concentrating on instrumental works which often contain electronic-sounding textures.

After about three years’ working with them he finally fell out with the Cologne School, this being too dogmatic and involving much factional in-fighting: “there were a lot of political fighting because different people, like Stockhausen, like Kagel wanted to be first. And I, personally, have no ambition to be first or to be important.”

From about 1960 Ligeti’s work became better-known and respected. His best-known work include works in the period from Apparitions (1958–59) to Lontano (1967) and his opera Le Grand Macabre (1978).

György Ligeti – String Quartet No. 2 Cello (1968)

Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Trinity Church Square, London on July 13-15, 1994.

Performed by Arditti String Quartet: Rohan de Saram – Cello / Garth Knox – Viola / David Alberman – Violin / Irvine Arditti – Violin

György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 2 is a string quartet that was composed between February and August 1968.[1] It consists of five movements:  Allegro nervoso Sostenuto, molto calmo Come un meccanismo di precisione Presto furioso, brutale, tumultuoso Allegro con delicatezza It is approximately 21 minutes in duration. It is dedicated to the LaSalle Quartet who gave its first performance in Baden-Baden on the 14 December 1969. [source]

György Sándor Ligeti (28 May 1923 – 12 June 2006) was a composer of contemporary classical music. He has been described as “one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century” and “one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time”.[1]  Born in Transylvania, Romania, he lived in Hungary before emigrating and becoming an Austrian citizen. [source]

Here is the full concert:

“Now there is no taboo; everything is allowed. But one cannot simply go back to tonality, it’s not the way. We must find a way of neither going back nor continuing the avant-garde. I am in a prison: one wall is the avant-garde, the other wall is the past, and I want to escape.”
– György Ligeti
Said in A lecture at the New England Conservatory in 1993









[Inspired by Viktória Nádas]

John Cale – American Psycho (2000)

The soundtrack album released for the film is your typical “various artists” selection. There are a few score excerpts, but they’re voiced over by the titular psycho killer, Christian Bale, who, though f-f-f-far better than many narrators, is still an obstruction to my goal, which is hearing the goddamn John Cale score.

A-and it’s a hell of a score. It’s a little mushy in the late middle, but starts with a bang and ends the same way. The spirit of Bernard Hermann is here (notably on “The Men’s Room”) – unique for a Cale soundtrack. The piano figure on “The Ritual,” while rather unimaginative, is haunting for what’s done with it. On “Packing for Paul” Cale recalls his theme for director Mary Harron’s earlier film I Shot Andy Warhol. There’s a lot of rhythmic tension throughout – unlike some of his more meandering soundtracks, this is mostly a frenetic and tense experience.

When it slows and calms down, though, the effect is powerful – on “The Office,” for instance, the eastern-European-feeling horns give the piece an off-kilter nature that’s simultaneously threatening and laughable, while the Ligeti influences on “The Second Time”/”The Bloodbath – The Chainsaw” are more effective for being isolated. The churning strings on “The Police” and “The Wrong Building” lose me out of the context of the film, but the Eastern European folk intro of “The Confession” grabs me again.

The most striking track of the score is “The Day Planner” – the weird vocals (by the Mediaeval Babes) are creepy and beautiful, and the sudden appearance of voice has an impressive transformative effect on the soundtrack, allowing for a transition into the drone and serenity of “The End.” “American Psycho (Reprise)” provides a smirking, sprightly, sinister finish to it all. [Source]

01. American Psycho (3:20)

02. The Ritual (2:23)

03. The Alley (0:49)

04. The Vagrant -The Beauty Shop (1:35)

05. Packing For Paul (1:00)

06. The Answering Machine (0:12)

07. The Hooker (0:29)

08. The Coathanger (0:18)

09. The Men’s Room (1:00)

10. The Office (0:44)

11. The Date (1:31)

12. The Restaurant (0:29)

13. The Second Time (0:54)

14. The Bloodbath-The Chainsaw (1:24)

15. The Stray Cat (0:50)

16. The Police (0:56)

17. The Wrong Building (1:04)

18. The Confession (0:51)

19. The Next Day (1:07)

20. The Redecorated Apartment (0:24)

21. The Desk (1:18)

22. The Day Planner (0:53)

23. The End (1:14)

24. American Psycho (reprise) (2:46)

Conlon Nancarrow – Piece for Ligeti (1988)

If the truth be told, Mr. Nancarrow, born in Texarkana, Ark., but a citizen of Mexico for the last 30 years, has not always been easy to find. He is a gentle and grandfatherly figure; his reputation is that of the mystery man of modern music whose isolation is as much a result of choice as of circumstance. Even now, as acclaim finally descends on him for his pioneering work on the player piano, he remains much better known to his fellow musicians than to the concertgoing public.

The composer and conductor Gyorgy Ligeti, for instance, calls Mr. Nancarrow’s work ”the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives.” Since first coming across some of Mr. Nancarrow’s piano pieces in a Paris record store in 1980, he has vigorously championed Mr. Nancarrow’s jagged and elaborately contrapuntal music, both from the podium and in print.

”His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, constructive and at the same time emotional,” Mr. Ligeti has written. ”For me, it is the best music by any living composer of today.”

Mr. Nancarrow also has acquired, much to his surprise, something of a cult following in the pop music world. The guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, whose own work reflects Mr. Nancarrow’s fondness for dense textures and multiple interweaving melodic lines, says he has been an ardent admirer since 1967, when he was introduced to the composer’s work by Jimi Hendrix’s recording engineer.

Mr. Zappa said that what initially struck him about Mr. Nancarrow’s work was ”that the mechanics of design are often more important than their relation to normal harmonic concepts.” With the passage of time, he added, his appreciation for Mr. Nancarrow’s ”unique spiritual build and expression of character, his willingness to take chances,” has also grown. ”In terms of individualism, I think he ranks up there with Webern, Stravinsky, Varese and Schoenberg,” Mr. Zappa said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. ”There’s been nothing like him before or after.” [Source]

György Ligeti – Requiem (1935)

By Jeffrey Bryant

Ligeti’s Requiem was made infamous by one man. Despite the success and the sales that this brought Ligeti, Stanley Kubrick was sued by his beneficiary. The reason for this is that in “2001 A Space Odyssey”, Stanley Kubrick had used Ligeti’s music as part of the soundtrack, but had neither asked the composer’s permission, nor did he later offer a royalty for its use until he was sued. Curiously, and despite its immense popularity at the time, this is a difficult piece to listen to at home. There are a couple of reasons for this, though I suggest a solution here.

Artistes : Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Virpi Räisänen-Midth (mezzo-soprano), Maîtrise de Radio France, Sofi Jeanin (direction maîtrise), Choeur de Radio France, Michel Tranchant (chef de choeur), Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Esa-Pekka Salonen (direction)

The New York premiere of György Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre”

Over the years many symphonic institutions have tried, with inconclusive results. In his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert is pursuing a more experimental, potentially more exciting, agenda. For the New York premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre,” opening a three-night run on Thursday at Avery Fisher Hall, he has opted for a portable multimedia staging by the diminutive production company Giants Are Small, based in Sunset Park, a blue-collar neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Review: Joanne Pearce Martin's Piano Spheres recital at Zipper Hall

The great Italian composer Luciano Berio once observed that “a musical work is never alone — it always has a big family to cope with, and it must be capable of living many lives.” That insight seemed to inform Joanne Pearce Martin’s extraordinary and elegiac Piano Spheres recital Tuesday at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall.

The two premieres were both typical of a program filled with musical gestures and remembrances: Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “Pavane in Memory of Steven Witser,” the principal trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who died last April at age 48, and Gernot Wolfgang’s “Theremin’s Journey” for Theremin, piano and electronica.

The pianist, in her ninth season as principal keyboardist for the Philharmonic, began by boldly digging into a bright-toned Fazioli piano in four selections from Stephen Hartke’s “Post-Modern Homages,” which included a pleasing riff on Satie. More impressive was Pearce Martin’s finely shaped reading of “Distances” (1988), Meyer Kupferman’s moody memorial to a friend.

Read the full blog posting in The Los Angeles Times here.