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Visible and Audible Structures: Spatio-Temporal Compromise in Ligeti's Magyar Etüdök


The purpose of this article is to demonstrate, by examining György Ligeti's cycle of three pieces for double choir, what I call his compromise between temporal forms that possess their own microcosmic history and latent drama, and architectural patterns of his music that are endowed with a purely spatial coherence. I hope to demonstrate that an analysis of the aesthetic concepts at work in Ligeti's pieces might lead to a somewhat non-traditional approach in elaborating analytical strategies of modern music.

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1 MichelPierre, György Ligeti, compositeur d'aujourd'hui (Paris: Minerve, 1985), pp.219–20, translation and emphasis mine.

2 LigetiGyörgy, György Ligeti in Conversation with Péter Varnai, Josef Hausler, Claude Samuel and Himself (London: Eulenburg Books, 1983), p. 16 .

3 Ibid., p.17.

4 Ibid., p.29.

5 Ibid., p.28.

6 EisikovitsMax, lntroducere in polifonia vocala a secolului XX [Introduction to Twentieth-Century Vocal Polyphony] (Bucharest: Editura muzicala, 1976), p.181 . The whole passage reads as follows: ‘The distantial principle, characterized by the identity and symmetrical partition of elements, has been present for centuries in European music under both its vertical and horizontal aspects. While the acoustical principle [i.e., the triadic harmony, according to Eisikovits] is based on the dissimilarity and asymmetry of elements, the distantial principle [stipulates] their homogeneity and symmetry. Starting with the beginning of our century, distantial phenomena such as the whole-tone scale impose themselves with increased frequency.’

7 Ibid., pp. 195–96. Eisikovits describes this principle as it applies to Bartók's Cantata profana and to Kodály's Nights on the Mountain.

8 Ligeti, György Ligeti in Conversation, p.29 .

9 MârzaTraian, ‘Simetria de oglinda in folclorul românesc’, [The mirror-symmetry in Romanian folklore] Revista de emografie si folclor 5 (1979): 243 .

10 Eisikovits, Introducere in polifonia vocala, p.182 .

11 GhykaMatyla C., Estetica si leoria arid [Aesthetics and Theory Of Art] (Bucharest: Editura Stiinrifica si Enciclopedica, 1981), pp.395–96.

12 Ligeti, György Ligeti in Conversation, p.43 . The composer talks about how zones of dense counterpoint induce ‘mistiness’ in his music and asserts his preference for ‘dirty patches’ that emerge from singers' mistakes in the intonation of chromatic scales.

13 HastyChristopher F., ‘On the Problem of Succession and Continuity in Twentieth-Century Music8, Music Theory Spectrum 8 (1986): 59 .

14 Eisikovits, Introduare in polifonia vocala, p. 196 .

15 GriffithsPaul, György Ligeti (London: Robson Books, 1983), p.26 .

16 Michel, György Ligeti, compositeur, pp.204–5: my translation.

17 Ibid., p.185.

18 LigetiGyörgy, Magyar Etüdök (Mainz: Schott, n.d.), p.21 n.3

19 Because of different metronome indications I had to choose a single voice of reference: I selected the bass line as it is the first voice to enter, and thus easier to follow (although Ligeti indicates the alto voice as the coordinator of the piece).

20 Ligeti, Magyar Etüdök, p.28 .

21 ColazzoSalvatore, ‘Il modernismo di oggi’, Nuova Rivista Musicale luliana 3 (1978): 450 . My translation.

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  • ISSN: 0040-2982
  • EISSN: 1478-2286
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