Works performed by Earplay:

Cello Sonata
Horn Trio (Hommage à Brahms)

György Ligeti (1923-2006) was an adventurer in form and expression and a great visionary of contemporary music. His richly varied output takes a special position in its musical quality and uncompromising individuality. Admired and hugely influential in the profession, the sensual accessibility of his music has won the hearts of audiences everywhere.

Born in Transylania, on 28 May 1923, the son of Hungarian-Jewish parents, he studied at the Klausenburg conservatory and later at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Very soon he developed the micropolyphony which later was to become one of the most significant features of his music. In December 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution, he fled to the west, for artistic and political reasons. Working at the West German Radio electronic studios in Cologne he made an intensive study of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel and Pierre Boulez, which found its musical expression in Artikulation (1958). This work, with Atmosphès;res, the orchestral work he created in 1961, made Ligeti instantly well-known. In this piece, he worked almost completely without traditional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic parameters and concentrated on sounds with constantly changing textures. "Micropolyphon", he once described, "means such a dense tissue that the individual parts become inaudible and only the resulting intermingling harmonies are effective as a form."

After his intensive work in Cologne and the development of micropolyphony in the 1960s, Ligeti's personal style became simpler and more transparent in the 1970s. And as if wanting to withdraw from the predominating musical tendencies, he began to use tonal sounds again. He said: "I no longer listen to rules on what is to be regarded as modern and what as oldfashioned." His only full-length stage work Le Grand Macabre was inspired by the theatre of the absurd and is teeming with operetta-like wit and black humour. The composer wanted to communicate more directly with audiences: "Stage action and music should be dangerous and bizarre, absolutely exaggerated, absolutely crazy."

György Ligeti travelled a long road: from Romanian folk music and the tonal language of his fellow countryman Béla Bartók to his own cosmos of sounds. The mentor of a whole generation of composers, he wanted to "fuse the fear of death with laughter." Ligeti was honoured with all the world's major musical awards, including the Grawemayer Award, the Praemium Imperiale, the Ernst von Siemens Music Award, the Sibelius Prize, and the Kyoto Prize. He died on 12 June 2006 in Vienna.

— Fenwick Smith

[from program for February 11, 2008 concert]