György Ligeti was one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Born in 1923 in Transylvania, Romania, György Sándor Ligeti was a Hungarian composer of contemporary classical music and one of the most innovative and influential progressive figures of his time.
In 1941 Ligeti trained at the music conservatory in Cluj and during the summers received private tuition from Pál Kadosa in Budapest. In 1944, his education was interrupted after he was sent to a forced labour brigade. His brother was deported to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and both of his parents were sent to Auschwitz – only his mother survived. Following the War he returned to his studies in Budapest and graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in 1949 where he became a teacher of harmony, counterpoint and musical analysis.
He fled to Vienna Austria in 1956 and a few weeks later travelled to Cologne, where he was able to pursue his passion for avant-garde music and develop new compositional techniques. He met, and was inspired by several key figures there including Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig, both then working on groundbreaking electronic music. It was here he produced the influential Artikulation (1958), one of his first electronic works, however Ligeti’s breakthrough came with orchestral works such as Atmosphères, which utilised micropolyphony. Ligeti left the Cologne school after about three years as he felt it had become too dogmatic and competitive.
Although he did not directly compose any film scores, excerpts of his compositions have been adapted for film use. Most famously in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey which features Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Aventures. Lontano, Melodien, and Volumina were used in the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as background music to sections of narrative from the Guide.
In 2004 he was honoured with the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
His early works show the influence of Bartók and Kodály, and like them, he studied folk music and made transcriptions from folk material.
After his time in Cologne, micropolyphony remained an important aspect of his work enriched by other techniques such as those found in Aventures (1962), where he devised a vocal technique in which the singers are required to make a full range of vocalizations, cries and nonsense noises to convey an imaginary, non-specific drama, with specifically expressed emotions.
Ligeti’s music towards the end of his life is unmistakable for its rhythmic complexity, which stemmed from two different sources of inspiration: the Romantic-era piano music of Chopin and Schumann and the indigenous music of sub-Saharan Africa.
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