Our latest (Un)easy Listening post uncovers the music of György Ligeti, a composer featured in our upcoming Spectrum of Sound series. Philip Cashian, composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, reveals some of the devices and techniques Ligeti used to manipulate sound. Join us on Saturday 28 March to hear his seminal Chamber Concerto live.
Few pieces written in the second half of the 20th century have been so influential and widely acclaimed as the Chamber Concerto by Transylvanian born György Ligeti (1923-2006). Written between 1969 and 1970 and scored for 13 instruments, the piece has become staple repertoire for the type of new music ensemble that started to appear in the 1960s and 70s (such as the London Sinfonietta) that takes a single instrument from each family of the orchestra for it’s line-up.
After the war Ligeti studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest but left Hungary after the revolution in late 1956 for Vienna. Almost immediately he went to Cologne to work with Stockhausen in the WGR Electronic Music Studio. Except for Glissandi and Artikulation (watch them here) he produced little electronic music, but the long term influence working in the studio had on his instrumental music was huge.
In the Chamber Concerto, Ligeti’s incredible ability to produce the most exquisite and intricately detailed and orchestrated layers of music – both pitched and unpitched – comes to the fore, whilst at the same time remaining playful in nature. This is after he honing such techniques as heterophony, micro polyphony and a granular approach to pulse in the large scale works of the 1960s such as the Requiem and Atmosphères. Here are further explanations of those techniques:
The simultaneous playing of lines that are almost sounding in unison, but not quite, so that the combined effect creates a new sound.
Chamber Concerto movement one 0:38-1:27
Ligeti described micro polyphony as “something like a very dense woven cobweb”. Polyphony can be described as the independent co-existence of musical lines; Ligeti’s micro-polyphony is a saturation of these lines so that individual lines get lost and a ‘cloud’ of musical texture is created.
Granular approach to pulse and rhythm
Musical material is stripped down to it’s simplest element and repeated to create a simple, repetitive pattern which is then combined with similiar layers and slowly transformed.
Chamber Concerto movement three opening – 0:28
MOMENTS TO LISTEN OUT FOR IN THE CHAMBER CONCERTO
1:11-1:38 – Listen out for the emergence of the slow moving, sustained solo horn which takes us into the next section with woodwind and keyboards.
3:15 – An unexpected chord of E flats spread over five octaves that resolves the tension of the ‘swarming’ music of the previous section.
Opening at 0:48 – Listen to how the music for wind, brass and strings melts into a sustained chord for solo organ at 0:48. At 0:54 flute, oboe and clarinet emerge over the organ and slowly evolve into heterophonic lines until 1:51.
0:47-3:18 – Ligeti had a life-long fascination with mechanical music and broken machines. This section starts off with everyone playing together and then they slowly start to splinter: 1:25, 1:44, 2:00, 2:12.
0:50 – 1:03 – Piccolo and bass clarinet have an extremely virtuosic duet, playing in unison four octaves apart.
1:47 – A manic solo piano is suddenly snapped up by double bass and the music slowly rises up through the ensemble.
COMPOSERS INFLUENCED BY LIGETI
Unsuk Chin Piano Concerto
Kaijia Saariaho Verblendungen
Tom Adès Living Toys
Phillipe Manoury Fragments pour un portrait
Harrison Birtwistle Harrison’s Clocks