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Composer Gyorgy Ligeti Dies at Age 83

Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti died yesterday at the age of 83, and while Ligeti may not (yet) be a household name, he has made our musical world a richer, wilder, more wonderful place.

Many people, including myself, first heard his music on the soundtrack of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it provided an intense and eerie sonic accompaniment to a bleak, forboding lunar landscape. Though you might not realize that you are listening to Gyorgy Ligeti during these scenes, you immediately know that you've encountered a powerful, engaging, and rather disturbing creative force (not unlike the mysterious 2001 monolith, actually).

The fortunate few who explore this composer's music further discover that the brief excerpts used in 2001 (from Lux Aeterna, Atmospheres, Aventures, and Requiem) represented only a tantalizingly brief glimpse of Ligeti's incredible overall body of work.

Strange electronic soundscapes, non-verbal choral fantasies, prankish works for mechanical instruments, pre-minimalist explorations, grotesquely comical musical theater, dense clusters of shifting orchestral sounds – Ligeti had been there, done that, and then some.

Last night, I listened again to my own personal favorite Ligeti pieces, the kaleidoscopic Etudes for piano performed by the amazing Pierre-Laurent Aimard – and frankly, if "Desordre" from Book One doesn't blow your mind, there's no nicer way to say it…you must not have a mind.

I was heartened to see the blogosphere lighting up with Ligeti tributes, reflections, and remembrances as the news of his passing spread yesterday and today. Here are some highlights.

To begin with, you may want to listen to a few Ligeti compositions and pay your respects at the Gyorgy Ligeti MySpace page.

My old pal Edwardcoli gives us the bare-bones AP report, but fails to mention that his favorite pick-up line used to be "My favorite composer is from Transylvania, and his name is Gyorgy Ligeti." Really.

Meanwhile, Galen Brown at Sequenza 21 addresses several "disappointing and serious problems" with that same Associated Press article.

Ardent Ligeti admirer and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross shares some notes he took at a Ligeti lecture in 1993 at The Rest Is Noise, including this wonderful quote:

I am in a prison: one wall is the avant-garde, the other wall is the past, and I want to escape.

Do The Math, blog of The Bad Plus, articulately outlines the top ten reasons why Ligeti was important, and also advises:

If you possess a recording of Gyorgy Ligeti's monumental and devastating Requiem, now is the time to put it on and weep. Play it loud.

The Standing Room uncovers an amazing YouTube video performance of Ligeti's Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes, and even provides a link to the score if you want to try it at home.

The Kittensnake somehow says it all when she notes that Ligeti…

…wasn't the appetizer, entree or sorbet…he was the whole f*cking six-course meal with brandy and a cigar at the tail end.

Adventures In Holiness offers a particularly fine tribute to Ligeti…

…the Beethoven of the last fifty years, maybe even the granddaddy of every unoriginal musical idea I have ever had.

On An Overgrown Path shares Ligeti's playlist from his appearance on the Private Passions BBC Radio show in 1997, revealing several of his diverse musical obsessions.

Finally, Felsenmusick ponders Ligeti's intriguing unfinished opera, Trams! proposes a novel new holiday in honor of Mr. Ligeti, and 127.0.0.1 has the last word.

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  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    nice tribute stephen. i heard a short piece on Ligeti on the radio yesterday and found myself amazed that i don’t own any of his recordings. that’ll change soon.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Stephen, thanks for writing this. We don’t get nearly enough classical coverage on the site.

    I had not heard of Ligeti until listening to NPR on the way home. In addition to what seems like an amazing musical resume, he is a Holocaust survivor (worked in a force labor camp) and had family members murdered in the camps. Amazing person, it would seem.

  • godoggo

    Thanks for the myspace page. I’d been looking for some audio. The last one is particularly stunning.

    As is so often the case, news of his death inspires me to check out more of his stuff. People I respect used to say he was the greatest living composer. I know we hear that sort of thing a lot, but I actually suspect it may be true in this case.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    I was 11 or 12 when I first saw 2001, and got the soundtrack album for Christmas afterward. The Ligeti pieces had a pretty powerful effect…not like anything I had heard before certainly! His life story as outlined in obituaries this morning was fascinating as well.

  • http://kreuzs.wordpress.com/ Dmenno

    Canon is the title i love. it is hardly surprising that he felt the need to leave Hungary. My Teacher in composing The wonder of my life
    Dmenno