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Music Library Exhibits: Ligeti Brief Biography

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György Ligeti

Birth: 28 May 1923

Death: 12 June 2006


Born into an artistic Jewish family, György Ligeti studied with Ferenc Farkas at the conservatory in Kolozsvár (1941-43) and with Pál Kadosa in the Budapest during the summers.  Later he also studied with Sándor Veress and Pál Járdányi at the academy of music in Budapest where he graduated in 1949.  A year after graduation Ligeti returned to the academy as a harmony and counterpoint instructor.

Ligeti began making his mark as a composer and, due in part to the post-war communist cultural situation in Hungary, he experimented and perfected his work in the demanded style of choral folk music.  As times in Hungary became more despot, Ligeti continued to compose in the expected styles while also writing some “unwanted” music, which he would keep in his desk drawer.  Once times began to relax around 1954, he began to expand and challenge the boundaries previously established, while at the same time feeling as though there was something still out there that he wanted to explore.  He found hope in the new electronic music being created and particularly a broadcast of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jüglinge (1955-6).

As his international popularity continued to grow with compositions like Artikulation (1958) and Apparations (1958-9), Ligeti began giving annual courses at the academy of music in Stockholm.  Works that followed included those written as cluster compositions (Voumina (1961-2)), ironic sketches (Die Zukunft der Musik (1961)), and more substantial comedic works (Aventures (1966)).  Continuing to develop his compositions, he pursued possibilities in harmonic centres in Lux aeterna (1966) and Lontano (1967), while also looking toward use of rapid mechanical activity in works such as Continuum (1968).

Following his travels and work in Berlin and at Stanford University, Ligeti accepted a position at the Musikhochschule in Hamburg.  Compositions inspired by his work at Stanford and influenced by his exposure to Harry Partch, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley, included San Francisco Polyphony (1973-4) and Clocks and Clouds (1972-3).  Ligeti then began work on his opera Le Grand Macabre (1974-7), which combined his uses of orchestral textures, use of what could have been considered dishonorable instruments like car horns, and references to past musical styles.

For a period of time Ligeti was absent from the musical scene, returning with his Horn Trio (1982).  During the time that followed he returned to the unaccompanied chorus medium, bringing to light folk music of Hungary and the Balkans reflected in Mayar etüdök (1983) and Drei Phantasien (1983).  After another brief break from composing came the first book of Etudes in 1985.  Ligeti began to explore more following this time into musical algorithms, evocative imagery, frenetic activity, and new temperaments, among other varied techniques.


Paul Griffiths"Ligeti, György." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 8,       2013

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