Ligeti in his Hamburg study 1982 (Photo: Peter Andersen/Schott Music)
The piano occupies a central place in György Ligeti’s oeuvre. The Hungarian composer laid the foundation for an individual musical language in the early 1950s with the piano collection Musica ricercata. In the period from 1985 to 2001 he went on to compose eighteen highly virtuosic piano études, which, as well as representing a compendium of the composer’s later work, are among the finest études composed in the twentieth century.
Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and others composed piano études that concentrated on specific intervals (e.g. octaves, thirds or sixths). In his second étude Ligeti follows this tradition by using the interval of a fifth. The title “Cordes à vide” alludes to the open strings of the violin.
György Ligeti admired music from Africa. His eighth piano étude “Fém” testifies to this admiration. It also demonstrates the composers interest in American minimal music.
Ligeti composed the twelfth piano étude “Entrelacs” specially for Pierre-Laurent Aimard. With ten fingers, the pianist must manage up to seven different musical layers, each with its own tempo, dynamics and tone colour. This demands not only the greatest possible dexterity but also extraordinary powers of perception.
In his 13th étude, György Ligeti expresses the idea of a relentless yet futile effort in music. The title of the work, L’escalier du diable (“The Devil’s Staircase”) alludes both to the endless staircases of the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Escher and to the mathematical function known as the ‘devil’s staircase’.
The opening piece of Musica ricercata is an impressive demonstration of the creative forces that a radical self-limitation can unleash. Here the composer restricts his musical material – with the exception of the final bars – to a single note: A.
Musical ricercata No. 5 is an instrumental lament inspired by Eastern European mourning rituals that were familiar to the young Ligeti.
All his life, György Ligeti was fascinated by the idea of creating imaginary musical spaces by compositional means. The seventh piece of Musica ricercata marks his first systematic attempt in this field. Here, each of the pianist's hands seems to be moving in a different space.
The online score is based on the edition of Ligeti’s works published by Schott Music.