The Kennedy Center

Gyorgy Ligeti


Born in 1923, innovative Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti fled to Vienna in 1956 when the Soviet invasion stifled musical innovation.
Ligeti had grown up in an atmosphere of talent, including a legendary violinist uncle. In 1944 Liget was studying composition when, as a Jew, he was sent to a labor camp. Following the war he resumed study and became a teacher at Budapest Academy of Music, but fled as oppression limited musical freedom. A pioneering composer, Ligeti became influential in Europe's avant garde, working on unmeasured rhythm, fantastical complexity and some drama. A maverick, Ligeti refused to adopt a particular variety of musical modernism.
In the 1950s he began composing electronic music, such as Artikulation in 1958, and gained worldwide attention with Atmospheres in 1961. His works then turned to synthesis and expansion. By 1972 he made his home in Hamburg, where he wrote the comic opera Le Grand Macabre, which was widely performed in Europe.
From the 1980s his works were melodic, including orchestral works, concertos for the violin and horn, chamber music, keyboard works, and theater pieces.  In the 1980s and 1990s he turned to the fundamental questions of modern music and returned to the choral music he had cultivated in the 1940s. Ligeti also found stimulation from non-European musical cultures, notably Caribbean, central African and East Asian, which were not so removed from the folk music of Hungary, and he produced choruses that were more complex and elaborately constructed than his earlier works.
In some pieces Ligeti made his music a long, slow gesture, while showing an element of rapid mechanical activity.  In his compositions he was interested in making symmetry asymmetrical, and displayed that music may be neither atonal nor tonal, showing the coexistence of different tonalities in the same work.
Gyorgy Ligeti