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    Ligeti's Chamber Concerto - Summation or Turning Point?

    Michael Searby

    Tempo, New Ser., No. 168, 50th Anniversary 1939-1989. (Mar., 1989), pp. 30-34.

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    ichael Searby

    Ligeti's Chamber Concerto

    Summation or Turning Point?

    Gyorgy Ligeti 's music of the 1970s shows a

    distinct change of direction in its main pre-

    occupation. U p to the middle 1970s his

    dominant concern was with textural elements,

    note-cluster develop ment and th e use of strict

    canons to create 'Mikropolyphonie' . Mikro-

    polyphonie is usually generated by a canonic

    development where each entry uses the same

    pitch arra y but also has a unique rhythm ic shape

    an d is therefore un1ike.a norm al canon (E xam ple

    1, below, is a goo d illustration). Me lody, non-

    cluster harm ony , and rhythm ic clarity were not

    usually significant features. Ho we ve r the opera

    Le Grande Macabre (1974-77) shows a clear,

    unam biguous change of approach and a greater

    eclecticism; as Ligeti states: 'In Le Grande

    Macabre

    there is less of the static, slowly,

    gradually evolving music. felt had wo rn

    these types out ' . '

    This change can be seen to have its roots in

    the music of the late 1960s, particularly the

    Chamber Concerto, a l though the evolution

    toward s his total recapture of me lody an d har-

    m on y in t he 1980s was gradual and fluctuating.

    The Chamber Concer to has an ambiva lent

    nature, because although the first three

    Ex 1

    st

    Movement bars 1 2

    bar 1 Corrente FleiDend)

    movements are closely related to the processes

    in late 1960s wo rks for examp le Lontano (1 7),

    Lux Aetema (1966) and the Second String

    Qu ar tet (1968) the comp ositional process itself

    appears to evolve throughout, reaching a new

    and m or e open-ended process in the last

    mo vem ent. T he significant features of this n ew

    process are the unravelling of the tightly-

    controlled canons, which are imp ortan t in muc h

    of the Cham ber Concerto and m any o f Ligeti 's

    other work s; and also the rediscovery, howe ver

    fleeting, o f melody .

    T he C ham ber C onc erto (1969-70) is for eleven

    orchestral instruments,' harpsichord doubling

    Ham mon d Org an, and piano doubling celeste;

    it has fou r mov ements . T h e first is an elusive,

    texture-based mo vem ent containing mu ch rapid

    figuration. The structural outline is simple

    because, in common with Lux Aeterna

    and

    Lontano it consists of a slowly evolving and

    expanding pitch cluster. This background

    cluster stru ctur e is articulated in the fore grou nd

    by canonic developm ent, a co m m on feature in

    much of Ligeti 's work. (See Example 1.)

    However only the resulting textural Mikro-

    polyphonie can be heard, not the individual

    Gyorgy Ligct~,Ligeri tn conversarlotr (Eulcnbcrg: London, Flute doubllng plccolo, obo e doubllng obo e d' am or e and

    1YX3 ) ,

    p.67. car anglais, clarinet, bass clarinct do ub l~ ng econd clarinet.

    horn, tromb one, tw o v~o lins , iola, violoncello, and doublc

    ha,,.

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    canons. In the first movem ent the com plexity

    of the te xtu re is quite distinctive (especially, for

    exam ple, ba rs 47-50 and the final six bars).

    By contrast, the third movem ent o f the

    Cham ber Conc erto reflects one of Ligeti s

    recurrent obs bsio ns: that of mechanical objects

    in general and clocks in particular also seen

    in the P o h e Symphonique (1962) for 100

    metronom es, the third movem ent of the Second

    String Qu arte t, and

    Continuum

    for harpsichord

    (1968). T he m ove me nt has basically tw o types

    of texture. The first consists of indeterminate

    fast articulation in all the instrum ents (perhaps a

    grained version of the cluster developm ent);

    the second contains ultimately every instrument,

    iterating regularly at a different tempo. This

    takes the concept ofsim ultaneous tempi, which

    can also be seen in the second mov em ent, to an

    extreme.

    Th e second m ovem ent, nevertheless, cannot

    be as easily identified as o ne of Ligeti s

    compositional process types as the movements

    which encompass it. What is significant is the

    slowing down of Mikropolyphonie in the first

    section (bars 1-35), so that the dynamically

    highlighted m elodic lines in the oboe d amo re,

    horn, and tro mb one can be heard. This increased

    melodic elem ent can be seen in later work s like

    Melodien

    (1971) and the Do uble C once rto (1972)

    and also in the earlier Te n Pieces or Wind Quintet

    (1968). T he second section, from bar 39, shows

    a distinct development of the canonic com-

    positional process. The initial cluster at bar 39

    expands gradually, with each note in the cluster

    initiating a mobile ch romatic line (see Exam ple

    2) which gradually evolves, tending towards

    a stable position (at bar 73) consisting of

    interlocking superimp osed fifth chords.

    Ex 2 nd

    Movement

    bars 51 2

    Ligeti s C ham ber Concerto 3

    The melodic line of each instrument skips

    between all the chromatic lines, disguising this

    underlying mov eme nt the motion that is

    created is somew hat like running on the spot .

    This differs from the cluster movement more

    com mon ly found in Ligeti s works in three

    significant ways: the background chro ma tic lines

    are aurally m ore important than the canons (or

    possibly even the clusters); since the nu m be r o f

    chromatic lines remains the same thro ugh out,

    the germ clusters have a constant number of

    notes; and the process of pitch-change occurs at

    a greater velocity than in many other works.

    T he aural effect is one of the frenetic dissipation

    of potential energy until it gradually reaches an

    equilibrium.

    The process of gradual change of pitch

    material in many of Ligeti s w orks up to the

    composition of the Cha mbe r Con certo is here

    transformed, so that the chromatic changes of

    the background cluster (rather than within it),

    have become the contrapuntal elemen t. Whereas

    in the first mov eme nt the canonic construction

    provides the complex counterpoint, in the

    second movement the most aurally apparent

    counterpoint (particularly at the outer pitch

    limits) is provided b y the b ackground chroma tic

    lines, which govern the content of the fore-

    ground melodic lines. This is a substantial

    change in compositional design, and perhaps

    suggests that Ligeti was becoming dissatisfied

    with the canonic constructions which dom inate

    his work o f that period.

    The use of chromatic lines is quite rare in

    Ligeti s m usic an d, in addition t o the back-

    ground chromatic counterpoint o f the second

    mov eme nt, the lower instrumental parts mirror

    this in a more overt manner4 (see Exam ple 3).

    Backgromnd

    hrosatic

    Lima

    Between the two main sections there is a bridging section of

    This melodic chromaticism can also be sccn in thc first

    stasis (bars

    35-9

    which is doubled augmented fourth, a movement of the Second String Quart ct but with octave

    typical device in Ligeti's music to halt a process or create a

    displacements.

    structural division.

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    32 Ligeti s Chamber Concerto

    Ex 3 nd M

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