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Pavilion Ballroom B • Thursday Evening, 8:00–11:00

Ligeti

SMT

Jennifer Iverson (University of Chicago), Chair

Benjamin R. Levy (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Ligeti’s Uses of Literature

Sara Bakker (Utah State University)

Interpreting Flexible Repetition in the Late Works of György Ligeti

John Cuciurean (University of Western Ontario)

The Mysterious Case of György Ligeti’s “L’arrache coeur

Amy Bauer (University of California, Irvine)

Ligeti’s Études and the Heroic Codes of Late Modernity

Abstracts

Ligeti’s Uses of Literature

Benjamin R. Levy (University of California, Santa Barbara)

György Ligeti’s writings are filled with references to works of literature that served as inspirations for his compositions. While some of these influences, like that of Sandor Weöres, find their way directly into the texts of songs and choral works, others arise in a more concealed way. This paper focuses on these other uses of literature in Ligeti’s music, not as text settings, nor as programmatic representations, but as indirect points of reference. By incorporating elements of topical analysis, as in Agawu and Allanbrook, alongside examination of the scores and sketches, this study helps illuminate the composer’s idiosyncratic intertextual devices.

One set of examples originates with an episode of Nouvelles Aventures entitled, “Les Horloges Démoniaques,” which references scenes involving clocks in the stories of Gyula Krúdy. Another set of examples relates to the idea of a “chase” in sketches to Aventures, and is linked directly to Franz Kafka’s Amerika in sketches for Ramifications. Once established, these become referential topics, occurring across many of Ligeti’s works, underlying both individual moments and larger passages, and modeling compositional technique and form around the worlds described in these novels. Looking at how Ligeti deploys musical material to create rifts and disruptions, I follow Abbate’s notion that these may provide openings for moments of narrative. In this way, a broader notion of narrativity may help explain the sense of ironic distance and deeply human absurdity, which Ligeti achieves in an ostensibly abstract, avant-garde idiom.

Interpreting Flexible Repetition in the Late Works of György Ligeti

Sara Bakker (Utah State University)

György Ligeti was fascinated with repetition and used machine metaphors such as canons and ostinati as the basis for compositions throughout his career. The composer’s approach to strict repetition has been studied, but many additional passages and pieces could be engaged analytically by considering a more flexible approach to repetition. I argue that the strict-repetition model is exceptional in Ligeti’s output because his larger aesthetic is one of machinery gone awry, rather than of mechanical precision. I look at the “flawed” processes that result in established rhythmic patterns becoming subtly altered and identify devices Ligeti uses to create them.

I identify three “flexibilizing” strategies that Ligeti uses, discussing excerpts from piano études Désordre (1985), Fém (1989), and En suspens (1994) that exemplify them. He (1) trades attacks for rests of the same duration and vice versa, (2) interpolates rests or notes between rhythmic events, or (3) jumps to a different rhythmic event within a given pattern. I then outline analytical preference rules for determining appropriate ways of interpreting altered rhythmic patterns. Such alterations greatly affect how we experience the pattern by expanding or compressing the time between anticipated rhythmic events: it feels warped and foreign, even though it is based on familiar material. I relate these strategies to the formal organization of these pieces, speculating on how expressive trajectories of faltering machinery may have mirrored Ligeti’s preoccupations in his own life.

The Mysterious Case of György Ligeti’s L’arrache-coeur

John Cuciurean (University of Western Ontario)

This paper examines the unusual case of Ligeti’s original Piano Étude no. 11, L’arrache-coeur, which was withdrawn by the composer immediately after its premiere performance in 1994. My study is based on an extensive examination of the composer’s sketches at the Paul Sacher Stiftung which reveals that Ligeti devoted a striking amount of energy to this work, only to discard it after a single performance. What makes this case more remarkable is that this is the only extant piece included in Ligeti’s post-1964 sketches that was completed and then withdrawn. This raises the question, why did Ligeti withdraw a work to which he devoted so much energy?

This paper traces the evolutionary path of L’arrache-coeur, examines the intertextual connection between the étude and Boris Vian’s eponymous absurdist novel that served as the work’s literary inspiration, and considers how compositional concerns that had preoccupied Ligeti in the early 1990s, as evidenced in his contemporaneous sketches, are also evident in L’arrache-coeur. The paper then provides in-depth analysis of the pitch and rhythmic structure of L’arrache-coeur, alongside comparisons with similar analyses of excerpts from his contemporaneous works, as well as the eventual published version of Étude 11, En Suspens. The comparative analyses reveal crucial differences, both structural and aesthetic, between L’arrache-coeur and the other works examined. Based on the analytic evidence, I conclude by providing a possible rationale for Ligeti’s dissatisfaction with, and ultimate withdrawal of, L’arrache-coeur.

Ligeti’s Études and the Heroic Codes of Late Modernity

Amy Bauer (University of California, Irvine)

Nineteenth century musical virtuosity revived ideals concerning heroic agency via an artist-hero whose music functioned rhetorically, to sustain momentum in audiences already concerned with social ideals. Post-war music might appear to turn away from the traditional genres, values and codes that governed earlier practice. Yet the contemporary virtuoso-hero-musician as “ideological architect and symbol” thrives, often embodied by a repertoire developed in tandem between a composer and a performer, whose skill and sense of adventure embody a heroic drive to conquer extreme physical and aesthetic challenges.

I argue that such repertoire succeeds only when—as in Ligeti’s Études pour Piano (1985–2001)—it confronts the incompatibility of the naïve artist-hero with a contemporary culture wary of the autocratic implications such symbolism entails. Drawing from archival material at the Paul Sacher Foundation, analyses, and recorded performances, I examine the conflict between a surface heroic rhetoric and its subversion in Etudes 9, 11 and 13. The heroic signifiers of these works conflict with a modernist practice whose reflexive codes establish a critical distance from a compromised heroic tradition. Performer and composer emerge from such collaborations as heroes of late modernity. They unite, in Edward Said’s summation, humanist sympathy towards the past with a dogged resistance and self-reflective critique toward established attitudes. But Ligeti’s critical heroism adds something more. Each etude rises to a darkly comic apotheosis, as the mechanical execution of virtuosic tropes draws attention to the paradox of both hero and virtuoso, while locating that figure in a radically transformed social space.