Études pour piano, Deuxième Livre

Composer: György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)
Share :


Composer: György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)

Performance date: 29/06/2013

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1988-1994

Duration: 00:22:17

Recording Engineer: Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:Solo

Artists: Joonas Ahonen - [piano]

Études pour piano, Deuxième Livre

How did I get the idea of
composing highly virtuosic piano études? The initial impetus was, above all, my
own inadequate piano technique.
Ligeti 1996

tough-in-cheek sense of humour is never far away along with his ability to turn
everything upside down and inside out; so to blame his need to write piano
studies verging on, and sometimes overstepping, the impossible on his inability
to become a fabulous pianist, must
have appealed to him. He was for instance addicted to Lewis Carroll and wrote a
set of Nonsense Madrigals of which he
wrote that they could be listened to either as technical virtuosic constructions or as emotionally charged messages –
both are nonsense!

tempo indications alone would give a fair idea of the demands these eight
studies present the pianist. For the first one Ligeti creates  imaginary gamelan music, indigenous to a strange
island which is not to be found on any map…neither chromatic nor diatonic, nor
based on whole tones, hidden away in the normal tempered tuning of the piano
but, until Galamb borong, not properly heard before.
As it is fake gamelan
music, it also has a fake title, a juxtaposition of two Hungarian words which
together sound like imaginary Javanese, at least to non-Hungarian speakers. In
Hungarian they happen to mean melancholic

Fém means metal in
Hungarian but carries an overtone of bright, hard-edged and metallic, which
accurately sums up the music or rather the first half where each hand is
playing a different rhythmic structure. A moment of truth is reached when both
hands hammer out the same rhythm, whereupon the focus changes instantly to a slow-motion
and graceful epilogue.

Vertige along with studies 13
and 14 each explore a similar technical problem of how to create musical
equivalents of the spirals we find in nature, in fluids, shells, plants,
galaxies. In Vertige we hear wave
upon wave of falling chromatic scales suggesting an infinity of motion, its
rotating system apparently capable of endless repetition in a giddy vortex.
Ligeti requests the pianist to play so
fast that the individual notes – even without pedal – almost melt into continuous

Der Zauberlehrling inhabits a different
more euphonious world bringing Debussy to mind. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice title
came afterwards but is not inappropriate. The Apprentice is practicing his
sleight-of-hand, the notes ruffle up and down, disappear from sight and
reappear seven octaves higher, fan outwards, collapse only to re-emerge exactly
where we first heard them. In a final flurry the Debussyan harmony sweeps up,
as rapidly descends and all is done.

En Suspens – at last a slow
movement, with the graceful simplicity of a cradle song, each hand playing
different modes, but the uncharacteristic absence of quavers until near the end
ensures its lucidity. This study is dedicated to György Kurtág. The mood is
initially sustained with Entrelacs, a
study of pattern, the term entrelacs deriving
from architecture and meaning interlaced design or interwoven ornament.

peak of virtuosity is reached in the last two studies. The Devil’s Staircase
was inspired by Ligeti’s confrontation with a spectacular El Ni?o storm when
staying in Santa Monica, California, creating in his mind a vision of
endless climbing, a wild apocalyptic vortex, a staircase it was impossible to
ascend. This is the most extravagant and menacing of all the Études and culminates in a series of
immense chords swinging back and forth demonically.  This leads directly into the final study, Columna infinit?, which is again
inspired by physical reality, this time the famous thirty-five-metre Infinite Column
by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuçi at Târgu-Jiu, abstract and
elegant, the column’s soaring geometry appears capable of infinite extension.
This final study of gargantuan sound masses explodes with incredible violence
and steps over the edge of what it is possible to play. The ending is extreme.

forza estrema al fine