- György Ligeti: Of Foreign Lands and Strange Sounds ed. by Louise Duchesneau and Wolfgang Marx, and: Ligeti’s Laments: Nostalgia, Exoticism, and the Absolute by Amy Bauer
The year 2011 saw the publication of these two new books on György Ligeti (1923–2006), one of the most important composers in the second half of the twentieth century. György Ligeti: Of Foreign Lands and Strange Sounds is an edited volume of essays bringing together an international team of scholars and composers, many of whom had a strong personal connection to the composer either as collaborator or student. One of the editors, Louise Duchesneau, was Ligeti’s personal assistant for many years; the other, Wolfgang Marx, is a German-born musicologist now teaching in Ireland. Both also appear as authors of individual chapters. The volume makes some extremely important source material available to the reader and sheds light on many issues of biography, work analysis, and musical aesthetics that were only imperfectly understood in the past.
Starting at the beginning, Friedemann Sallis, an expert on Ligeti’s early works, explores the composer’s complex relationship with his teacher Sándor Veress (1907–92), one of the leading members of [End Page 767] the generation of Hungarian composers after Bartók and Kodály. Veress preceded Ligeti in emigration and settled in Bern, Switzerland, where he had a distinguished career as a composer and teacher. Sallis finds some unexpected musical connections between teacher and student, and documents their estrangement after Ligeti joined the Darmstadt circle of avant-gardists, whose music filled Veress with horror. The hard feelings, however, were all on Veress’s side; in 1993, Ligeti honored his teacher (who had passed away the year before) by dedicating “Facsar,” the third movement of his Sonata for Solo Viola, in Veress’s memory.
The Viola Sonata, one of the greatest works from Ligeti’s late period, figures prominently in the second essay, by Irish composer-musicologist Benjamin R. Dwyer, who boldly connects it to the Cello Sonata, written in Hungary some forty years earlier. The two unaccompanied string works are connected by many hidden threads in spite of their obvious stylistic differences. (On p. 25, Dwyer names the popular Hora staccato by Grigoras¸ Dinicu as a precedent for Ligeti’s “Hora lungă”; this is an error, however, since the two “horas” are related only by name.)
Tiborc Fazekas and Ildikó Mándi-Fazekas, a husband-and-wife team of Hungarian language specialists, review Ligeti’s connection to the great poet Sándor Weöres (1913–89), whose works, sometimes defying translation, were set to music by numerous Hungarian composers. Ligeti’s Weöres settings span the entire oeuvre, from 1946 to 2001, and the authors set out to show how this poetic inspiration “sustained Ligeti’s artistic development” (p. 62). Let it be noted briefly that the “reed fiddle” in the title of his final Weöres setting, Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedűvel (“With Pipes, Drums, Reed Fiddles”) is not a fiddle at all, but rather, as ethnomusicologist Bálint Sárosi taught us a long time ago, a children’s toy that must be classified among the idiophones. (A more complete survey of Weöres’s influence on Hungarian music, including Ligeti, is available in Péter Laki, “Jenseits des Wortes: Die Sprachmagie von Sándor Weöres in der ungarischen Musik von Zoltán Kodály bis Peter Eötvös,” Kosmoi: Peter Eötvös an der Hochschule für Musik der Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel—Schriften, Gespräche, Dokumente. [Saarbrücken: Pfau, 2007], 115–46.)
Co-editor Wolfgang Marx probes “The Concept of Death in György Ligeti’s Oeuvre” in the Requiem and the opera Le grand macabre ; the most important revelation here comes at the end of the article...