He composed a melancholy pigeon

He composed a melancholy pigeon


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Among composers of the post-War avant-garde, Ligeti is now the most performed. You can go from one end of the year to the other without hearing a note of Boulez or Stockhausen, but Ligeti – who died sooner than the other two, in 2006 – is somehow freshest in mind. His opera Le grand macabre is practically made-for-TV with its post-modern anarchic comedy and his violin concerto is a back-to Bartok contemporary classic.

These piano studies, written in the 1980s and 1990s when Ligeti had fallen out with the didactic avant-gardists, are fiendishly difficult to play and irresistibly easy on the ear…

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.

In Czech here.



  • Greg Bottini says:

    I absolutely LOVE the Ligeti Piano Etudes!
    I heard Andre Watts play some of them at a recital in Herbst Theatre, SF, and the audience just went wild.
    I don’t know Danny Driver, but he sure latched onto some great repertoire. I’ll have to investigate this disc.
    Thanks, Norman.

  • The late music of Ligeti, like that of Lutoslawski, will have broad appeal for decades to come. Having spent their middle ages innovating and crystallizing their unique styles, they had, in their later years, nothing more to prove and wrote fluently with a rare combination of relaxed virtuosity and clear expressive power. How fortunate we are that each was blessed with a long career.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that Ligeti’s music is more enduring than Stockhausen’s or Boulez’s. (It’s simply better.)

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Thanks for the recommendation

    ====It’s the expression Ligeti wore every time I met him.

    OMG, you met this genius ? Have you any anecdotes you can share please

    • Allardyce says:

      Oh yes, loads. I did a composition course of his once in Hungary and we used to go to the neighbouring restaurants. I have an image etched in my mind of one outing, while we were waiting for the food to arrive and a gypsy violinist began playing at our table. He was serenading everyone, but when he got to Ligeti and serenaded him, there was Ligeti, not at all annoyed, sitting there with a thoughtful look on his face!

  • Herr Doktor says:

    No thanks….nothing I’ve heard of his music in concert has ever made me want to hear more, or pick up a CD. And I’ve heard too much of it.

  • RW2013 says:

    Yuja plays them very well too.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Ligeti was a very gifted man, falling into the trap of the progress belief. In an interview he said he felt imprisoned between, on one hand, the past, and, on the other, modernism. He found a way out by focussing on rhythmic complexity, inspired by African cultures. In his works, also the late ones, you can hear the nostalgic recollection of music, as if reflected in a splintered mirror. He simply translated 20C materialist nihilism in terms of sound, as ‘the others’ did, but he was more musical than them, hence more nostalgic. The pleasure of listening to his piano etudes is the one derived from pattern making.

    • John Borstlap says:

      For the thumbs-down, obviously unsympathetic to some reality, here is – by way of compensation – some ligetiesque sarcasm:


    • Peter San Diego says:

      Well, behind the Iron Curtain, he felt imprisoned in the past; even the more daring of Bartok’s works were banned at the time, let alone the teachings of Schoenberg. It’s not surprising that, on fleeing to the West, he first thought to find liberation in the Darmstadt avant-garde. Of course, he found that they could be as doctrinaire as any totalitarian regime, so he sought his own way. In my opinion, he found it successfully. His use of algorithms (patterns) in composing did not sacrifice individuality, and in particular, his driving the algorithms to the point of breakdown was a way of breaking through “mere” pattern (the piano concerto, which is lovable music, is a case in point). Explicit nostalgia for the Romanian and Hungarian sounds of his Transylvanian youth certainly becomes more overt in his later music, and JB’s image of seeing it via a splintered mirror is apposite. If he felt trapped, then he succeeded in finding his way out of the trap, and his music contains musical and emotional depths well beyond mere pattern or mechanism (some obvious exceptions aside: e.g., Volumina for organ, or the Dada-Fluxus Symphonic Poem for 100 Metronomes). The other aspect of his music that a reductionist “translation of 20c materialist nihilism in terms of sound” fails to recognize is the abundance of sheer humor in his music — perhaps the most humorous music since Haydn.

      • John Borstlap says:

        One needs the ears to hear the psychology of a work. In his ‘Melodien’ (a humorous title?), multiple sound patterns are set-up and dissipate, ending in a melancholic and nihilist nothingness. The patterns are often beautiful, but the notes never connect, and the lines don’t connect as well (as they would do in a melodic line): they are straight lines as in a painting of Mondriaan. It is sound art, with traces of recollections of music, and as such a tragic work which reminds me of Nietzsche’s saying: ‘The melancholy of impotence’. It has the same underlying tragedy of loss as Morton Feldman’s ‘Coptic Light’.



        • Peter San Diego says:

          We can agree that “one needs the ears to hear the psychology of a work.” 🙂

          I argue that not every work of his is susceptible to your reductionist appraisal. The Horn Trio and Violin Concerto, for instance, go well beyond expressing solely the tragedy of loss.