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György Ligeti

LIGETI, GYÖRGY (1923– ), composer and teacher. Ligeti's paternal great uncle, violinist Leopold Auer, was the teacher of Jascha *Heifetz and Mischa *Elman. Ligeti was born in Transylvania (then Hungary) and began his music studies at the conservatory of the provincial center of Kolozsvár (1941–43). In 1944 he was called up to the labor corps and only by chance was not sent to the death camps. In 1945–49 he was a student of composition at the Academy of Music in Budapest; among his teachers were Farkas, Veress, and Járdányi. From 1950 he became a teacher of harmony and counterpoint at the Academy. During those years he composed choral settings in folk style to meet the requirements of the Communist authorities while searching for his own style in pieces consigned to his desk drawer. In 1956, after the Soviet suppression of Hungary, Ligeti left for Austria, and in 1973 accepted a permanent position at the Musikhochschule in Hamburg, Germany, where he made his main home. The premiere of his Atmosphères for orchestra (1961) won him fame in avant-garde music circles. His unique technique of composition in this work, which he called "micropolyphony," was his highly individual transformation of the European Renaissance technique of multivoiced canons: Ligeti caused the polyphony to be unheard since the motives imitated were too short to distinguish them. His idea was to show the process of gradual change, to create a new type of musical phenomenon, called by him "continuous flow." "Micropolyphony" was also used in his Requiem (1965), Lux aeterna (1966), and Lontano (1967). In 1974–77 Ligeti composed his opera Le Grand Macabre (libretto based on Ghelderode's play), which was staged at many European theaters with great success. The opera is a stylistically varied work full of irony and satire. From the 1980s the composer became interested in various folk cultures, from his native Hungarian to Balkan, Caribbean, African, and Far Eastern. The rhythmic complexity and modal uniqueness of those cultures inspired the creation of the different musical language of his last three decades (Etudes for piano, from 1985, Violin Concerto, 1993, etc.). He received numerous honors, including the UNESCO International Music Council Music Prize and the Polar Music Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy.


NG2; György Ligeti in Conversation (with Peter Várnai, Josef Häusler, and Claude Samuel, 1983); P. Griffiths, György Ligeti (1983, 19962); R. Steinitz, György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.