Record of the day: György Ligeti, "String Quartets"

Record of the day: György Ligeti, “String Quartets”

György Ligeti
String Quartets (Cd Virgin Classics 0946 336934-2-5)

One of the greatest composers of all time, György Ligeti was an authentic genius, among the few authors who were able to invent new sound universes without losing a shred of communication with listeners.

You will probably have heard his music for the first time in the soundtracks of films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Shining”, but the extraordinary power of suggestion that Ligeti’s music uniquely possesses extends to all of his production instrumental, orchestral and chamber music (not to mention his theater work “Le Grande Macabre”). From micropolyphony to the reinvention of Hungarian folklore, from the inexhaustible polyrhythmic combinations of piano music to the apocalyptic sounds of the Requiem, Ligeti managed, as the great Masters always did, to renew without nihilism while maintaining a very close relationship with his own tradition.

This magnificent album by the Artemis Quartet, one of the most prominent young groups in recent years, presents the “Quartets for
strings”, which represent very well the first two stylistic periods of the musician’s production.
The “First Quartet” was composed by Ligeti in 1953-54 during the dark years of Hungary immersed in full socialist realism and initially, as the author recalls, it was «destined for the drawer» as Ligeti had no possibility of seeing it performed your own music. The evident influence of Bartók and folk stylistic elements does not prevent this work from already carrying within itself marked traits of Ligeti’s original personality, especially in the continuous transfiguration of unusual timbres and sounds which alternate moments of almost astonished stasis with vigorous passages in odd rhythms arranged along a formal arc composed of many short, closely interconnected tiles.

The atmosphere changes radically with the “Second quartet” of 1968, which is influenced by Ligeti’s experience with electronic composition and transforms the “classical” formation par excellence into a St. Patrick’s well full of new sounds, sounds that seem to come from unknown worlds, harshly mechanical passages alternating with rapid forays of fluid, mercurial notes.

Very difficult music to perform which finds its ideal dimension in this album, technically perfect and full of enthusiasm.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.