Ligeti, György


Born in Dicsőszentmárton (now Târnăveni) in Transylvania, he went to school in Kolozsvár (Cluj) where he also started piano studies and wrote his first compositions; he composed a symphony at the age of 16. In 1941–43, he studied at the local conservatoire with Ferenc Farkas, with additional tuition from Pál Kadosa in Budapest. Nationalist unrest and anti-Semitism in Transylvania prevented him from completing studies in mathematics and physics at the University of Cluj. In 1943 he was deported to a Nazi forced labour camp. His brother died in Mauthausen, and his father in Auschwitz; his mother survived a Nazi concentration camp. 

In 1945–49, he resumed his studies at the Music Academy in Budapest under Ferenc Farkas and Sándor Veress. He stayed at the Academy as a lecturer in harmony, counterpoint, and musical form until 1956. He wrote a number of works within the official folklorist style, while gradually developing his own compositional technique. 

In December 1956, following the Soviet invasion and suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, he walked across the border to Austria and settled in Vienna, eventually becoming an Austrian citizen. 

In 1957–59 he worked at the WDR Electronic Music Studio in Cologne. With his Apparitions (1958–59) he attracted the attention of new music critics, and became widely known as composer and teacher in the 1960s. 

In 1959–72 he lectured at the Summer Courses in Darmstadt. In 1969, while Warsaw Pact armies were invading Czechoslovakia, he unexpectedly came to Smolenice in Slovakia and gave a lecture at the last Workshops for New Music. In 1961 – 71, he was guest professor in Stockholm. He gave masterclasses in many cities around the world, and in the 1970s was active as a teacher in the United States. In 1989 he became professor emeritus at the High School of Music and Theatre in Hamburg. From 2000, ill health slowed his work as a composer. His last finished work was the Etude for Piano no. 18: Canon. 

Many of his works have entered the concert repertoire, and most of them have been performed at Warsaw Autumn Festival. One of the major events of the 2000 Warsaw Autumn was the piano recital of Pierre-Laurent Aimard who performed the Musica ricercata cycle and 17 Etudes for piano (with the exception of the last, composed in 2001); this concert was published on CD as part of the Warsaw Autumn Sound Chronicle. 

Ligeti received many prestigious medals, awards and honorary doctorates, including the Grawemayer Award (1986), Wolf Foundation Prize (1996), Kossuth Award (2003), and Polar Music Prize (2004). 

He lived in Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin. Asked who he was, he used to answer: “I am a Hungarian from Transylvania of Jewish descent, citizen of Austria.” He thought of Hungary as his motherland, but stressed that as an assimilated Jew, he was not a pure Hungarian (and without baptism one cannot speak of full assimilation). His ancestors included the eminent nineteenth-century violinist Leopold Auer. 

Selected works (since 1965): Requiem for soprano, mezzo-soprano, two mixed choirs and large orchestra (1963–65), Lux aeterna for 16-part mixed a cappella choir (1966), Concerto for cello and orchestra (1966),Lontano for orchestra (1967), Harmonies, etude for organ (1967), Continuum for harpsichord (1968), String Quartet no. 2 (1968), Ten Pieces for wind quintet (1968), Ramications for 12 string instruments or string orchestra (1968–69), Coulée, etude for organ (1969), Chamber Concerto (1969–70), Melodies for orchestra (1971), Double Concerto for flute, oboe and orchestra (1972), Clocks and Clouds for 12-part female choir and orchestra (1972–73), San Francisco Polyphony for orchestra (1973–74), Monument, Selbstportrait, Bewegung, three pieces for two pianos (1976), Le Grand Macabre, opera after Michel de Ghelderode (1975–77, rev. 1996), Hungarian Rock (Chaconne) for harpsichord (1978), Passacaglia ungherese for harpsichord (1978), Trio for violin, horn and piano (1982), Drei Phantasien nach F. Hölderlin for 16-part mixed a cappella choir (1982), Etudes for Piano, Book 1: Désordre, Cordes vides, Touchés bloqués, Fanfares, Arc-en-ciel, Automne à Varsovie (1985), Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1985–88), Six Nonsense Madrigals for six male voices to words by W. B. Rands and L. Carroll (1988–89), Etudes for Piano, Book 2: Galam borong, Fém, Vertige, Der Zauberlehrling, En suspens, Entrelacs, L’escalier du diable, Coloana in nită, Coloana fără sfârşit for player piano (1988–93), Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1990, rev. 1992), Sonata for Viola (1991–94), Etudes for PianoBook 3: White on White (1995), Pour Irina (1997), À bout de souffle (1998), Canon (2001), Hamburg Concerto for horn and chamber orchestra (1998–99, rev. 2002), With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles for mezzo-soprano and four percussionists to words by Sándor Weöres (2000).