Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
- György Ligeti
I composed the Piano Concerto in two stages: the first three movements during the years 1985–86, the next two in 1987; the final autograph of the last movement was ready by January 1988. The work is dedicated to the American conductor Mario di Bonaventura.
The markings of the movements are the following:
1. Vivace molto ritmico e preciso
2. Lento e deserto
3. Vivace cantabile
4. Allegro risoluto
5. Presto luminoso
The first performance of the three-movement Concerto took place in Graz on 23 October 1986. Mario di Bonaventura conducted while his brother, Anthony di Bonaventura, was the soloist. Two days later the performance was repeated in the Vienna Konzerthaus. After hearing the work twice, I came to the conclusion that the third movement was not an adequate finale; my feeling of form demanded continuation, a supplement. at led to the composition of the next two movements. The premiere of the whole cycle took place in the Vienna Konzerthaus on 29 February 1988, with the same conductor and pianist.
The orchestra consisted of the following: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, tenor trombone, percussion and strings. The autist also plays the piccolo, while the clarinettist, the alto ocarina. The percussion is made up of diverse instruments, which can be played by one musician. It is more practical, however, if two or three musicians share the instruments. Besides traditional instruments, the percussion part calls also for two simple wind instruments: the slide whistle and the harmonica. The string instrument parts (two violins, viola, cello and double bass) can be performed soloistically since they do not contain divisi. For balance, however, the ensemble playing is recommended, for example 6–8 first violins, 6–8 second, 4–6 violas, 4–6 cellos, and 3–4 double basses.
In the Piano Concerto I introduced new concepts of harmony and rhythm.
The first movement is entirely written in bimetry: simultaneously 12/8 and 4/4 (8/8). This relates to the known “triplet on a double” relation and in itself is nothing new. However, because I articulate 12-triplet and 8-duplet pulses, an entangled, hitherto unheard kind of polymetry is created. The rhythm is additionally complicated because of asymmetric groupings inside two speed layers, which means accents are asymmetrically distributed. ese groups, as in the talea technique, have a fixed, continuously repeating rhythmic structures of varying lengths in speed layers of 12/8 and 4/4. This means that the repeating pattern in the 12/8 level and the pattern in the 4/4 level do not coincide and continuously give a kaleidoscope of renewing combinations.
In our perception, we quickly resign from following particular rhythmic successions and what is going on in time appears for us as something static, resting. This music, if it is played properly, in the right tempo and with the right accents inside particular layers, after a certain time “rises,” as it were, as a plane after taking off: the rhythmic action, too complex to be followed in detail, begins “flying.” This diffusion of individual structures into a different global structure is one of my basic compositional concepts: from the end of the 1950s, from the orchestral works Apparitionsand Atmosphères, I have continuously been looking for new ways of resolving this basic question. The harmony of the first movement is based on mixtures, hence on the parallel leading of voices. This technique is used here in a rather simple form; later in the fourth movement it will be considerably developed.
The second movement (the only slow one amongst five movements) also has a talea type of structure, it is however much simpler rhythmically, because it contains only one speed layer. The melody consists of the development of a rigorous interval mode, in which two minor seconds and one major second alternate—thus nine notes inside an octave. This mode is transposed into different degrees and it also determines the harmony of the movement; however, in the closing episode of the piano part, there is a combination of diatonics (white keys) and pentatonics (black keys) led in brilliant, sparkling quasimixtures, while the orchestra continues to play in the nine-tone mode.
In this movement I used isolated sounds and extreme registers (piccolo in a very low register, bassoon in a very high register, canons played by the slide whistle, the alto ocarina and brass with a Harmon mute damper, incisive sound combinations of the piccolo, clarinet and oboe in an extremely high register, also alternating of a whistle siren and xylophone). The third movement also has one speed layer and consequently appears simpler than the first, but actually the rhythm is very complicated in a different way here. Above the uninterrupted, fast and regular basic pulse, thanks to the asymmetric distribution of accents, different types of hemiolas and “inherent melodic patterns” appear (the term was coined by Gerhard Kubik in relation to Central African music). If this movement is played with the adequate speed and very clear accentuation, illusory rhythmic–melodic figures appear. These figures are not played directly; they do not appear in the score, but exist only in our perception as a result of juxtaposition of different voices. Already earlier, I had experimented with illusory rhythm, namely in Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes (1962), Continuum for harpsichord (1968), Monument for two pianos (1976), and especially in the first and sixth piano etude: Désordre and Automne à Varsovie (1985).
The third movement of the Piano Concerto is up to now the clearest example of illusory rhythm and illusory melody. In its intervallic and chord structure, this movement is based on the alternation and interrelation of various modal and quasi-equidistant harmony spaces. The tempered twelve-part division of the octave allows for diatonic and other modal interval successions, which are not equidistant, but are based on the alternation of major and minor seconds in different groups. The tempered system also allows for the use of the anhemitonic pentatonic scale (the black keys of the piano). Amongst equidistant scales, i.e. interval formations based on the division of the octave into equal distances, the twelve-tone tempered system allows only chromatics (only minor seconds) and the six-tone or whole-tone scale (only major seconds).
Moreover, divisions of the octave into four parts (only minor thirds) and three parts (three major thirds) are possible. In several music cultures, different equidistant divisions of an octave are accepted, for example into five parts in the Javanese slendro, into seven parts in Melanesia (also popular in south-eastern Asia), as well as in southern Africa. This does not mean an exact equidistance: there is a certain tolerance for the inaccuracy of the interval tuning.
That exotic (for us, Europeans) harmony and melody has attracted me for several years. However, I did not want to retune the piano (microtonal deviations appear in the Concerto only in a few places in the horn and trombone parts, led in natural tones). After a period of experimentation, I got to pseudoor quasiequidistant intervals, which are neither whole-tone nor chromatic: in the twelve-tone system, two whole-tone scales are possible, located a minor second apart. Therefore, I connected these two scales (or sound resources), and for example, places occur where the melodies and figurations in the piano part are created from both whole-tone scales: the right hand uses one six-tone sound resource while the le hand, the complementary one. In this way, whole-tone and chromaticism mutually reduce themselves: a type of deformed equidistance is formed, strangely brilliant and at the same time “slanting”; illusory harmony, indeed being created inside the tempered twelve-tone system, but not belonging to it anymore in terms of sound quality. The appearance of such “slanted equidistant harmony fields” alternating with modal fields and based on chords built on fifths (mainly in the piano part), complemented with mixtures built on fifths in the orchestra, gives this movement an individual, so -metallic colour (a metallic sound resulting from harmonics). The fourth movement was meant to be the central movement of the Concerto. In themselves, its melodic–rhythmic elements (embryos or fragments of motives) are simple. The movement also begins simply, with a succession of overlapping elements in mixed-type structures. Here again, a kaleidoscope is created, due to a limited number of these elements—the beads in the kaleidoscope—which keep returning in augmentations and diminutions.
Step by step, however, so that in the beginning we cannot hear it, a compiled rhythmic organization of the talea type gradually comes to the fore, based on the simultaneity of two shifted speed layers (triplets and duplets, though with different asymmetric structures than in the first movement). While longer rests are gradually filled with motive fragments, we slowly come to the conclusion that we have found ourselves inside a rhythmic– melodic whirl: without a tempo change, only through increasing the density of musical events, a rotation is created in the stream of successive and compiled, augmented and diminished motive fragments, and increasing the density suggests acceleration.
Thanks to the periodical structure of the composition, “always new but somehow the same” (all the motivic cells are similar to earlier ones but none of them are exactly repeated; the general structure is therefore self-similar), an impression is created of a gigantic, indissoluble network. Also, rhythmic structures at first hidden gradually begin to emerge, two independent speed layers with their various internal accentuations.
This great, self-similar whirl in a very indirect way relates to musical associations, which came to my mind while watching the graphic projection of the mathematical Julia and Mandelbrot sets, generated by computers. I saw these wonderful pictures of fractal creations, made by Bremen scientists, Heinz-Otto Peitgen and Peter Richter, for the first time in 1984. From that time, they have played a great role in my musical concepts. This does not mean, however, that in composing the fourth movement, I used mathematical methods or iterative calculus; indeed, I used constructions not based on mathematical thinking but rather on craftsmanship (in this respect, my attitude towards mathematics is similar to that of the graphic artist Maurits Escher). I am concerned rather with intuitional, poetic, synesthetic correspondence, not on the scientific but on the poetic level of thinking.
The fifth, very short Presto movement is harmonically very simple, but all the more complicated in its rhythmic structure: it is based on the further development of “inherent patterns” of the third movement. The quasi-equidistance system dominates harmonically and melodically in this movement, as in the third, alternating with harmonic fields, which are based on the division of the chromatic spectrum into diatonics and anhemitonic pentatonics. Polyrhythms and harmonic mixtures reach their greatest density; at the same time, this movement is strikingly light, enlightened with very bright colours: at first it seems chaotic, but after listening to it for a few times, its content is easily grasped: it is composed of many autonomous but self-similar intersecting figures.
In the Piano Concerto, I present my artistic credo: I demonstrate my independence from criteria of the traditional avant-garde, as well as fashionable postmodernism. Musical illusions I consider relevant are not a goal in themselves, but a foundation for my aesthetical approach. I prefer musical forms that have a more objective than processual character. Music as “frozen” time, as an object in imaginary space evoked by music in our imagination, as a creation which really develops in time, but in imagination, it exists simultaneously in all its moments. My main intention as a composer is enduring the passage of time, closing it in a present moment.