LIGETI György, Études for piano
Ligeti composed a series of 18 études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001, published in three books. When they first became known, these pieces were hailed as instant classics of the twentieth-century piano repertoire, and also provided a remarkable climax to Ligeti’s composing career. Following in the tradition of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy, these pieces pose tremendous technical challenges while also resulting in brilliant musical miniatures, whether dazzling or poetic. Ligeti himself wrote that he imagined in the Études ‘highly emotive music of high contrapuntal and metrical complexity, with labyrinthine branches and perceptible melodic forms … not tonal, but not atonal either.’
They are dedicated to various important exponents of contemporary music, ranging from the composers Pierre Boulez and György Kurtág, to the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Volker Banfield. Described by critic Andrew Clements as ‘the most important additions to the solo-piano repertoire in the last half-century’, one remarkable feature is the way in which, as Clements put is, ‘in the Études, Ligeti effectively created a new pianistic vocabulary’. The influences described by Ligeti on these works included medieval and Renaissance music, African polyphony, Latin-American dances, Balinese gamelan, jazz pianists including Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk and the folk music of Ligeti’s native Hungary. But all of these are subsumed into a language that is entirely Ligeti’s own, with the most exhilarating results.
© Nigel Simeone