R.I.P. Gyorgy Ligeti
Avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti passed away today in Vienna. He was one of the best known composers of the 20th century. Like many people, I was first exposed to his work while watching Stanley Kubrick's 2001, which features several pieces by Ligeti in what has to be some of the finest matchings of image to sound in all of cinema.
You can hear clips from the 2001 soundtrack at Amazon. The one that stands out in my memory is Lux Aeterna (Realaudio, Windows Media), which plays during the film as the astronauts stand on the moon, gazing in awe at the monolith they've discovered there. Also, there is a full mp3 of the Kyrie from his Requiem (another piece featured in 2001) available at Ochblog.
The works of Ligeti that I love are masterpieces of textural subtlety. He concentrated on tone clusters, generally abandoning conventional notions of rhythm, melody, and harmony in favor of an emphasis on the timbre of the sound produced (although starting in the 70s he began to concentrate on complex rhythms, unfortunately I am less familiar with those later pieces). Ligeti called his technique micropolophony:
"The complex polyphony of the individual parts is embodied in a harmonic-musical flow, in which the harmonies do not change suddenly, but merge into one another; one clearly discernible interval combination is gradually blurred, and from this cloudiness it is possible to discern a new interval combination taking shape."Ligeti's work has been incredibly influential in "art music" circles, but also in the world of film music and even industrial/experimental music. His compositions will put you on edge, but in a lulling sort of way. Someday I hope to hear some of them performed live, which I imagine will be an even more visceral experience than that viewing of a 70mm print of 2001 I was lucky enough to attend several years ago...
UPDATE - There is an excellent post over at Do The Math listing ten reasons why Ligeti's work is so important. Also check out The Rambler to see the first page of the score for Lux Aeterna - even if you can't read music, you can still appreciate the visual effect of each line twisting gently up and down.