Saturday 31 May 2014

A Ligeti Odyssey

Like virtually everyone else of my generation I first became aware of the extraordinary music of György Ligeti — pronounced "Jurge" (rhymes with "surge") "Liggetty" (rhymes with higgetty-piggetty) — through Kubrick's use of it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Ligeti wasn't entirely pleased by this exposure or, some say, by the fact that his music had been distorted in the film. 

You can read more about that here, but in the end Kubrick and Ligeti settled out of court and Ligeti came to be pleased by the association of his music with 2001. Kubrick, for his part, would return to Ligeti's music for The Shining.

These observations have been prompted by an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 3 about the life and work of Ligeti. It's fascinating and informative and Ligeti comes across as charmingly unpretentious. 

He describes how the Fourth Movement of his Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Fractal Movement was actually inspired by a Marx Brothers movie.

In Night at the Opera, Groucho packs his tiny ship's cabin with visitors, including a stream of waiters bringing him boiled eggs. The room rapidly fills to bursting point, just as the sparse sound world of the Fourth Movement begins steadily more dense. "It's not the Fractal Movement," said Ligeti with amusement. "It's the Boiled Egg Movement."

Even more appealing to me, it reveals that Ligeti admired the work of Henry Mancini and was influenced by him, consulting Mancini's book on orchestration and studying works like the Pink Panther Theme. Suddenly György Ligeti doesn't seem such a daunting, austere or formidable figure, but an approachable musician of genius.

There was also a first rate program of music accompanying the documentary on Radio 3, though by the time you read this it will probably have expired. The documentary however, looks like it will be available indefinitely. Have a listen.

(Image credits: The 2001 cover is from Amazon. The LP of the Shining, with great cover are by Saul Bass — and a surprisingly rare album — is from Flickr courtesy of William Creswell. The Pink Panther is from Jazz dot Com. Thank you all.)

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