Composition Study Results: “Piano Etude #4” by Gyorgy Ligeti
For the second composition study, I choose to take a look at one of my favorite piano etudes by one of my favorite composers, Gyorgy Ligeti.
1. The piece begins with an 8 note ascending scale (C-D-E-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-B) that is repeated as an ostinato. Rhythmically, the performance I listened to, sounded as though the scale was phrased in groupings of 3+5 which contributes to it’s lopsided nature. What strikes me as so powerful is that the scale begins sounding like a pure major scale but continues using what could be considered a flat 5th, 6th and 7th, as well as the major seventh. I love the simlutaneous familiar/unfamiliar nature of this. While the ostinato continues at a fast pace, chords are set to it in the higher range of the piano. Mostly small clusters of intervals, sounding in groups of 4. Though I haven’t seen the score for this, it seems to the ear that the chords and ostinato are being payed in two different time signatures, which helps to give it this rub, and tension, without sacrificing the integrity of each part.
2. Over the course of the piece, the 8 note ostinato persists, often drifting between higher and lower registers of the keyboard. Meanwhile, the harmonic clusters increasingly become denser rhythmically, and at times, break off into single note lines that weave in and out of the ostinato.
3. Though the ostinato and chords remain the primary themes throughout the 3 1/2 minute piece, I was really aware how much Ligeti employs dynamics, registers, and directions of lines and phrases as means of keeping the piece interesting and varied. By playing the ostinato extremely soft, two octaves below it’s original register at times, it sound like completely new material. One analogy that came to mind while listening to this was that Ligeti, much like the Bartok in “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste” begins with minimal musical material, meaning maybe two or so melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic motifs, and then proceed to let the orchestration, almost “digest” the material over the course of an expanded time frame. In other words, the same material moves around the whole orchestra, or piano, and with each new exposition of the material, a new insight is offered to the listener.
-What is the basis for Ligeti’s harmonic sense? Is it based more on intervallic relationships or does it stem from a more scaler approach?
-How does he conceive of the rhythmic contrasts he creates between the two hands/parts?
-How does he conceive of form?