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Continuum for harpsichord
"Continuum" is a four minute long prestissimo, without the slightest break: the dexterity of the harpsichordist and the technical possibilities of the instrument are exploited to the limits of their performing potential. What looks on paper like individual notes results acoustically in a constantly changing fusion of sound. But out of this musical picture-puzzle, in which instrumentalist and instrument seem to grow together like the buzzing bee with the spider's webs in which it has been caught - and in which the mechanical background noises of the harpsichord have been deliberately included in the composition as an element of disturbance - a calm sequence of harmonic transformations is produced as a highly surprising and extreme contrast. The acoustic phantoms of "Apparitions" with their background - simultaneous and extremely concentrated - are all brought together in "Continuum": everything happens at the same time in a claustrophobic now, until the moment of the frenetic repeated telegram signal of the end.
Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet
The "Ten pieces" are a counterpart to the slightly earlier Second String Quartet: both try out new musical conceptions for old, traditionally accepted chamber music ensembles - in the latter for an ensemble with a great potential for blending together, but here, on the other hand, for a group of instruments with distinctly individual characteristics. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this wind quintet belongs not to Ligeti's static "web of sound" compositions ("Atmospheres", "Volumina", "Lontano"), but rather to those of his works with a predominantly dynamic character ("Aventures", "Nouvelles Aventures", the second movement of the Cello Concerto), and which the composer has occasionally described as tight-rope music on account of their bizarre acrobatics. In the Wind Quintet, Ligeti uses a limited selection of types of motion, which extend from the totally static, through net-formations, ornamental figurations, rapid passage-work to sforzato attacks. They do not, however, as in the String Quartet, define the character of the individual movements, but are present throughout the whole work - elastic and variable in their shapes, as in their constantly changing, kaleidoscopic combinations. The most noteworthy formal characteristic of the work is the regular alternation of ensemble movements and miniature solo concertos. Tone-colour, mobility and instrumental volume seem to be slotted together in the smallest, yet many-faceted space; the virtuosity of the past is at once recapitulated in a time accelerator and transported to new spheres of brilliant wind playing.
When Ligeti was working in the Cologne Studio with electronic sounds, he barely felt the usual beginner's inclination to organize the material in all imaginable and viable parameters; he was much more receptive to the linguistic similarity of different kinds of sound and decided to compose an imaginary conversation, a series of monologues, dialogues and many-voiced arguments in which the characteristic intonation has to be a substitute for the meaning of the words. The work is called "Artikulation", because in this sense, an artificial language has been articulated: there are question and answer, high and low voices, polyglot speech and interjections, emotion and humour, chattering and whispering.
-Ulrich Dibelius (in "Moderne Musik 1945-65")
Ligeti's first electronic composition, a precursor to "Artikulation" consists in its sonorous material exclusively of sinusoidal sounds, sinusoidal complexes of sound and filtered noise. "Glissandi" gives us perhaps the first example of how in an apparently cold, technical medium elements of human language can be articulated. The technique here is merely a curtain behind which can be heard, as it were, a multi-voiced vocal music. Emotions, questioning throat-clearings and raising of the voice, gentle sighs and melancholy whispers of lament narrate an imaginary plot.
-Hans-Christian von Dadelsen
Two Studies for organ
A quite different Ligeti can be heard in these two studies for organ from the composer who with "Volumina" (1961/62) had taken organ music on a path that was equally a terminus and a cul-de-sac. Instead of the grey monochrome of ,,Volumina", the music here takes the form of what is known as "Op Art" in the visual arts: barely perceptible transitions, the subtlest nuances of colour and smallest geometric ornaments create a continuum which is, however, elusive as a whole or which dupes its observer by optical illusions. The high-pitched speed of the second study, and the strange sound of the organ created by reduced wind-pressure in the first study indicate a transposition of the ideas behind "Op Art" into the medium of sound. And the monistic, almost static form makes that clear, too: "Harmonies" depicts the slow, almost inaudible transformation of one single harmony; the ten fingers of the hand are constantly on the keyboard, and only once in a while does a finger change its position by a semitone. The individual parts are split up in the ten-part writing - so individual constructions and secret textural techniques remain concealed. "Coulee" operates like the harpsichord piece "Continuum" with the smallest rhythmical grids and lattices, which produce an internal micro-polyphony at the same time as a unified motion. The result is music with a stroboscopic character which, despite its scurrying speed, appears to be standing still. Suddenly broken off after a short ascent within tonal space, it seems as though the music were dispersing in the higher vaults of a gothic cathedral: the rhythmical grid is a transient section of an infinite movement.
Hans-Christian von Dadelsen
My interest was captured by the organ both because of its vast wealth of hitherto unexplored possibilities of tone-colour, and more especially because of its defects - its awkwardness, its stiffness and angularity. This instrument is like an enormous artificial limb. I was intrigued to know how one might learn to walk again with this artificial limb. I deliberately proceeded by acknowledging the mechanism of the organ, including its imperfections, and thus arrived at a new technique of playing the organ. It consists chiefly of numerous possibilities for structuring and articulating densely chromaticized sounds, that is to say of tone-clusters which are incorporated in the musical form either in a static condition or trembling with internal movements: they are incorporated as a whole, or constructing and destructing themselves the while. This led to an extensive development of the dynamic possibilities of the organ, and particularly to the feasibility of continuous cre-scendi and diminuendi. For as on the organ the number of keys that are depressed helps to contribute to the volume of the sound, it is possible by the appropriate alteration of the breadth of the cluster to influence the volume continuously. Apart from that, the new technique of playing yielded an unprecedented flexibility of the mixture and variation of tone-colours, when clusters are carried across one manual to another by suitable hand and finger dexterity, change registration, or are even stretched across all the manuals. At the same time it is a prerequisite that performing on the stops is just as important as on the keys; the part played by an assistant becomes much more important. Finally, the new technique of playing also involves certain effects created by air and "dumb playing"; the switching on and off of the motor of the organ, which produces new tone-colours and strange contortions of the sound, or pulling the stops only halfway out. From all of this there arises an empty form, so to speak, shapes develop without features, as in paintings by Chirico, immense expanses and distances, an architecture consisting merely of scaffolding and without any tangible building.
(English translation of all preceding introductory comments by Sarah E. Soulsby)