The significance of timbre as a structural component in selected works by Ligeti

Searby, Michael (2016) The significance of timbre as a structural component in selected works by Ligeti. In: Ligeti's Legacy in Retrospect; 26 - 27 May 2016, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. (Unpublished)


Gyorgy Ligeti is perhaps best known for his micropolyphonic textural music of the 1960s such as Atmospheres and Lux Aeterna, and it was during this period that he demonstrated that it was possible to compose music through purely textural means. His focus on the readily audible aspects of music rather than abstract inaudible structures might explain why his music was generally more approachable than that of many of his contemporaries. Ligeti is concerned in these works with the audible textural surface of his music, but also the timbral aspects which are equally significant. He has stated in an interview with Josef Häusler in 1968 that in relation to Atmosphères the formal transformations of sections are dependent on the changing tone-colours, he also says that 'Atmospheres is a composition in tone-colours par excellence' – he is suggesting that the structure is being controlled by the change of timbres. The exploration of timbre is a significant compositional feature in Ligeti’s music throughout his oeuvre and can be related to his early admiration of the music of Bartok and Webern. In this paper I will explore how Ligeti uses timbre as a structural component through timbral analysis of movements from his Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet (1968) and the much later Hamburg Concerto (1999 rev 2002). I aim to show that Ligeti structured some of his works through timbral means, and that this aspect of his music is as significant as his textural innovations. What makes much of Ligeti’' music so distinctive is the subtle use of specific and memorable timbres, and how these timbres gradually evolve over time.

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