Composers Datebook®

Ligeti's 'out there' Violin Concerto

Composer's Datebook - October 8, 2023


On today’s date in 1992, one of the strangest — and some would say most strikingly original — violin concertos of the late 20th century had its premiere performance in Cologne, Germany. It was written by Transylvanian-born Hungarian composer György Ligeti.

Ligeti became famous in the West when some of his music appeared in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick used Ligeti’s music to evoke the eerie and empty vastness of outer space. And, in fact, Ligeti was fascinated by the sounds traditional orchestral instruments make when pressed to the extreme limits of their range — their own sonic “outer limits.” There’s some of that in Ligeti’s 1992 Violin Concerto, plus a dash of the traditionally melancholic Hungarian strain familiar from the music of Ligeti’s famous compatriot Béla Bartók. Finally, tossed in for good measure, is Ligeti’s puckish fondness for thumbing his nose at life, the universe and traditional concert hall decorum.

As if to counterbalance his melancholic strain, or perhaps just express it in a more surprising way, there’s a good deal of the clown in Ligeti, who includes a chorus of ocarinas in the score of his Violin Concerto.

Music Played in Today's Program

György Ligeti (1923-2006) Violin Concerto - Saschko Gavrilov, violin; Ensemble InterContemporain; Pierre Boulez, cond. DG 439 808

On This Day


  • 1870 - French composer and organist Louis Vierne, in Poitiers;

  • 1930 - Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, in Tokyo;

  • 1953 - English composer Robert Saxon, in London;


  • 1834 - French composer François Boieldieu, age 58, in Jarcy;


  • 1903 - Nielsen: "Helios" Overture, in Copenhagen;

  • 1943 - Stravinsky: "Ode" (in memory of Natalie Koussevitzky), by the Boston Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky;

  • 1960 - Prokofiev: opera "The Story of a Real Man" (posthumously) at the Bolshoi in Moscow; A semi-public performance of this opera was given in Leningrad on Dec. 3, 1948, but the opera was rejected by Soviet authorities for subsequent performances during the composer's lifetime;

  • 1966 - Stravinsky: "Requiem Canticles," in Princeton, with Robert Craft conducting;

  • 1992 - Ligeti: Violin Concerto, in Cologne, by the Ensemble Moderne conducted by Peter Eötvös, and Saschko Gawriloff the soloist;

  • 1993 - Corigliano: "Troubadours (Variations for Guitar and Orchestra)," at the Ordway Music Theater in St. Paul, with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff, and guitar soloist Sharon Isbin;

  • 1999 - Kernis: "Garden of Light" and Torke: "Four Seasons" (both commissioned by the Disney Company at the urging of its Chief Executive, Michael Eisner), for the Millennium season of the New York Philharmonic, with Kurt Masur conducting the orchestra, vocal soloists, and choirs in both pieces;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in a, Op. 6, no. 4 (Gregorian date: Oct. 19);

  • 1898 - The first issue of the magazine "Musical America" is published.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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