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 the Transylvanian-born Hungarian composer, György Ligeti. This Violin Concerto combined several aspects of Ligeti's style, a style that tends to divide audiences pro or con in performance. It's hard for performers or audiences to remain indifferent where Ligeti's music is concerned.
Ligeti became famous in the West when some of his music appeared in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film "2001." 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.
*In correct Hungarian pronunciation, Ligeti's first name rhymes with "urge" and is one syllable, not two: his name sounds more like "George" than "Ge-orgy," in other words.
Music Played in Today's Program
György Ligeti (1923-2006)Violin ConcertoSaschko Gavrilov, violin; Ensemble InterContemporain; Pierre Boulez, cond.DG 439 808