György Ligeti (1923-2006)

György Ligeti was born in Dicsőszentmárton (today Tîrnăveni) on 28 May 1923 as son of Hungarian-Jewish parents. He studied at the Klausenburg conservatory with Ferenc Farkas from 1941 to 1943, later (1945-49) at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with Ferenc Farkas, Sándor Veress, Pál Járdányi and Lajos Bárdos. Very soon he developed the micropolyphony which later was to become one of the most significant features of his music. In his early pieces such as the a-cappella choral work "Éjszaka - Reggel" and his first successful work in the West, "Apparitions", this style is already extremely distinctive.

In December 1956, after the Hungarian revolution, he left his home country for artistic and political reasons. During his work as a free-lancer at the West German Radio electronic studios in Cologne (1957-58) he thoroughly studied the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel and Pierre Boulez which found its musical expression in his work "Artikulation" (1958). "Artikulation" as well as the work "Atmosphères" for large orchestra (created in 1961) brought György Ligeti immediate recognition in the western musical scene. Long international teaching activities finally led him to the Hamburg Musikhochschule as a professor of composition (1973 to 1989).

Realising an idea that had been preoccupying his mind for quite some time, Ligeti created a first full-length stage work "Le Grand Macabre" (1974-77) after a fable by Michel de Ghelderode. Ligeti's complex polyrhythmic compositional technique forms the basis of the works written in the 1980s and 1990s (for example the "Etudes pour piano" which he began to compose in 1985, the "Concerto for piano and orchestra" created between 1985 and 1988, the "Concerto for violin and orchestra" from 1990-92 and the "Sonata for viola solo" from 1991-94).

Numerous prices, awards and distinctions are proofs of the high esteem accorded to the work of György Ligeti and to him as a teacher and mentor of a whole generation of composers. Apart from his membership of the Hamburg Free Academy of Arts and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, other prizes and distinctions to be mentioned vicariously are for example: member of the Order 'Pour le mérite' of Science and Art in 1974; appointment as 'Commandeur dans l'Ordre National des Arts et Lettres', Paris 1988; 'Prix de composition musicale de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco' received in 1988 as well; the Music Award of the Balzan Foundation and the Praemium Imperiale in 1991; Ernst-von-Siemens Music Award in 1993; UNESCO-IMC (International Music Council)-Music Prize, both awarded to him in 1996. In 1997 the Rumanian Academy conferred him the Honorary Membership; the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris appointed him as "Associé étranger" (Associated Foreign Member) in 1998. On 9 October 2000 György Ligeti was awarded the Sibelius Prize of the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation in Helsinki, and in 2001 the Kyoto-Prize for Arts and Science for the body of his work. Ligeti was honored with the medal of the senate of the City of Hamburg on his 80th birthday, the City of Frankfurt will award him the Theodor W. Adorno-price on September 13 2003. In 2004, he has been awarded the Polar Music Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society, the ECHO KLASSIK 2004 for his lifework and the Frankfurt Music Prize 2005.

Ligeti died on 12 June 2006 in Vienna after a long illness







photo - Yannis Christou
by Pierre-André Boland
(translated by Dafydd Bullock)


New Consonant Music. This is the name of an aesthetic movement which we are going to try to describe to you, very briefly. Focus is essential, otherwise New Consonant Music is simply far too general a concept.

In the course of the history of music, you can easily find movements or aesthetic trends that deserve to be called New Consonant Music - and at regular intervals. Let's think, for example, of the Ars Nova at the end of the Middle Ages, or of the aesthetic of the Counter Reformation as represented by Palestrina. More generally, it could be argued that J.C. Bach's classical music and that of the Mannheim School were a 'new consonant music', for they sought to be simpler, clearer and more pleasant than the music of the contemporary baroque aesthetic, which by then was in a state of some stagnation.

But - each adjective - 'new' and 'consonant' can lead someone who is not familiar with these ideas onto a wrong track. We won't deny it.

With 'new' there is no need to look for revolutionary aesthetic discoveries. This word does not mean, in this context, a sudden revolution which can end all discussion while producing a definitively new way of musical composition and rejecting all previously developed styles. As for 'consonant', it can be misleading in its apparent evocation of an aesthetic that would keep any musical bumps or dissonances well away from our ears. In fact, this is not the case.

New Consonant Music is much more an attitude - of serenity and humanism after the cataclysmic upheavals which the art of music has endured during this century.

The history of music could - as a caricature - be summarised as a very long struggle between two trends: on the one hand the will to incorporate what has been found beautiful into a formal structure and, on the other hand, the inextinguishable impulse to go outside that context and to produce freedom of expression that explodes the frameworks and their rules.

So with the passing centuries and in the course of some thrilling adventures, the second trend got the better of the first - without the first finally giving way to the second for all that! Several compositions have pushed one or other of these tendencies to the very limit. Perhaps the most amazing example is John Cage's 4'48'' for Orchestra (only an absolute silence during this precise period of time), or on the other hand, some post-serial works which again go to the limit, demonstrating crystal clear symmetry on paper, but, alas, an almost unbearable incomprehensibility for the ears. It must of course be said that many composers have produced works of genius without necessarily going to such extremes.

The point is that through the centuries music has been enriched by sounds which have enabled it to express the very depths of sensitivity, if not in universal terms then certainly in a relevant and contemporary way. Therefore we must place ourselves in the context of what has gone before and as well take into account the amazing accessibility of music and sounds, along with the technical possibilities of acoustics, some of which surpass by far the possibilities of human hearing. It is surely a good thing that we can now have at our disposal everything which the human ear is capable of catching!

This spectacular explosion of possibilities has its challenges as well: the fact that the listener gets saturated and can lose interest in an art that has become too accessible. Additionally, as a composer one is inhibited from composing in a spontaneous manner because all that is spontaneous is deemed to be trivial and uninteresting. Has everything not already been said, after all?

It is precisely this attitude which New Consonant Music seeks to oppose!

So this trend has a unique aesthetic objective ... not to prescribe an aesthetic! It is true that 'barbarity' based on nothing more than the desire for novelty is not welcomed. Nor does New Consonant Music embrace the merely 'attractive' if there is no mystery, delicacy and inventiveness. It is very sceptical in face of commercial demands, or music 'made to measure'.

New Consonant Music hopes instead that each composer might scatter in the air something of resonance and charm, something truly of himself, whatever the form and language of his composition.

In contrast with commercial music, made for mass-consumption and dishearteningly accessible (and devalued!), and in contrast to music destined only for a few initiates in rarefied, oxygen-free environments, New Consonant Music can be thought of as an approach which is open, and which 'tastes' - no matter what the style or framework. Of course, such musics are conceived of as communication with the listener, as a result of the formal dimension and in the context of concerts and formal and informal contacts between composer, performer and listener.

In this way, innovation is an opportunity and not an end in itself. Indeed, is innovation really so essential, given that our creations are already as different as are we ourselves?

12 February 1997


Joseph Kosuth

Five Words In Red Neon (1965)


Morton Subotnick

Morton Subotnick is one of the pioneers in the development of electronic music and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems.  The work which brought Subotnick celebrity was Silver Apples of the Moon [1966-7], was commissioned by Nonesuch Records, marking the first time an original large-scale composition had been created specifically for the disc medium - a conscious acknowledgment that the home stereo system constituted a present-day form of chamber music.  

He is also pioneering works to offer musical creative tools to young children.  He is the author of a series of CDROMS for children, a children’s website [creatingmusic.com] and developing a program for classroom and after school programs that will soon become available internationally.

Currently, Subotnick holds the Mel Powell Chair in Music at the California Institute of the Arts.  He tours extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a lecturer and composer/performer.




Based in London, ADD N TO (X) are Ann Shenton, Barry Smith and Steve Claydon. They take their name from a computer command that creates an unknown third electronic forces. Their wall of sound is created with the aid of two drummers and their arsenal of sonic weaponry. They are shockwave riders who worship the force that plugs them in.
ADD N TO (X) see themselves as part of a proud lineage of electronic innovation. After releasing their debut album ON THE WIRES OF OUR NERVES for Satellite Records last year, ADD N TO (X) then signed to Mute Records and released the single LITTLE BLACK ROCKS IN THE SUN. In 1998 they hit America twice, including dates with the JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, along with debut shows all over Europe.

Edgard Varese: The Idol of My Youth

By Frank Zappa

I have been asked to write about Edgard Varese. I am in no way qualified to. I can't even pronounce his name right. The only reason I have agreed to is because I love his music very much, and if by some chance this article can influence more people to hear his works, it will have been worthwhile.

I was about thirteen when I read an article in Look about Sam Goody's Record Store in New York. My memory is not too clear on the details, but I recall it was praising the store's exceptional record merchandising ability. One example of brilliant salesmanship described how, through some mysterious trickery, the store actually managed to sell an album called "Ionization" (the real name of the album was "The Complete Works of Edgard Varese, Volume One"). The article described the record as a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds.

I dashed off to my local record store and asked for it. Nobody ever heard of it. I told the guy in the store what it was like. He turned away, repulsed, and mum- bled solemnly, "I probably wouldn't stock it anyway . . .nobody here in San Diego would buy it."

I didn't give up. I was so hot to get that record I couldn't even believe it. In those days I was a rhythm- and-blues fanatic. I saved any money I could get (some- times as much as $2 a week) so that every Friday and Saturday I could rummage through piles of old records at the juke Box Used Record Dump (or whatever they called it) in the Maryland Hotel or the dusty corners of little record stores where they'd keep the crappy records nobody wanted to buy.

One day I was passing a hi-fi store in La Mesa. A little sign in the window announced a sale on 45's. After shuffling through their singles rack and finding a couple of Joe Houston records, I walked toward the cash register. On my way, I happened to glance into the LP bin. Sitting in the front, just a little bent at the corners, was a strange-looking black-and-white album cover. On it there was a picture of a man with gray frizzy hair. He looked like a mad scientist. I thought it was great that somebody had finally made a record of a mad scientist. I picked it up. I nearly (this is true, ladies and gentlemen) peed in my pants . . . THERE IT WAS! EMS 401, The Complete Works of Edgard Varese Volume I . . . Integrales, Density 21.5, Ionization, Octandre . . . Rene Le Roy, the N. Y. Wind Ensemble, the Juilliard Percussion Orchestra, Frederic Waidman Conducting . . .liner notes by Sidney Finkelstein! WOW!

I ran over to the singles box and stuffed the Joe Houston records back in it. I fumbled around in my pocket to see how much money I had (about $3.80). 1 knew I had to have a lot of money to buy an album. Only old people had enough money to buy albums. I'd never bought an album before. I sneaked over to the guy at the cash register and asked him how much EMS 401 cost. "That gray one in the box? $5.95 - "
I had searched for that album for over a year, and now . . . disaster. I told the guy I only had $3.80. He scratched his neck. "We use that record to demonstrate the hi-fi's with, but nobody ever buys one when we use it . . . you can have it for $3.80 if you want it that bad. "

I couldn't imagine what he meant by "demonstrating hi-fi's with it." I'd never heard a hi-fi. I only knew that old people bought them. I had a genuine lo-fi . . . it was a little box about 4 inches deep with imitation wrought-iron legs at each corner (sort of brass-plated) which elevated it from the table top because the speaker was in the bottom. My mother kept it near the ironing board. She used to listen to a 78 of The Little Shoemaker on it. I took off the 78 of The Little Shoemaker and, carefully moving the speed lever to 33 1/3 (it had never been there before), turned the volume all the way up and placed the all-purpose Osmium-tip needle in the lead-in spiral to Ionization. I have a nice Catholic mother who likes Roller Derby. Edgard Varese does not get her off, even to this very day. I was forbidden to play that record in the living room ever again.

In order to listen to The Album, I had to stay in my room. I would sit there every night and play it two or three times and read the liner notes over and over. I didn't understand them at all. I didn't know what timbre was. I never heard of polyphony. I just liked the music because it sounded good to me. I would force anybody who came over to listen to it. (I had heard someplace that in radio stations the guys would make chalk marks on records so they could find an exact spot, so I did the same thing to EMS 401 . . . marked all the hot items so my friends wouldn't get bored in the quiet parts.)

I went to the library and tried to find a book about Mr. Varese. There wasn't any. The librarian told me he probably wasn't a Major Composer. She suggested I look in books about new or unpopular composers. I found a book that had a little blurb in it (with a picture of Mr. Varese as a young man, staring into the camera very seriously) saying that he would be just as happy growing grapes as being a composer.

On my fifteenth birthday my mother said she'd give me $5. 1 told her I would rather make a long-distance phone call. I figured Mr. Varese lived in New York because the record was made in New York (and be- cause he was so weird, he would live in Greenwich Village). I got New York Information, and sure enough, he was in the phone book.

His wife answered. She was very nice and told me he was in Europe and to call back in a few weeks. I did. I don't remember what I said to him exactly, but it was something like: "I really dig your music." He told me he was working on a new piece called Deserts. This thrilled me quite a bit since I was living in Lancaster, California then. When you're fifteen and living in the Mojave Desert and find out that the world's greatest composer, somewhere in a secret Greenwich Village laboratory, is working on a song about your "home town" you can get pretty excited. It seemed a great tragedy that nobody in-Palmdale or Rosamond would care if they ever heard it. I still think Deserts is about Lancaster, even if the liner notes on the Columbia LP say it's something more philosophical.

All through high school I searched for information about Varese and his music. One of the most exciting discoveries was in the school library in Lancaster. I found an orchestration book that had score examples in the back, and included was an excerpt from Offrandes with a lot of harp notes (and you know how groovy harp notes look). I remember fetishing the book for several weeks.

When I was eighteen I got a chance to go to the East Coast to visit my Aunt Mary in Baltimore. I had been composing for about four years then but had not heard any of it played. Aunt Mary was going to introduce me to some friend of hers (an Italian gentleman) who was connected with the symphony there. I had planned on making a side trip to mysterious Greenwich Village. During my birthday telephone conversation, Mr. Varese had casually mentioned the possibility of a visit if I was ever in the area. I wrote him a letter when I got to Baltimore, just to let him know I was in the area.

I waited. My aunt introduced me to the symphony guy. She said, "This is Frankie. He writes orchestra music." The guy said, "Really? Tell me, sonny boy, what's the lowest note on a bassoon?" I said, "B flat . . .and also it says in the book you can get 'em up to a C or something in the treble clef." He said, "Really? You know about violin harmonics?" I said, "What's that?" He said, "See me again in a few years."
I waited some more. The letter came. I couldn't believe it. A real handwritten letter from Edgard Varese! I still have it in a little frame. In very tiny scientific-looking script it says:
VII 12th/57

Dear Mr. Zappa

I am sorry not to be able to grant your request. I am leaving
for Europe next week and will be gone until next spring. I am
hoping however to see you on my return. With best wishes.

Edgard Varese
I never got to meet Mr. Varese. But I kept looking for records of his music. When he got to be about eighty I guess a few companies gave in and recorded some of his stuff. Sort of a gesture, I imagine. I always wondered who bought them besides me. It was about seven years from the time I first heard his music till I met someone else who even knew he existed. That person was a film student at USC. He had the Columbia LP with Poeme Electronique on it. He thought it would make groovy sound effects.

I can't give you any structural insights or academic suppositions about how his music works or why I think it sounds so good. His music is completely unique. If you haven't heard it yet, go hear it. If you've already heard it and think it might make groovy sound effects, listen again. I would recommend the Chicago Symphony recording of Arcana on RCA (at full volume) or the Utah Symphony recording of Ameriques on Vanguard. Also, there is a biography by Fernand Oulette, and miniature scores are available for most of his works, published by G. Ricordi.

Article taken from Stereo Review, June 1971. pp61-62. ---James Fei, 3/95



One of Varèse's biggest fans was the American guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, who, upon hearing a copy of The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol. 1, which included Intégrales, Density 21.5, Ionisation, and Octandre, became obsessed with the composer's music. On his 15th birthday, December 21, 1955, Zappa's mother, Rosemarie, allowed him a call to Varèse as a present. At the time Varèse was in Brussels, Belgium, so Zappa spoke to Varèse's wife Louise instead. Eventually Zappa and Varèse spoke on the phone, and they discussed the possibility of meeting each other, although this meeting never took place. Zappa also received a letter from Varèse. Varèse's spirit of experimentation and redefining the bounds of what was possible in music lived on in Zappa's long and prolific career.

[Russo, Greg. Cosmik Debris: The Collected History and Improvisations of Frank Zappa. New York: Antique Trader Publications, Crossfire Publications, Chris Sansom, 1998, pp. 9-11.]