Structural and Semantic Features of the Thematicism in György Ligeti’s Instrumental Concerti Between 1980 and 2000

Anastasiya Minich


The relevance of the study. The problem of syntactic organization and semantics of the thematicism of musical composition of postmodern era (the last quarter of the 20th century) becomes one of the most ambiguous and discussed in the modern musicology.

The main objectives of the abstract are to examine the thematic organization, structural and semantic features of the thematicism of G. Ligeti’s late works taking into account the example of concerti between 1980 and 2000: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1985–1988), Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1990–1992), “Hamburg” concerto for solo Horn and Chamber Orchestra (1998–1999, 2002).

The methodology of study is based on the musicology researches written by V. Holopova, V. Valkova, V. Zaderazkiy, T. Kyuregyan, A. Tikhomirova that are focused on the problems of the structural features of the thematicism of the music last half of the 20th century. The greatest interest lies in the works of A. Denisov, M. Aranovskiy opened new ways in the study of the semantics of the musical thematicism.

The main findings and conclusions of the study. One of the most discussed in modern researches on Ligeti’s music becomes the question about the elements of postmodern aesthetics have appeared in his works of the second half of the 1970 th. In the interviews of the 1980th Ligeti explain the stylistic changes in his last works by the changing of the “basic elements” of the works (“Ligeti signals”). He emphasizes that the composition technique and the principles of the form construction remained the same. The most significant “Ligeti signals” of the latest works are the follows: the folklore elements of different European, American and Asian countries, the composition techniques and intonation formulas of the Renaissance and Baroque (such as lamento, crucifixion theme, the analogies of the anabasis, catabasis, tmesis figures), the stylistic allusions of the classical and romantic music and the “musical models” of nonlinear dynamic systems and fractals. These stylistic elements arise in Ligeti’s concertos of the 1980th–2000th .

In G. Ligeti’s latest concerts appears a complexly organized, highly developed, multilevel system of thematic organization based on the interaction of the elements of different compositional levels. Its emerging in the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra caused by interaction of themes based on the classical system of syntax and microthematic elements. The separate microthematic elements arise as a result of “liana-like” ramification of the main themes of the first and the second movements of the concert. In the development process new intonation, rhythmic and stylistic variants of the separate microthematic elements appears in polyphonic texture. In the process of the thematic transformation two lines of development can be distinguished: an intonation and a rhythmic one. It’s the highest, macrothematic level of the composition.

The multilevel system of thematic organization also arises in the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and in “Hamburg” concerto for Solo Horn and Chamber Orchestra. In these concertos the themes based on classic system of syntax interacts with highly development complex of microthematic elements. In Violin Concerto the themes based on classic system of syntax appear in the movements having such genre designation as “Aria, Hoquetus, Choral”, “Intermezzo” and “Passacaglia” and “Appassionato” (the genres of Renaissance and Baroque music). The first movement, “Prealudium”, bases on the complex of microthematic elements such as perfect fifth and minor third with a second. In the Horn Concerto the themes based on classic system of syntax appear in the movements having such genre designation as “Signal, Tanz, Choral”, “Aria, Aksak, Hoketus”, “Solo, intermezzo, Mixtur, Canon”, “Capriccio”, “Hymnus” (the genres of Hungarian and Romanian folklore, the Renaissance and Baroque denres). The complex of microthematic elements appears in the “sonorous” movements: “Prealudium” and “Spectra”. The microthematic elements of Violin and Horn Concertos have prototypes in Ligeti’s “interval signals” of the second half of the 1960th–1970th . And the development process of these elements brings back Ligeti’s composition technique of the 1960th–1970th. The microthematic elements of Violin and Horn Concertos perceived as a separate in the initial movements in the last movements unite in the resulting thematic complexes like a puzzle details. In the pieces arises a “nonlinear” communication system of the microthematic elements providing the internal unity of the concert’s movements.

In the article the attention also paid to the semantics of the thematic elements of the different composition layers. In G. Ligeti’s concerts of the 1980th–2000th arise the thematic elements having got a “symbolic” meaning in the music of different national and historic traditions. Ligeti uses a “lamento motiv” having its origins in Baroque music and in transilvanian funeral laments, and to the diatonic themes having its origins in Hungarian and Romanian hora lunga. In the process of historical evolution its semantics was enriched. In Ligeti’s music its meaning depends on the semantic context of the piece. The microthematic elements of Ligeti’s latest concertos also have semantic meaning. Some of them appeared in his previous works as a thematic basis of “Avantures”, “Requiem”, opera “Le Grand Macabre” or as a “intervalic signals” of his instrumental works of the second half of the 1960th–1970th. Its semantics also depends on the context of the work. The polysemy character of Ligeti’s latest works thematicism reflects such ideas of postmodern culture as a “deconstruction” and a “double coding”.


postmodern music; macrothematicism; microthematisism; musical semantics; lamento


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