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Work of the Week – György Ligeti: Concert Românesc

An educational project, the “Gershwin Experiment”, run by German local broadcasting companies has enabled school pupils to learn about the music of composer György Ligeti. In the project’s final concerts on 12 and 13 November at Munich’s Herkulessaal, students can hear the fourth movement of Ligeti’s Concert Românesc, performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. The performance will also be broadcast live on German television and radio.

Although Concert Românesc was written in 1951, it was twenty years before it received its first public performance: a harmonically atypical passage caused an argument during an early Budapest rehearsal leading to the censorship of the work. Today, however, the piece can be heard in concert halls all over the world. Written for orchestra with string and woodwind solos, the four-movement work uses elements from the Romanian folk tradition. Ligeti thus follows in the footsteps of Béla Bartók, taking particular inspiration from his studies at the Institute of Folklore, Bucharest.

I grew up in the Hungarian-language area in Transylvania. The official language was Romanian, but I only learned this language later at secondary school. This is why the Romanian language seemed mysterious to me when I was a child. Already as a three-year-old I had my first encounters with the Romanian folklore: The alpine horn had a completely different sound than “normal” music. Today I know why: because the alpine horn only produces natural tones, the fifth and seventh partials – the major third and the minor seventh – sound “wrong”, flatter than for instance on the piano. This wrong sound – which is actually the right one, as it corresponds to acoustic purity – is what is so wonderful about the sound of the horn. – György Ligeti

Further performances of Concert Românesc this month include those by the Royal Concertgebouw and Gustavo Gimeno during their tour to Japan and Taiwan this November: on the 9th at the Aichi Prefectural Art Theatre, Nagoya, and on the 13th at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. The MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra will also include the piece in a concert series exclusively for schools this month: on 6 November at the Lucas Cranach Gymnasium in Wittenberg, on 9 November at the Domgymnasium in Merseburg and on 26 November at the Kulturhaus, Reinsdorf.

photo: © Wikimedia Commons / Stbichler (Alt, Porumbacu de Jos)