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Work of the Week – György Ligeti: Lontano

Marking the tenth anniversary of György Ligeti’s death on 12 June, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra will perform Lontano for orchestra conducted by Jonathan Nott in the Konzerthalle Bamberg on 8 and 9 June, and on 11 June in the Vienna Konzerthaus.

Ligeti’s compositional techniques

The Italian performance instruction ‘lontano’ translating as ‘far away’ or ‘distant’, describes the style in which this work is performed. Ligeti’s music has a distinctive character with an often eerie atmosphere created by layering very quiet sounds that build and eventually merge together. He creates gripping tension that is favoured by film directors: Lontano has been used in films such as The Shining by Stanley Kubrick and Shutter Island by Martin Scorsese.

As an alternative to the serial music of his contemporaries, Ligeti created a stylistic device that he described as ‘Micropolyphony’. This compositional technique involves overlapping many musical lines, which move in different tempos and rhythms to form tone clusters. For Ligeti, bar lines are only used to help the orientation of the musicians, they do not mark any metric focal points.

The “harmonic crystallisation” within the area of sonority leads to an intervallic-harmonic thought process which is thereby radically different from traditional and also atonal harmony.  Technically speaking, this is achieved with the aid of polyphonic methods: fictive harmonies emerge from a complex vocal woven texture, gradual opacity and new crystallisation are the result of discrete alterations in the individual parts. The polyphony in itself is almost imperceptible but its harmonic effect represents the intrinsic musical action: what is on the page is polyphony, but what is heard is harmony. – György Ligeti

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra will also perform Ligeti’s San Francisco Polyphony on 8, 9 and 11 June. Other upcoming performances of Ligeti’s works include Mysteries of the Macabre, an arrangement of three coloratura arias from the opera Le Gran Macabre, performed in Zürich 10 and 11 June. Melodien for orchestra will be performed by Sinfonia Iuventus on 18 June in Warsaw and Städtisches Orchester Bremerhaven will perform Concert Românesc conducted by Marc Niemann on 20 and 21 June in the Stadttheater Bremerhaven.