Dissertation Index

Author: Searby, Michael D

Title: An investigation of the transformation of compositional process in György Ligeti's music 1974-85, with particular reference to pitch

Institution: Goldsmiths College. London

Begun: September 1998

Completed: July 2006


This thesis consists of a music analytical study of Ligeti’s works from 1974 to 1985 to examine the radical changes in his compositional approach, particularly the use of historical styles, structures and tonal features in his compositions.

This study mostly focuses on Ligeti’s use of pitch; the development of his rhythmic language is not explored in any detail. A context is provided by briefly outlining his approach to composition in the 1960s and early 1970s. Ligeti’s use of micropolyphony is discussed in works such as Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Melodien, and the Chamber Concerto. There is also an examination of the earlier changes in Ligeti’s compositional technique in the late 1960s and early 1970s towards a more ‘melodic’ and apparently ‘harmonic’ approach.

Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre is the main focus of the thesis, a work which shows a shift of style and approach towards a ‘rediscovery’ of a kind of tonality and the reuse of past musical materials. It shows a considerable break with his established micropolyphonic style. The discussion relates to harmony, tonality and the use of traditional structures in the opera. Aspects of the pitch structure in the opera are examined, and there is a harmonic analysis of the Finale Passacaglia. The use of quotation and pastiche in Le Grand Macabre, particularly in sections such as Galimatias and Collage, is also examined.

Later works are analysed in detail, such as the first movement of the Trio for horn, violin and piano, to identify any significant principles governing the use of tonal/modal elements within the subsequent works.

The concluding chapter evaluates how far the preceding discussion and analysis has identified genuinely new compositional approaches in Ligeti’s ‘neo-tonal’ music, with particular reference to Le Grand Macabre and the Trio. The author’s thesis is that these works show a genuinely new way of dealing with pre-existing tonal elements, and are crucial for the subsequent evolution of Ligeti’s compositional approach.

Keywords: Ligeti, postmodernism, Le Grand Macabre, Horn Trio, parody, twentieth century music, music analysis, Monument, micropolyphony, opera


Chapter 1: Introduction 11

Chapter 2: A Literature Review focusing on
György Ligeti’s music 1974-1990 59

Chapter 3: Harmony, tonality, and the use of traditional structures in
Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre 110

Chapter 4: Ligeti’s use of quotation and pastiche in Le Grand Macabre 179

Chapter 5: Ligeti’s stylistic and compositional transformation
after Le Grand Macabre 219

Chapter 6: Conclusions: Ligeti the postmodernist? 340


Dr Mike Searby
Music Department
Kingston University,
tel 44 208 417 5147

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