György Ligeti: Lontano


György Ligeti was a pioneering Hungarian composer during the post-war era;. His seemingly avant-garde style led him to create some groundbreaking works during the 20th century. Lontano was composed in 1967, and was quite the standout at the time of creation. ‘Lontano’ is the Italian word for ‘in the distance’, and that is what this piece is all about. Alongside some of his contemporaries, Ligeti wrote with micro-precision when creating Lontano, using rhythms, dynamics and detailed performance directions to create his masterpiece.


The Music

The music is a like a hazy scene due to the distant nature of the dynamics and harmony. The first few minutes are very abstract, with atmospheres and timbres creating the soundworld for Ligeti. There is a lot of unresolved tension throughout, which creates an uneasiness, especially towards the end of the piece where the climax is nearly reached.  Familiar harmonies are presented in a range of different ways, however these are soon eaten up by the ever-evolving textures.

The eerie atmosphere continues to encroach on the glimmers of themes played by the woodwind and upper strings. The gripping tension by the end of the piece is quite the marvel. To make these effects Ligeti has overlapped tempos, rhythms and themes to create a chain of musical lines that feed off of one another. This technique was popular at the time of composition. Ligeti explains more about the harmony in his notes:


“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.”


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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