György Ligeti (1923 – 2006) was a Hungarian born composer who kept himself in the front line of new music until he died in Austria at the age of 83. He was brought to international fame by his large orchestral composition Atmosphères (1961), which was featured in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. His widely recognized work abandons melody, harmony and rhythm while concentrating on texture – presenting and perfecting his sound mass technique.

Ligeti was very serious about his work, and wanted very much for his music to be understood. It was not uncommon for his compositions to be playful and ironic, but his intentions were always serious. His premieres caused sensations from audiences around the world whether they enjoyed his new type of sound or not. He showed a constant need to move on and develop new music throughout his career, while becoming very detail oriented within his pieces. Beyond the micropolyphony and amorphous textures, even those who didn't necessarily like his music appreciated his output and commitment to creativity.

Among his other notable works are Apparitions (1958-59), choral music like Lux Aeterna (1966) and Requiem (1963-65), an assortment of chamber music, and only one opera Le Grand Macabre (1974-77).

The following paragraphs are taken from Ligeti's obituary in The Guardian:

He was an artist who let radical transformations determine his life and ways of thinking, distancing himself from ideologies and taboos. To find the "single right way"? Not a bit: "I cannot understand this idea of you have avant garde, and you have this postmodern neo-tonal stuff, as if these were the only two possibilities, there could be no third way. There are always a hundred ways. You have to find them." Open to influences, to the spirit of the times, a keen observer of fashion but never its prey, he was as sharp and intellectually curious as Stravinsky.

His inventiveness and subtlety of mind never left him, in the domain of rhythm particularly. He was fired by ideas drawn from literature, the visual arts, the sciences, the psychology of perception, fractal mathematics, puzzles, chaos theory, complex decoration; and when it came to instrumental techniques - the more rhythmically interesting the better - he was a magpie, making what attracted him his own.

The series of études for piano that ran through the last 20 years of his life like a diary, as the mazurkas of Chopin do, amount almost to a reinvention of the piano. They are the most dazzling piano pieces of our time, in some of which you feel the composer had glimpsed sources of the instrument's sonority no one before had exploited. Never mind ideas about music, though, it was the music itself that mattered. His goal was always to create something new from within the sound: that made him new, but always the same.
Ligeti never altered his stance on meticulousness and honesty. If modern music meant making new sounds, experiments of the kind that did away with the old criteria - "the idea that you can put [garbage] on the table, spray it with gold and call it art" - were of no interest to him. In this, like Boulez, he was the conscience of contemporary music.

Stephen Plaistow
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 June 2006
This biography was most recently edited by...
sbarnebey - 26 May 2010