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String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes"

György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)

Kelemen Quartet (photo credit: Tamás Dobos)

Kelemen Quartet (photo credit: Tamás Dobos)

Composer
György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)
Composition Year
1953-5
Work Movements
1. Allegro grazioso
2. Vivace, capriccioso
3. Adagio, mesto
4. Presto - prestissimo
5. Andante tranquillo
6. Tempo di Valse, moderato, con eleganza, un poco capriccioso - subito prestissimo
7. Allegretto un poco gioviale
8. Prestissimo - ad libitum, senza misura - lento
Artists
Kelemen Quartet (Barnabás Kelemen, Gábor Homoki [violins], Katalin Kokas [viola], Dóra Kokas [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

In the sixties, Ligeti prohibited performances of this work along with other works from his Hungarian period. He fled Hungary in 1956 and considered these works too old-fashioned for the new Darmstadt-Cologne influenced composer. The quartet was written in 1953-4 and was intended for his bottom drawer, as public performance of such a work in the Hungary of that time was impossible. The communist dictatorship was still in control and the only permitted music was Socialist Realism, a cheap kind of art aimed at the masses and designed to promote prescribed political propaganda. The internal logic of this was so dislocated that although Bartók was the great national hero-composer, most of his works were banned! The only Bartók works that could be performed were his conciliatory, non-dissonant works like the Concerto for Orchestra and the Third Piano Concerto. So in Budapest there arose a culture of closed rooms in which most non-conformist artists opted for inner emigration. The first performance of this quartet eventually took place in Vienna in 1958.

Inspiration came from studying the scores of Bartók’s third and fourth quartets and Berg’s Lyric Suite – no chance of hearing such dissonant works performed in Hungary at that time – and from the classical model of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. From Bartók come the chromatically intense melodic and harmonic language and the textural contrasts, from Ligeti himself the explosive and disruptive forces that threaten to tear the fabric apart. Mind you the quartet was submitted for the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition in 1955 and was considered too conventional even to be short-listed.

The quartet is presented as a single movement of almost symphonic dimensions, ostensibly in many different motivically linked sections, that can also be seen as a four-movement structure. There is a ternary exposition that opposes three contrasting presentations of the germinal four-note motif, grazioso, capriccioso and mesto in Ligeti’s typically brutal manner before resolving them in an exhilarating Presto. This accelerates to prestissimo from which mysterious nocturnal tremolos emerge later accompanied by a warm chordal chorale, Andante tranquillo, the equivalent of a slow movement, that fades to silence before the Tempo di Valse. This functions like a scherzo before the light-hearted rondo-style finale beginning with Allegretto, un poco giovale. This presents us with a kaleidoscope of special effects including a wild Prestissimo. The final section presents the original four-note motif like a cantus firmus over a whirring fabric of glissando harmonics. 

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String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes"

Composer: György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)
Performance date: Friday 28th June 2013
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer György Ligeti (b. 1923 - d. 2006)
Work Title String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes"
Composition Year 1953-5
Work Movements 1. Allegro grazioso
2. Vivace, capriccioso
3. Adagio, mesto
4. Presto - prestissimo
5. Andante tranquillo
6. Tempo di Valse, moderato, con eleganza, un poco capriccioso - subito prestissimo
7. Allegretto un poco gioviale
8. Prestissimo - ad libitum, senza misura - lento
Artist(s) Kelemen Quartet (Barnabás Kelemen, Gábor Homoki [violins], Katalin Kokas [viola], Dóra Kokas [cello])
Performance Date Friday 28th June 2013
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Opening Concert
Duration 00:21:11
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

In the sixties, Ligeti prohibited performances of this work along with other works from his Hungarian period. He fled Hungary in 1956 and considered these works too old-fashioned for the new Darmstadt-Cologne influenced composer. The quartet was written in 1953-4 and was intended for his bottom drawer, as public performance of such a work in the Hungary of that time was impossible. The communist dictatorship was still in control and the only permitted music was Socialist Realism, a cheap kind of art aimed at the masses and designed to promote prescribed political propaganda. The internal logic of this was so dislocated that although Bartók was the great national hero-composer, most of his works were banned! The only Bartók works that could be performed were his conciliatory, non-dissonant works like the Concerto for Orchestra and the Third Piano Concerto. So in Budapest there arose a culture of closed rooms in which most non-conformist artists opted for inner emigration. The first performance of this quartet eventually took place in Vienna in 1958.

Inspiration came from studying the scores of Bartók’s third and fourth quartets and Berg’s Lyric Suite – no chance of hearing such dissonant works performed in Hungary at that time – and from the classical model of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. From Bartók come the chromatically intense melodic and harmonic language and the textural contrasts, from Ligeti himself the explosive and disruptive forces that threaten to tear the fabric apart. Mind you the quartet was submitted for the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition in 1955 and was considered too conventional even to be short-listed.

The quartet is presented as a single movement of almost symphonic dimensions, ostensibly in many different motivically linked sections, that can also be seen as a four-movement structure. There is a ternary exposition that opposes three contrasting presentations of the germinal four-note motif, grazioso, capriccioso and mesto in Ligeti’s typically brutal manner before resolving them in an exhilarating Presto. This accelerates to prestissimo from which mysterious nocturnal tremolos emerge later accompanied by a warm chordal chorale, Andante tranquillo, the equivalent of a slow movement, that fades to silence before the Tempo di Valse. This functions like a scherzo before the light-hearted rondo-style finale beginning with Allegretto, un poco giovale. This presents us with a kaleidoscope of special effects including a wild Prestissimo. The final section presents the original four-note motif like a cantus firmus over a whirring fabric of glissando harmonics.