Ramifications Of Surrealism In The Music Of György Ligeti
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György Ligeti is considered by many scholars and musicians to be one of the late twentieth century’s most ingenious and influential composers. His music has been particularly difficult to classify, given the composer’s willingness to absorb a multitude of musical influences, everything from high modernism and electronic music to west-African music and Hungarian folk-song. One aesthetic influence that Ligeti acknowledged in the 1970s was Surrealism, an early twentieth-century art movement that sought to externalize the absurd juxtapositions of the unconscious mind. Despite the composer’s acknowledgement, no musicological inquiry has studied how the aesthetic goals of Surrealism have manifested in his music. This study attempts to look at Ligeti’s music (specifically the music from his third style period) through a Surrealist lens. In order to do this, I first establish key definitions of Surrealist concepts through a close reading of several foundational texts of the movement. After this, I briefly analyze two pieces of music which were associated with the beginnings of Surrealism, in order to establish the extent to which they are successfully Surreal according to my definitions. Finally, the remainder of my study focuses on specific pieces by Ligeti, analyzing how he is connected to but also expands beyond the “tradition” of musical Surrealism in the early twentieth century. I argue that Ligeti, while using similar methods to those of early Surrealist composers and visual artists, creates more successful Surrealist imagery in his music by introducing disruptions into multiple parameters of musical construction.