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György Ligeti is already seen as one of the major post-war composers. Of Foreign Lands and Strange Sounds is a lavishly produced and illustrated volume based on papers from a conference held in Dublin in 2007, but now much expanded. Though not without technicality, it will appeal to the general reader. Former students, colleagues and friends interpret some neglected aspects of Ligeti’s artistic personality, and there are important essays from eminent scholars such as Richard Steinitz and Paul Griffiths.

Steinitz, in Qui un hommage? The Genesis of the Piano Concerto and Horn Trio, a coda to his excellent biography of the composer, tells the ‘remarkable tale of trial and error’ that made up the composition of the concerto and the relatively less problematic trio – at a time of compositional crisis or ‘writer’s block’. At this time, the early 1980s, Steinitz explains, Ligeti was absorbed in new interests including medieval counterpoint, the music of Central Africa, Nancarrow’s player-piano compositions and computer-generated fractals; but the apparent return to tradition of the Horn Trio upset the critics and fellow avant-gardists. Manfred Stahnke’s The Hamburg Composition Class casts light on some of Ligeti’s most popular works, the Piano Etudes, notably No 9, ‘Vertige’ – an Escher-like work of auditory illusion drawing on the descending melodies of Romanian mourners and the endless descending Shepard scale. Other highlights include conversations with Simha Arom and with Heinz-Otto Peitgen.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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