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Gyorgy Ligeti: Music and Imagination [Hardcover]

Richard Steinitz
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 April 2003

An illuminating study of the life and work of György Ligeti, one of the best-loved and most original composers of our time.

For 50 years György Ligeti has pursued a boldly independent and uncompromising course, yet his music is widely loved and admired. Ever since Stanley Kubrick's (unsanctioned) use of his music on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, interest in Ligeti has extended far beyond the classical domain. He is the only living composer whose complete output, including juvenilia, is being systematically issued on CD.

Published to coincide with the composer's eightieth birthday, Richard Steinitz's compelling new book is both an illuminating study of the music and its associative ideas - drawn from literature, theatre, the visual arts, fractal mathematics, ethnic cultures and other maverick composers - and of Ligeti the man. Ligeti has confided in Steinitz a mass of previously unknown biographical information. The result is an astonishing account of his early upbringing in Romania, of his terrifying yet surreal experiences in the war, and of his difficulties attempting to forge an identity as a young composer under repressive censorship in Communist Hungary, before his dramatic escape to the West in 1956.

The story continues via Ligeti's association with the Western avant-garde and his increasingly masterful sequence of highly individual compositions, which Steinitz brings vividly to life through informative commentaries as well as through the composer's own words.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (7 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571176313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571176311
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 349,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

It benefits not only from the author's long acquaintance with the music, but also from his clarity of thought and style. -- Andrew Clark, Financial Times

Likely to remain the central text on this singular composer for some time to come. -- BBC Music Magazine

Long experience has given Steinitz the capacity to write on music, and Ligeti's in particular, with evocative accuracy - lucky Ligeti and lucky us. -- Gramophone

This lucid critical biography..vividly chronicled..is exemplary in every way. -- Paul Driver, Sunday Times

About the Author

Richard Steinitz is a composer and Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield. He is the founder and former Artistic Director of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. He lives in England.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Guide to Ligeti's Music 21 April 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Steinitz has written a book that all lovers of Ligeti's music should read. It might well persuade others to try the music, too. It has all the marks of a book a long time in the making, it's deeply considered and full of insights.
There is a mass of biographical information, especially about the early years in Transylvania and in the whirling political confusion of WW2 and the immediate post-war years. Fascinating stuff, although this isn't a biography in the sense of trying to investigate all the ins and outs of Ligeti's psyche (and all the better for that!)
The heart of the book, and what makes it so important, is the discussion of the music of Ligeti. From the earliest compositions, throught the works written when Ligeti first arrived in the west, the "Grand Macabre", the milestone of the Horn Trio, to the latest works - and especially the Piano Etudes, all the major works are carefully considered. Some of Richard Steinitz's musical analysis is hard going - particularly if, like me, you don't read music. But it's full of insights and ideas that mean one goes back to the music (recordings for me) with a new attention and able to get an even richer appreciation of Ligeti's genius. On a whole number of occasions things I had subjectively 'felt' were explained and developed in the book.
For anyone even a little interested in contemporary music this is a must-read.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steinitz on Ligeti, an unbeatable combination 6 April 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've just finished this book - after waiting a very long time for it to appear.
The first thing to say is that if, like me, you are not musically trained, then some of the analysis is pretty tough. There were places where I had no choice but to skip. Sometimes, as in the discussion of the piano etudes, the sheer density of the musicological argument is daunting.
But I've still given the book 5 stars. When the technicalities got too much I put down the book and listened to a recording of the music instead. Then I found that the ideas I could take from the discussion were stimulating a richer hearing. My ears were bigger! For example, I have never put "San Francisco Polyphony" that high in my favourites of Ligeti's work - but I need to reconsider that now I've read and re-listened. The turn in Ligeti's work Horn Trio is clearly established, as are other key turning points in Ligeti's oeuvre and this enables a crtitical, historical, approach to the music.
So I've been helped to sudy (by ear) Ligeti in greater depth. Richard Steinitz, founder of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, has already done so much for modern music - and this book is another invaluable contribution.
We can only hope that Ligeti has a late efflorescence (like Elliot Carter), and that this book becomes out-dated and needs to be updated regularly.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Guide to Ligeti's Music 26 Jun 2003
By Derek J. Howl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Richard Steinitz has written a book that all lovers of Ligeti's music should read. It might well persuade others to try the music, too. It is a book long in the making, Steinitz has been in contact with Ligeti over years, and has had extensive time with him to check details.
There is a mass of biographical information, especially about the early years in Transylvania and in the whirling political confusion of WW2 and the immediate post-war years. Fascinating stuff, although this isn't a biography in the sense of trying to investigate all the ins and outs of Ligeti's psyche (and all the better for that!)
It has to be said that if, like me, you are not musically trained, then some of the analysis is pretty tough. There were places where I had no choice but to skip. Sometimes, as in the discussion of the piano etudes, the sheer density of the musicological argument is daunting.
But I've still given the book 5 stars. When the technicalities got too much I put down the book and listened to a recording of the music instead. Then I found that the ideas I could take from the discussion were stimulating a richer hearing. My ears were bigger! For example, I have never put "San Francisco Polyphony" that high in my favourites of Ligeti's work - but I need to reconsider that now I've read and re-listened. The turn in Ligeti's work with the Horn Trio is clearly established, as are other key turning points in Ligeti's oeuvre and this enables a crtitical, historical, approach to the music.
So I've been helped to sudy (by ear) Ligeti in greater depth. Richard Steinitz, founder of the wonderful and important Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in Britain, has already done so much for modern music - and this book is another invaluable contribution.
We can only hope that Ligeti has a late efflorescence (like Elliot Carter), and that this book becomes out-dated and needs to be updated regularly.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best of the Ligeti biographies 10 Nov 2004
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Richard Steinitz's GYORGY LIGETI: Music Of The Imagination is the best biography of this contemporary composer available today, and essential reading for those who are passionate about Ligeti's output. It goes as far as the premier of the "Hamburg Concerto" and the 2000 set of Weores songs, and as Ligeti has composed little to nothing in the meantime, the book is still entirely up to date.

Steinitz's work alternates biographical details with analysis of Ligeti's works. One learns a lot more about Ligeti's life from this biography than from others, as Steinitz was fortunate enough to have several conversations with Ligeti. The analysis of Ligeti's music can occasionally get pretty technical, but even those with a passing knowledge of music theory can learn a lot from the book. The biography certainly expands one's appreciation of Ligeti's music, which is what one hopes for from a musical biography. After this you'll easily hear how "Lux Aeterna" (written, we're told, during an addiction to morphine) and "Lontano" are linked through a similar melody hidden in each. The inspirational basis of each Piano Etude is revealed, and "San Francisco Polyphony" stops seeming like a throwaway work and instead as a key part of Ligeti's maturation.

This is, in a way, "authorised biography". There is a lot of adoration of Ligeti, and Steinitz takes Ligeti's side in the coverage of polemic in the book, such as in Ligeti's opposition to Peter Sellar's staging of "Le Grand Macabre" and the composer's disappointment with the ensembles chosen to complete Sony's "Gyorgy Ligeti Edition" series. Since I am myself a faithful fan of Ligeti, I don't see this as a downside.

If you've been collecting the two series' of Ligeti's collected works in performances supervised by the composer himself (Sony's "Gyorgy Ligeti Edition" and Teldec's "The Ligeti Project"), consider this a vital companion to getting the most out of the music. I really can't find anything to complain about with the book.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars superfluous and amateurish 30 Jun 2006
By white noise - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One and one-half stars--say.

The author explains that he set out to write a book of musical analysis informed by the circumstances of the composer's life, not a biography. I agree that he hasn't written much of a biography; he tends to talk around Ligeti's life rather than about it. I disagree, however, that he's written a book of musical analysis. The "analysis" here is all gloss (clumsy references to "letter B" in the score, and so on, notwithstanding), more or less the sort of thing you get in orchestral program notes or in record liner notes--except that orchestral program notes and record liner notes are usually better written. Despite the author's claim (made repeatedly and redundantly) to have interviewed Ligeti himself in depth, great swaths of this are taken directly, sometimes verbatim, sometimes awkwardly paraphrased, from "Ligeti in Conversation". Purple prose, buzz words, and grammatical solecisms abound. No, if you want to read an engaging account of Ligeti's life, read Richard Toop's biography. If you want analytical glosses, get them from the horse's mouth; read "Ligeti in Conversation". Ligeti is a much better speaker than Steinitz is a writer, an articulate, provocative, man of keen intellect.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! 17 Sep 2010
By Mafl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As the title suggests, this book provides an insight to Ligeti's imagination and how he transform these thoughts and experiences into music. This book is a must for composition students and for music lovers.
3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars not good gramma 3 Sep 2006
By Winton White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
His entire biography section in the beginning had numerous grammatical mistakes. It started bugging me so much I underlined every single one and sure enough, almost every page had one grammatical error. Very annoying.

The rest was fine except how some of the reviewers mentioned that the author made it out to be an analysis of Ligeti's music. Rather it is more like he's talking about the background of the piece while touching only the surface of the actual music.
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