Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 22
- February 8, 2020
Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles are his own wind quintet arrangements from his Musica ricercata, a cycle of eleven short piano pieces composed between 1950 and 1953. In addition to this work, these early years of Ligeti’s career (prior to his flight from Budapest in the wake of the failed 1956 revolt against Stalinist rule) also produced his seminal First String Quartet, Sonata for Solo Cello, and numerous choral works on traditional Hungarian themes. The choral music fulfilled the societal expectations for Ligeti as an artist under despotic rule; his more daring instrumental works, including the Musica ricercata, for the time being remained under lock and key.
Ligeti wrote of the Six Bagatelles:
As a student in Kolozsvár and Budapest I was a confirmed believer in the folkloristically-oriented music of the “New Hungarian School”; Bartók was my compositional ideal. I wrote eleven piano pieces in Budapest between 1950 and 1953, in an attempt—initially fruitless—to find a style of my own. This was Musica ricercata in the true sense of “ri-cercare”: to try out, to seek. When the eminent Hungarian wind ensemble the Jeney Quintet asked me for a piece in 1953, I arranged six of the eleven piano pieces for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, B-flat clarinet, F-horn, and bassoon. Four pieces from this cycle are “pseudo-folkloristic”: no actual folk songs are quoted, but Nos. 2 and 5 have a “Hungarian diction” about them (No. 5 depicts mourning bells in memory of Bartók); No. 4, with its “limping” dance music, is Balkan; and No. 3 depicts an artificial hybrid of Banat-Romanian and Serbian melodic idioms.
The Franz Liszt Academy presented the first Festival of New Hungarian Music at the end of September 1956. My Bagatelles were finally performed at the instigation of the Jeney Quintet. At that time they were called Five Bagatelles, since No. 6—despite the thaw in the political climate—still contained too many minor seconds. (Dissonances and chromaticism were still “cosmopolitan” and “hostile to the people,” just somewhat less so than previously.) The audience of intellectuals and musicians was at a loss as to whether or not they were permitted to enjoy the music or to applaud. One of my earlier teachers tried cautiously to congratulate me on my “success”: he shook my hand but shifted his weight from one foot to the other in embarrassment.
Patrick Castillo ©2015