Legeti's Musica Ricercata
Not long ago I played a solo recital in Chicago. On the afternoon of the concert as I approached the venue I noticed a big poster announcing the event with my name and picture underneath a big bold title "Passion and Innovation."
The program included as its focal points Beethoven's Appassionata alongside Ligeti's Musica Ricercata. Needless to say the rest of my day up to the concert was spent on trying to "figure out" which is Passion and which is Innovation.
O.K. fine, I know there are better things to do in Chicago even if one plays a concert that day, such as seeing the Chagall windows at the Arts Institute (which I did!) However, the title did throw me into tinkering with the ideas: Are all the pieces in my program Innovative? Or more broadly, does music have to be innovative? I would passionately assert: "YES!" Well, definitely my program is.
With that exclamation mark, how about passionate? Ah, now that is different. Easy with Beethoven… harder with Ligeti.
The Musica Ricercata was written between 1951 and 1953, at a time when Ligeti was searching for his own voice. He was preoccupied with re-examining tone color, rhythmic patterns and rhythmic textures. Many questions were raised: what constitutes a melody? What is structure in its rudimentary form? Does music need structure? How about tempo? Does a piece need to have a heart-beat? And dynamics?
This was obviously a musical search, but was it not also his soul searching?
Could we divide that?
Soul = Passion, right?
When learning Musica Ricercata, it is easy to find great wit, humor, complexity as well as difficulty in the fast movements, which seem to work against our normal reflexes. I would go even further in this spirit and say that these fast movements were not written for the piano. They were written "against" the piano. The constant change of meter, and accents make for very confusing strong beat–weak beat relationships. This is definitely an extension of Stravinsky and Bartok. The frequent register leaps, the abrupt dynamic changes, all are forcing the performer to concentrate on panic rather than passion! But maybe Ligeti's brain is just "wired" differently. For him, this might be the manifestation of passion.
A different thought: could it be that Ligeti was trying to take passion out of music?!
In the course of this interesting discussion with myself I suddenly became mortified. I remembered that during my studies of music history post world-war II there was a very disturbing experiment by composers such as John Cage to "take the responsibility of the performance away from the performer." This piece has SO MANY bizarre oddities, which are partially due to an INFINITE number of markings in the score – from all sorts of dynamics to exact tempo markings, to minute articulation directions and what not... Was Ligeti attempting to take me, the performer out of the equation? If I am really to follow ALL the interpretative markings which are in the score, am I not loosing my own voice, my own self?
Perhaps I need more time. Some fresh air...
Perhaps Ligeti was re-examining how far-reaching passion could go – how diverse could it be.
Looking at the slow movements for a clearer answer, my mind instead was finding new areas to explore.
The first movement basically uses ONE note! Well, no wonder we are asking ourselves about passion. What can you get out of a two minute repetition of one not? I think this is where the core of our discussion lies.
...In the beginning there was silence. And out of the silence the Big Bang - one note, a loud one! Then dynamics were created, surrounding that note with more possibilities, variety. Then different registers of the same note came to be, followed by rhythm. And within the course of two minutes, the creation of sound unfolds before our eyes and ears. Tempo and heart beat naturally evolve.
The only thing still missing is to fulfill our expectations, and resolve the note. This comes at the very last note of this movement – a new note!
Like Adam that finally got Eve as his companion and thereafter came the birth of humanity – this note got its companion and thereafter the birth of music, of melodies, of soaring and diving singing lines, of quirky and meditative rhythmic gestures, different tempi, dynamics, colors and so much more. Slowly but surely we get the evolution in the Musica Ricercata.
If this is not passion than what is?!
It is different. It is not what we expected. But it opens (o)the(r) doors of Passion.