Score for György Ligeti’s Artikulation
Following the inexplicable success of my piece focusing on Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise, I thought it might be nice to shine the light on another seminal work from the cannon of avant-garde gestures within Twentieth Century Classical Music – György Ligeti’s Artikulation.
Ligeti will be familiar to most. With Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, he is one of the most most noted European composers of the Post-War period. His works are imbued with a sensitivity and emotion that I often find less present in his peers. They occupy a special place in my heart. Ligeti was a Hungarian Jew. Most of his family died in the Holocaust, with only his mother surviving (both is parents were sent to Auschwitz). Following the Hungarian Revolution’s violent suppression by the Soviets in 1956, he fled to Vienna (which he called home for the remainder of his life) and then traveled on to Cologne where he stayed for three years. After his arrival he fell into discourse with the composers he encountered there (generally referred to as the Cologne School) particularly with Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom he worked closely. Though Ligeti generally preferred to compose for more traditional instruments and orchestras, during this period his expanded his study of electronic music. Shortly after his arrival in Germany he composed Artikulation – a work of Tape Music, with sound drawn in part from modular synthesizers.
At the time he composed Artikulation, Ligeti had been writing for years, but because most of his early works were lost when he left Hungary, its singularity within his body of work – being one of only a very small number of electronic works he composed, and the fact that it predates his seminal groundbreaking work Atmosphères from 1961, it is generally considered to be one of his “early-works”. Despite this, it is beautiful and sophisticated, hinting at the great things to come in future compositions. It is also one of his most recognizable compositions – due in part to its beautiful graphic score, drawn by the graphic designer Rainer Wehinger. Realized with the assistance of Cornelius Cardew (while he was working as Stockhausen’s assistant), the work is an investigation of Ligeti’s fascination with the relationship between music and the phonics of speech. Like many works utilizing graphic scores, it draws on both chance and dictation. The work is constructed from a series of abstract noises and “artificial” sounds chosen and organized for their relationships to the sounds of the human voice.
One interesting distinction about this work, is the score itself. There are in fact two. The original was drawn by Ligeti while he composed it, and consisted of a large number of charts and tables. The second, which we see here, was created by Rainer Wehinger in 1970. Approved by the composer, it is considered a “listening score”, intended to guide the listener though what they hear. Because the work is almost never performed, and heard in playback, it has become the accepted score.
I leave you know with the work itself. It’s brief, clocking in at just under three minutes – something rare for music of this sort, and enabling repeated listening and investigation. In my view the work is wonderful in its own right – displaying humor, subtly, rigorous thought, and the beauty of unexpected sounds, but it is also significant within the history of early electronic music, as well as within the body of work created by this wonderful composer. Below is the audio, and under that are details of the score. It’s complete image can be found at the start of this piece. I hope you enjoy.
György Ligeti – Artikulation (1956)