György Ligeti: Atmospheres

This is day twelve of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is György Ligeti, (1923–2006)

Ligeti was born in Transylvania, Romania to Hungarian Jewish parents.  His family moved to Hungary when he was six.  During the summers his family sent him to Budapest where he studied with Pál Kadosa, and he was heavily influenced by Bartok’s music.  During World War II, he and his brother were sent to labor camps for being Jewish and his parents ended up in Auschwitz, where his father perished.

After the War, he retuned to Budapest and studied at and graduated from the Liszt Academy of music, under Zoltan Kodály, among other well known teachers and composers.  Like Bartok he also conducted ethnomusicology research on folksongs.  When the Soviets invaded Hungary in a violent takeover of the country, Ligeti fled with his family to Vienna, where he became a citizen of Austria.  There he fell with the burgeoning group of anti-tonal composers including Karlheinz Stockhausen.  When he fled Hungary, Ligeti lost a good number of his earlier compositions, but he said he was completely devoted to 12 tone music.  Eventually he broke with narcissistic group of avant-garde composers and from then on composed prolifically.  He moved  to Hamburg where he taught at the Hochschule School for Music and Theatre.  In later years he turned to more tonal music.

I first heard today’s piece around 1968 when it was used in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001, a Space Odyssey.”  Kubrick also used some of Ligetti’s piano music, Musica Ricerata, in his last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut.”  “Atmospheres” is a powerful piece and I think a perfect choice to show bring an emotional drama to the sterility of space travel and the soullessness of science depicted in the movie.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

7 Responses to György Ligeti: Atmospheres

  1. kvennarad says:

    I am riveted by Ligeti. I always try to dismiss ‘2001’ from my mind when I listen to his music. This piece was perfect for my early morning listening; focused me. Thank you.


  2. kvennarad says:

    I have no musical knowledge or expertise. I can’t explain music in its technical terms. If anything, I react to it as a poet, synaesthetically, if that doesn’t sound too precious a statement. To me, Ligeti builds layers of sound, whether with instruments or with the human voice. The layers are of a thin film, or cloth, or rice paper. They relate to one another in terms of height and depth; having laid them he begins to strip them away again, as though the act laying/layering them has created the surface on which they rest. But there is, in fact, no surface; if they are held up – horizontal – by anything, it is by a breath. They ripple in that breath; sometimes I look at them, and they seem to penetrate each other. Their integrity is what holds my eye/ear. The following piece tells this better than I can.


  3. I’m not sure I like this piece of music, it starts sounding like the music of a nightmare at 4:50, I’ve enjoyed reading your research thank you.


  4. Carl says:

    I enjoy Ligeti, especially his piano music and chamber music. In this style, Penderecki is my favorite for sure. Penderecki holds on to tiny remnants of Western music, and that helps me with sense of purpose and direction. All the Penderecki orchestral music is grand. Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is maybe the most horrific piece of music for me, horrific in terms of striking up fear of evil. I understand the piece was named in this way after the first listen due to the nature of the raw fear involved in it.


    • kurtnemes says:

      Thanks or the post. The Threnody had that effect on me when I first heard it. I once even owned a copy of Penderecki’s Devils of Loudon. Thanks for reminding me. Best


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: