Thursday, September 14


First, there is silence. Then we think we hear something, music. It is one note, E above middle C, played by the solo cello alone. This entrance, Ligeti writes, should be inaudible, "as though coming out of nothingness." To make sure, he writes pppppppp, has the cello muted, and directs that there be no vibrato and that the bow be over the fingerboard (sul tasto), which further veils the sound. For nearly two minutes, we hear only this E. Gradually, though, it seems to step forward, to take on flesh: The orchestral strings join in (ppppp at first), then a flute, then a clarinet, then another clarinet. The while, the string color has changed: the players begin to use vibrato, which gradually becomes more intense; the bows move away from the fingerboard toward the bridge (sul ponticello), which produces a creepily glassy, sometimes raspy sound; and the violins, violas, and orchestral cellos start to play dense tremolandos. And even within the confines of this single note, the pitch becomes more complicated: When the cello plays E as a harmonic on the C-string and the bass plays E as a harmonic on the A-string, the two notes are not perfectly in tune with each other, but Ligeti asks that the players not correct the discrepancy, even though those clearly audible vibrations or throbs called "beats" may result.

-- Michael Steinberg, on György Ligeti's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, in The Concerto

György Ligeti

Cello Concerto (BBC review with RealAudio)

RealAudio is one of many things these days that crashes my ailing computer (it's happening a lot, alas). If you can't listen to BBC's RealAudio, a Windows Media sample is available on Amazon with Siegfried Palm's emerging E.

Other Ligeti samples (mp3s) can be found here.