2001Arts and PhilosophyMusic
György Ligeti photo

György Ligeti

  • Austria / 1923-2006
  • Composer

A Composer with Superb Originality and Firm Commitment to Innovation who Continues to Present New Challenges

Mr. Ligeti is a master of modern music who saw through the limitations of serialism, which was the mainstream avant-garde music after World War II. While building on the achievements of the serialists, he has established his own unique musical style that fascinates people with its rich sound and fullness of human feeling.


Brief Biography

Born in the region of Transylvania (now Romania)
Studied musical composition at the Cluj Conservatoire
Graduated, Budapest Academy of Music
Lecturer, the same academy
Freed to Vienna following the Hungarian uprising
Worked at West German Electronic Studios for electronic music in Cologne
Guest Professor, Stockholm Academy of Music
Became a citizen of Austria
Composer in residence, Stanford University
Professor, The Hamburg University
Taught at centers around the globe

Selected Awards and Honors

Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Music
Member, The West Berlin Academy of Arts
Berliner Kunstpreis, Berlin
Bach Prize awarded by the City of Hamburg
Member, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
Prix Ravel, Paris
Prix Honegger, Paris
Ehrenzeichen für Wissenschaft und Kunst of the Republic of Austria
Order des Arts et des Lettres, France
Praemium Imperiale, Japan

Major Works










Lux aeterna



1974, 1977, 1996

Le Grand Macabre


Hungarian Rock


Hungarian Studies


A Composer with Superb Originality and Firm Commitment to Innovation who Continues to Present New Challenges

Mr. György Ligeti is a master of modern music who saw through the limitations of serialism, the mainstream avant – garde school of music after World War II. Building on the achievements of the serialists, he established his own unique musical style.

Mr. Ligeti made it to the international stage after the Hungarian uprising forced him to flee to Austria in 1956. Having previously known only a closed political regime, he was greatly surprised by the movements he saw in Western Europe. He was also thrown into contact with the avant – garde music of his generation, which helped him to establish his own personal style and mode of expression. The unique “tone cluster” method he first used in his composition “Apparitions” (1959) brought a fresh breeze to European music circles even as it exerted a profound impact on them. That masterpiece was followed by “Atmospheres,” which was first performed at the ISCM Festival in Donaueschingen, where it earned an honored place in the annals of contemporary music. In “Atmospheres,” Mr. Ligeti applied the most precise, complicated movement to each individual note of every grouping. This technique, “Micropolyphony” as he himself dubbed it, creates a great mass of sound that leaves in the listener an overall sensation of the color variation created by the movement of the carefully annotated individual notes, rather than a clearly outlined shape.

During the 1960s, Mr. Ligeti achieved indisputable fame as one of the most prominent composers in contemporary music, creating such works as “Aventures” (1962), a dramatic piece for three voices and seven instruments, and “Lontano” (1967), which highlights the composer’s singular lyricism.

Between 1974 and 1977, Mr. Ligeti applied his unique, highly individual techniques to the composition of an opera. The resulting “Le Grand Macabre” was hailed as the most significant opera of the latter half of the 20th century in pointing towards new operatic directions. The 1980s saw the creative background to Mr. Ligeti’s work assume even broader dimensions. Some of his work took on a more distinctively Hungarian color, and other pieces revealed his strong interest in African and other non – European music, or the influence of concepts such as fractals (a branch of mathematics concerned with a property called self – similarity, irregular patterns made up of parts that are in some way similar to the whole). Along with his unique interpretations of polyrhythm and automatism, his creativity has spawned a number of other fruits.

Whether by way of serialism, aleatory music, or some other modern musical technique or style, Mr. Ligeti has striven to transcend all limitations and restrictions in search of creative possibilities, and continues his vital activities with a consistently strong devotion, while maintaining both his originality and his spirit of sharp criticism for the harsh political circumstances he has experienced. In this manner, Mr. Ligeti has enchanted people the world over with his humane, rich sound.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to bestow upon Mr. György Ligeti the 2001 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy.


Abstract of the Lecture

Between Science, Music and Politics

I began to learn the piano at the age of 14 and also immediately to compose music. At the same time, through my fascination with the structural representation of complex compounds, I developed a strong interest in organic chemistry. Between the age of 15 and 18, I focused mainly on mathematics and subsequently passed the entrance examination in mathematics and physics at the University of Cluj (Kolozsvár). However, in 1941, I was refused admission because, in Hungary, Jews were bound by a numerus clausus. Fortunately, I was accepted to study music theory and composition at the conservatory of the same city.
My studies were interrupted by the war: I was called up for forced labor in the Hungarian army and my family was deported to concentration camps, from which only my mother survived.
After the war, instead of returning to science, I went to Budapest to study composition at the Music Academy, where, in 1950, I was appointed teacher for harmony and counterpoint. After having escaped the Nazi oppression, the whole of Eastern Europe was now tortured by another terrorist system, Soviet communism. This kind of life was unbearable to me and therefore, after the Hungarian revolution was crushed by the Soviet army in 1956, I fled to Austria. From Vienna I went to Cologne, where I was able to learn the techniques used for creating electronic music. However, I was soon disillusioned by the technical limitations and decided instead to apply these techniques to multilayered orchestral and vocal music.
Thus, in the late fifties, I developed the technique of “micropolyphony” in my large orchestra works “Apparitions” and “Atmosphères,” as well as later in the “Requiem” (1965). During those years, I also composed the “phonetic” pieces for singers and chamber ensemble, “Aventures” and “Nouvelles Aventures.” Concentrating on multilayered rhythmic structures, which I had applied in the “Poème Symphonique” for 100 metronomes (1962), in “Continuum” for harpsichord (1968), and in the “Three Pieces for Two Pianos” (1976), I developed a new kind of rhythmic order in the Studies for piano and the Piano Concerto (1985 – 2001). I also used non – tempered harmonies, such as in my “Hamburg Concerto” (1999), which includes an ensemble of five natural horns.
I was also a teacher for most of my life, not only in Budapest in the fifties, but in Stockholm as well from 1961 to 1972, at Stanford University in 1972 and finally in Hamburg from 1973 to 1989.

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Ligeti in Kyoto

13:00-17:30, Monday, November 12, 2001
Kyoto International Conference Hall
Seiji Choki, Member of the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee; Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Science, The University of Tokyo
Koji Sano, Member of the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee; Professor, Toho Gakuen School of Music


Opening Koji Sano
Address Toyomi Inamori
Managing Director, The Inamori Foundation
Introduction of Laureate Seiji Choki
Laureate Lecture György Ligeti - Laureate in Arts and Philosophy
"Rhythmic Configurations in My Piano Studies"
Symposium "Ligeti, a Transcendence of the European Thought"
Seiji Choki
Joji Yuasa, Member of the Kyoto Prize Committee; Composer
Yosihiko Tokumaru, Member of the Kyoto Prize Committee; Dean, Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, Ochanomizu University
Toshio Hosokawa, Composer
Yuji Numano, Lecturer, Tokyo College of Music
Concert (* First Performance in Japan)
From[Études pour Piano]
Vol. 2: no.13, no.14, no.14A*
Vol. 3: no.15, no.16*, no.17*, no.18*
(pf) Hiroaki Ooi
[Der Sommer]*
[Mysteries of the Macabre]
(S) Eiko Morikawa, (pf) Hiroaki Ooi
[String Quartet No. 2]
Quartetto Armonico
[Monument, Selbstportrait, Bewegung]
(pf) Momo Kodama, Hiroaki Ooi
Closing Koji Sano