Fredrik Ullen, LIGETI: Complete Piano Music

Todd Burns

By Todd Burns

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

LIGETI: Complete Piano Music

Fredrik Ullen
One of the few composers to survive both Hitler and Stalin.

In much of György Ligeti's work, you can hear the sound of a grand comedian — his opera Le Grand Macabre begins by poking fun at Monteverdi's "Orfeo," mocking its strident brass with an overture composed of 12 car horns — but his piano pieces are often a different story. Few will forget the stark and haunting opening notes to "Musica Ricercata: II," which soundtracked the psychosexual odyssey of Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. Fewer still will forget the forlorn, chiming dissonance of his Arc-en-ciel étude once they hear it. You can hardly blame him. Not many composers can claim to have survived both Hitler and Stalin. (Ligeti's brother and father died at Auschwitz and Ligeti fled Budapest in 1956 after the Soviets crushed a nascent rebellion.) But Ligeti doesn't always leave his rubber chicken at home — listen carefully to "3 Bagatelles for David Tudor" and tell us if you hear much more than a single piano note over its one-and-half minutes.