JAVS Summer 2023

Modern Music Early Music Influences in György Ligeti’s Sonata for Viola Solo by Dr. Rose Wollman

In the summer of 2020, I began working in earnest on György Ligeti’s Sonata for Viola Solo . It is a monumental work in the canon of 20 th -century viola literature, and despite the chaos of the pandemic, I was grateful for the time it allowed me to sink my teeth into this piece. Two things struck me quite early in the process: one was that I would need to think creatively about how to program this work so that audiences would be able to understand and enjoy it on a first listening; the other was how much baroque influence there is in Ligeti’s writing. These thoughts were the genesis of an idea for an album. The result, titled Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy (Acis 2022), pairs each movement of the sonata with a baroque work and a newly commissioned piece. I had studied Ligeti’s music in school, so I knew that Ligeti drew inspiration from the past, particularly renaissance and baroque music; digging into the sonata made this connection clear for me. Baroque music influences large scale elements of Ligeti’s Sonata like the movement forms as well as the organization and number of movements in the piece. He writes a passacaglia, a chaconne, and a lament, and the sonata is 6 movements long, evoking the Bach Cello Suites. Elements of baroque style are in the minutiae as well. Despite the modern harmonic and instrumental approach, his melodic writing is clearly influenced by the gestural quality of baroque phrasing and benefits from a performance that enhances this quality. As I was looking for baroque works to pair with the movements of the sonata, I kept a few things in mind. First: it had to sound good. It was important to me that the two movements have a similar emotional impact and that the movements sounded like a reflection of one another. I looked for structural, harmonic, or motivic

parallels and found these elements for most of the pairs. The function of the movement was also an important factor in my decisions. Ligeti’s Sonata tells a story, and I did not want to disturb this narrative even as I broke up the movements by interleaving other works between them. The first movement of the Ligeti sonata, “ Hora lungă”, acts as a prelude, much like the preludes of the Bach Cello Suites . It is consistent in its melodic material, and it clearly establishes the tonal center—first in F and later in C. Ligeti uses the intonation of the harmonic overtone series for this movement, a technique he was experimenting with in several works around the same time, notably the Hamburg Concerto for horn and orchestra. In “ Hora lungă” he uses three deviations from equal temperament: 14 cents low as in the pure major 3rd (A when in the key of F, E when in the key of C), 31 cents low as in the 7th harmonic (E-flat when in the key of F, B-flat when in the key of C), and 49 cents low as in the 11th harmonic (B in the key of F, and F-sharp in the key of C). He uses a notation of down-facing arrows to indicate the microtonal deviations. This intonation system is disorienting at first, but the ear adjusts, especially after the first passage of natural harmonics that displays this intonation as a naturally occurring phenomena.

Example 1: Notation indicated by Ligeti for “Hora lungă.” 1


Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, Summer 2023 Online Issue

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