for orchestra
Ensemble/Chamber Orchestra
Language of this work
Number of performers
1 (also pic.) · 1 (also obda.) · 1 · 1 - 2 · 1 · 1 · 1 - perc. (timp. · xyl. · vibr. · glock. · crot.) (1 performer) - pf. (also cel.) - str. (8 · 6 · 6 · 4 · 3 or soloistic 1 · 1 · 1 · 1 · 1)
Composition year(s)
World premiere
Nürnberg · Philharmonic Orchestra Nürnberg · conductor: Hans Gierster
Nürnberg · Philharmonic Orchstra Nürnberg · Hans Gierster, conductor

György Ligeti: The Ligeti Project © 2016 Warner Classics 0825646028580

Comment of the composer on the work

Melodien is another piece for chamber orchestra, but this time for rather more players. It was written in 1971, immediately after my Chamber Concerto. The title refers to the particular nature of the instrumental writing, in which the individual voices are markedly melodic in style. Their polyphonic weave, by contrast, is more reminiscent of a labyrinth, allowing individual melodies to emerge only fitfully. Unlike the Chamber Concerto, this is a single-movement work, with the contrasting kinetic elements forming a single continuous structure in a permanent state of flux, flowing along like a river, each of whose meanders differs considerably from the next one: within this continuum there are sudden inlets and even fissures that disrupt the calm and gradual transformation of the musical material. Melodien is a more abstract and “remote” piece than the Chamber Concerto. It is also iridescent and metallic music, with celesta, glockenspiel and crotales colouring it as though with gold dust.

Melodien and the Chamber Concerto have at least one point in common inasmuch as their melodic and harmonic writing is generally chromatic, even if individual details are diatonic (but non-tonal). In the Chamber Concerto the balance between chromaticism and diatonicism is maintained by means of a permutation technique of the pitches, with the store of used pitches constantly changing. This entails an avoidance of tonal centres and means that the musical material is distributed equally throughout the work. In the case of Melodien the changes to the store of material (and, hence, to the harmonic writing) were planned in advance. Here there are no permutations, but only locally predominant interval combinations, to form a constantly changing river bed; the intervallic framework grows now narrower, now wider. There is a permanent state of tension within a “soft” harmonic context, a state of suspense in which a suspension striving for resolution is never in fact resolved. (There is, however, an exception: at a point exactly half way through the piece in terms of its overall duration the intervallic structure contracts or dilates to form a unison extending over several octaves, but this momentary balance is immediately lost as the pitches strain to move apart again.)

© 2001–2003 Teldec Classics & 2004 Warner Classics, Warner Music UK Ltd | Translation: Louise Duchesneau