Skip to page content

Composed: 1958-1959
Length: c. 9 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes ( = piccolo), 3 clarinets (3rd = E-flat), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets, claves, crotales, dishes, glockenspiel, guiro, maracas, snare drum, tambourine, tam-tam, temple blocks, whip, woodblocks, xylophone), harp, celesta, piano, harpsichord, and strings
First LA Phil Performance: June 3, 1989, Pierre Boulez conducting (Ojai Festival)

Apparitions was a break-through work for Ligeti, and one of the foundational pieces of post-World War II European modernism. Sensuous and abrasive in equal measure, this densely scored, deeply considered, astoundingly original piece did not come easily, passing through several stages and titles over nine years.

“... this idea of a ‘static’ music, and music that is constructed with very complex webs, polyphonic webs, this was an idea which I had in Budapest, and I even remember the exact time that it first came to me, although at the time I didn’t write anything down,” Ligeti told Richard Dufallo in an interview. “It was in 1950. I had imagined it, but I didn’t know how to write it down. The first piece that was purely ‘static’ was Visions, which I wrote in the summer of ’56 in Budapest, and Apparitions, the first movement, is a third variant of this piece. There was a first variant in ’56 titled Visions, and then the second one in ’57 in Cologne and Vienna, with the title Apparitions, where the first movement was the same, but more sophisticated after the influence of Boulez, Stockhausen, Koenig, Kagel, and so on, in Cologne.

And finally, the third version is Apparitions. I say the title in French, because in English it has a different connotation, like ghosts, while in French it means appearances. The first movement I finished in ’58 and the second movement in ’59, and the performance was in ’60. Then it was absolutely finished at that time.”

The word “static,” which the composer uses in a very specific compositional sense, may be misleading for such dynamic music, even if it does often buzz ferociously in closely clustered orchestral bands of sound. (There is also playfulness here; dissonance does not always equal angst.) Its two movements give it a structure similar to the verbunkos of Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, with its slow, ghostly introduction and manic main section (no spoilers here, but watch the percussion at the end).

— John Henken