Etude No. 9, “Vertige”
Fractal geometry, the tessellations of M.C. Escher, Banda-Linda pipe orchestra music from the Central African Republic, the canonic music of Conlon Nancar- row, Minimalism, the horrors of WWII and post-WWII Soviet occupation, and chaos theory – these are some of the influences that informed the music of the remarkable Hungarian composer György Ligeti. All of these multifarious phenomena find their way into Ligeti’s Piano Etudes.
But just as important and influential to their composition was the composer’s own fingers. “The initial impetus was, above all, my own inadequate piano technique.” In all, Ligeti composed 18 etudes in three books between 1985 and 2001; only a last prolonged illness prevented him from composing more.
Ligeti composed Etude No. 3: Touches bloquées (Blocked keys) in 1985. It is a moto perpetuo featuring a technique of silently depressing notes in the left hand (blocked keys) while the right glides over them in descending chromatic scales, leaving gaps between notes. This process is disrupted by descending octaves between both hands grouped in threes and fours. The study ends with a continuation of the opening music.
Along with Etudes 13 and 14, Etude No. 9: Vertige (Dizziness, 1990) concentrates on the technical problem of creating the musical illusion of spirals found in nature. Ligeti achieves this “illusion” through the use of overlapping chromatic scales that in their repetitions rise and descend slowly, creating a sense of simultaneously spiraling and standing still.
In Etude No. 1: Désordre (Disorder) Ligeti magically realizes chaos theory through giving the right hand white-key notes (heptatonic) and the left hand black-key notes (pentatonic) in melodic phrases that contracts by one eighth note with each repetition in the right hand, thereby displacing accents between the two hands, leading to metrical and rhythmic disorder of a most entertaining kind.