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Ligeti – Lux Aeterna

Vectoral Analysis By Diego Barbosa-Vasquez

Ligeti – Lux Aeterna

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Historical Background

Ligeti is a Hungarian composer that start to be consider an important Avant-Grad composer with his works Visions and Apparitions 1956. In those works, the composer starts to develop a style that take advantage of concept of the electronic European music (timbre development) and Cage advances in experiential music (experiential music). The Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima written in 1960 by Penderecki can be assumed as an influence too due to the way that strings are used by the composer to recreate noises sounds. With respect of Lux Aeterna (written in 1966), this is focused in the timbre elements that can be development with an acoustic approach. With the Latin usual text of Lux Aeterna and written for 16 voice (a common mixed choir of 4 per voice), this works explores a new way of choral written. In addition, is important to highlight the dramatic musical vision of Ligeti, that gives important advances to the operatic world. It can be seen in all his works where the text painting procedure takes advantage of the surrounding advances of the music in Europe and USA.

Overview, Structure, and Texture

The piece form is defined by the text with three main parts. The first (Beginning to letter B) with the Lux Aeterna text and sung by sopranos and altos. The second (Letter B to Letter F) with Domine Cum Sanctus where the piece goes to the most complex texture in letter E. And the third (Letter F to final) Domine et lux perpetua that goes to the silence as a part of the music. In terms of the texture the micropolyphony is the base of it. Ligeti creates with two elements. First in terms of pitches using clusters, going to a simple note (F at the begging) to a complex cluster of 6 or 7 voices (bar 21) and then returning to a simple pitch of 1 or 2 voices. Second in terms of rhythm using complex rhythms in the voice entrances. With those elements that avoid predictable patterns, Ligeti creates a continues sound form the begging to the end very related with the perpetual light of the Lux Aeterna text meaning.

Orchestration Techniques

Related with the perpetual light, Ligeti organize the voices in a way that the stativity of the perpetual concept is perceived. Used the common mixed choir but divided in 16 voices the composer works with complex notes and rhythms. However, the voices are used in a usual organization to divide the chords BTAS as can be seen in letter E. The more important orchestration technique is the complex organization of entrances in terms of its rhythmic structure, where the 16 voices are used plenty. Always with different subdivisions of sextuple, quintuples and sixteenth notes, each voice creates a new perception of tempo. With this Ligeti creates a no perceptible patters eliminating the tempo even in a clear 4/4 measure.

Basic Techniques

The micropolyphony is the base of this composition. This is created using the division of the voices described above. It allows the composer to manage complex rhythmic structure where each voice has a different rhythm structure of silences before their entrances. It serves the perpetual static mood of the piece. In addition, this procedure allow composer to go from a simple note to a cluster and then return to one or two notes keeping the mood of a perpetual stativity.

Vertical Models

The piece in terms of vertical models is primarily based in a movement from one note to a cluster and return. Bars 1, 16 and 36 are good examples of it. The bar one have just an F that grows until 16th bar where there are 7 notes at the same time, a cluster that then returns to a simple A in bar 36. The cluster can be analyzed as a group of notes in a vertical organization when just start to change from a simple note. The first three notes are organized in a minor third and a second. After it, the pitches are organized to create a continually cluster.

Horizontal Models

The piece evokes the perpetual concept of the Lux Aeterna text using the stativity in the lines. The composer kept almost no melodic changes in the lines since they entered in a specific note until they next entrance. The melodic movements are made in the next entrance of each voice (always with a rest before the change), avoiding the melodic progression movement. Those, covered movements, are based primarily in diatonic and thirds leaps. Just one moment is different (bar 24), where the voices have a 9th leap, probably based in a text paint procedure of luceat (shine) word.


Ligeti has an important emphasis in the dramatic approach to the music. In his works, the composer uses the avant-garde developments of his contemporaries to serve the dramatic effect. In this specific work, Ligeti uses the micropolyphony to serve the text painting procedure. This device is used constantly to avoid tempo patterns and melodic perceptible changes that recreates the perpetual mood of the Lux Aeterna text.

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