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Ligeti – Etude 8

Vectoral Analysis by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

Ligeti – Etude 8

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Historical Background

This work is a good example of the post-minimalism style that surrounded the era when this work was composed (1988). In this work, Ligeti, a composer known for his incredible advances in the phonemes as musical tools and his chromatic and complex structures, is returning to consonant sounds, classic structure and regularly rhythms. A common sense of the post-minimalism with composers being aware of the audience as an essential part of their art. In addition, this work is part of the very uncommon pieces for piano solo written in the 20th century.

Overview, Structure, and Texture

The structure of the piece is defined by the music itself, a fact that is important to highlight in Ligeti, because it contrast his previous works where was defined by dramatic or phonemes structure. This etude no.8 is based in the classical approach of structure. It can be divided in 2 main parts, the rhythmical one until bar 57 and the lyric from 58 to the end. In addition, the rhythmical section can be divided in 2 sections. The first with 2 phases F and P each one with similar length. And the second with 2 short phrases and a longer always with the same pattern of F and P dynamics. In terms of the texture the work is primarily homophonic with the whole movements of voices at the same time.

Orchestration Techniques

The orchestration technique is very traditional for a piano etude of classic or romanticism periods. Here the composer not use prepared piano or other electronic advances done in the previous 40 years. However, is remarkable the use of just one string in the piano sections of the piece and 3 strings in the forte sections. Another orchestration aspect can be found in the description at the beginning of the score, where the composer requires “always hard and metallic”.

Basic Techniques

The piece is organized with three basic techniques. The first basic technique is the continuously rhythmic motives. A tool that started to be consider again by composers at those days in order to create more connection with the audiences. The second aspect is the open sound, a tool that is used to create a consonant sound even with dissonances of seconds (that with the space are ninths). Again a device that creates an easier understanding of the piece by audiences. Third, the vertical organization of the pitches in fifths, sometimes with the third and sometimes alone.

Vertical Models

As is described above the vertical models are primarily based in the open fifth. In addition to this sound, a third can be heard with those sounds but separated from the open fifth. It creates an open chord with the third as the base or as the soprano keeping the open fifth alone. Moreover, there are some movements of the piece that, due to the horizontal movements, ninths are created but with a careful distance in order to avoid dissonant sounds. Examples are bar 3 end of the third beat or bar 9 end of the third beat. Furthermore, those open sounds started to become more complex at the end of the rhythmic section of the piece where full chords of four fifths and some seconds can be heard.

Horizontal Models

The horizontal movements are based in the diatonic and thirds movements in the voices. In addition, at the end of the rhythmical section the movements have a bigger variety. There movements of tritons, fourths, and even sixths can be heard. Furthermore, due to the organization of the voices and the lack of continual accents suggested by the composer, a secondary horizontal motive can be heard with the leaps between the left and right hand. In this case the horizontal movements are based in different intervals no less that a seventh.


The piece has a post-minimalism style that contrast with Ligeti’s previous work. In the Etude No. 8, the composer returns to the simplicity. The use of open fifths, the regularly rhythmical patterns and the classic structure of the piece creates a work consider the audience as a part of the musical art.

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