Searching, Seeking

The Six Bagatelles began their way in the world originally as six movements (III, V, VII, VIII, IX, X) from Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata for solo piano. Composed early in his career, Musica Ricercata was, as Ligeti has noted, “still deeply influenced by Bartók and Stravinsky.” One senses that connection immediately in the strong rhythmic impulses and accented off-beats.

What’s in a name? Possibly an interesting point to ponder. Musica Ricercata translates roughly as “sought” or “searched” music. To a musician in the Renaissance or Baroque, a ricercar would have indicated a work – typically improvised – that sought to establish a particular key or tonality. The title, Musica Ricercata, hinted at the structural nature of the twelve movement piano solo work in which the number of pitches increases by an interval of one in every movement, slowly but surely searching through ideas of tonality. Thus the opening is constructed entirely out of the pitch A at varying octaves and rhythms (pitch D is added only as the final sound), and the final movement is a twelve-tone fugue. Conversely, bagatelle means entirely the opposite: a trifle, something frivolous or trivial. Certainly the original title would no longer be applicable here in the transcription where the movements are plucked out of order and the intricate intervallic relationship of pitches is disrupted. Perhaps out of their original context Ligeti perceived the works simply as individual brief experiments in sound that may be immediately found and enjoyed rather than needing to be sought.

Our season opens tomorrow with Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles. Learn more and get tickets here.

(From Kathryn J. Allwine Bacasmot’s program notes)

Here is a scene from the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut, which uses the second movement of Ligeti’s original piano version of the Musica Ricercata throughout.

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