Here you will find a few analytical extracts from György Ligeti´s Musica Ricercata, a fascinating piece of music with 11 movements whereby each subsequent movement adds an extra note to the composition resource.

Musica Ricercata by György Ligeti

An Analysis

By Chanan Hanspal

The significance of Musica Ricercata is that each movement adds one more note to its harmonic structure, starting with two notes in movement one, three notes in movement two and so on. Some movements are less tonal than others; it seems the only relationship between these movements is the successive addition of notes.

Movement I A, D.
Movement II F, F#, G.
Movement III Eb, C, G, E.
Movement IV Bb, F#, A, G, G#.
Movement V C#, D, B, Ab, F, G.
Movement VI E, C#, B, A, F#, D, G.
Movement VII F, C, Eb, Bb, G, D, A, Ab.
Movement VIII D, E, B, C#, A, G, G#, C, F#.
Movement IX C#, A#, F, D, F#, A, C, G#, B, D#.
Movement X D, D#, E, F, Gb, Ab, G, C#, B, A#, A.
Movement XI E, F, F#, Eb, D, Db, G, C, B, G#, A, Bb.

Movement I

The principle note used is [A] and starts off in a syncopated manner played staccato; the left hand keeps a continuum of quaver notes playing the [A] up and down the octave while the syncopation occurs in the right hand rhythmically rubbing against the regular type rhythm in the bass clef. As there is a limited melodic/harmonic resource, the tension of this piece resides in the rhythm.

At various points, Ligeti uses accents on certain notes to emphasis dynamic development; the interjection of high octave [A’s] contributes to the development of the piece. Once the rhythmic continuity has finished, there are staccatissimo expressed [A’s] played in octaves, the space of silence between them is also a good way to create tension particularly after a rhythmic constant. The attacks get closer and closer giving the impression of speeding up; Ligeti uses an interesting device to do this without increasing the tempo, he starts with a group of minim triplet values, proceeded by four attacks on each beat of the 4/4 time signature, then a crotchet note quintuplet, crotchet note sextuplet and finally a crotchet note septuplet. The piece concludes on the second note of the movement [D].

Movement III
Allegro con spirito

The four pitches used in this movement [Eb, C, G, E] create a C major and minor triad which is the basic characterisation of the piece. The first four bars consist of the C minor tonality utilising the flattened third [Eb] to the tonic [C] as a basis to create a melodic theme with emphasis on the rhythmic figure shown below.

In bar 6 the melody is moved up a minor third retaining the rhythmic theme accompanied by staccato ascending and descending [C] major arpeggios in the bass clef. At bar 11 the [C] minor melody is played against the [C] major melody creating a clash of sonorities with the [E] and [Eb] being played in close proximity.

At bar 11 the original melody is played and then in the next bar it is inverted, as is the second melody. The theme is played and then repeated in alternate fashion until bar 13 where both melodies are played simultaneously. A rhythmic constant is then stated beginning at bar 15 in the bass clef of a major third [C, E], while a secondary melody made up of an arpeggiated second inversion [C] minor triad in rhythmic variation is set in the treble clef.

At bar 19 the harmonic emphasis is placed on the [Eb] to [E] and the way in which it is utilised suggests connotations of Gershwin; the typified ascending semitone approach to the major third used extensively in Rhapsody in Blue. At bar 33 the [C] major melody is played in combination with the inverted original [C] minor melody which opens the piece. The melodies are call and response with the notes in the bass clef at bar 37 proceeding with staccato arpeggiated permutations of [C] minor.

Overall, this movement is very energetic whereby a simple melodic and rhythmic figure develops throughout the piece. The way Ligeti has used the restricted musical components is by rhythmic development of the melody as well as inverting the melody at various points. Ligeti also expands the melodic content by distributing it in a manipulative manner which affords the listener a sense of forward motion, devoid of potentially uninteresting activity. The utilisation of melodic call and response is effective and deters from the harmonic clash existing within the tonal context of C major/minor, and rhythmic variation adds to the vitality of the piece.

Movement VI
Allegro molto capriccioso

There are seven notes used in this movement derived from the [D] major scale, however the music is more implicit of an [A] dominant sound which is related to the [D] major anyway. I will analyse it from the [A] dominant perspective. The movements starts with descending motifs repeated an octave apart, the notes are of an A major pentatonic derivation giving a light and playful [capriccioso] mood to the music. The motif begins to overlap in the bass clef at bar 3 suggestive of a canon. On close analysis of the vertical construction between the treble and bass clef notes commencing at the 4th beat of bar 3 an interesting alternate between the notes [E, B, C#, and A] occurs.

Observing the above right diagram you can see starting from beat 3 , the simultaneity of the notes:

Bar 3 [beat 4] - E, B.
Bar 3 [beat 4+] - C#, A.
Bar 4 [beat 1] - B, E.
Bar 4 [beat 1+] - A, C#.
Bar 4 [beat 2] - E, B.
Bar 4 [beat 2+] - C#, A.
Bar 4 [beat 3] - B, E.
Bar 4 [beat 3+] - A, C#.
Bar 4 [beat 4] - E, B.
Bar 4 [beat 4+] - C#, A.

This pattern emerges whereby the notes played simultaneously alternate every other beat implying a kind of isomorphism.

At bar 7 a melodic fragment is established in the higher register of the piano while in the bass clef the first 5 notes of an [A] major scale are repeated. The melodic fragment is played again at bar 11 only this time, 2 octaves lower, leading up to the descending run at bar 13 which is now clearly indicative of the [A] dominant sound with the b7 [G]. Bar 23, the melodic fragment that occurred earlier at bar 7 is repeated but in triadic harmonisation, then at bar 27 a recapitulation of the opening bars.

Movement XI
Andante misurato e tranquillo

This movement is sort of serial; there is a system in place which derives its content from a 12-note row which is taken through 12 configurations. I’m not sure if it is completely serial for there is a contrapuntal line of a descending chromatic nature played against the 12 note rows. The row is as follows:

E, F, F#, Eb, D, Db, G, C, B, G#, A, Bb

The transposition of each row is taken through a cycle of fifths, and interestingly the last note of each row is followed by its normal note placement in the musical alphabet in the transposition, for example:

Original row - E, F, F#, Eb, D, Db, G, C, B, G#, A, Bb
Transposition - B, C, C#, Bb, A, Ab, D, G, Gb, D#, E, F
Transposition - F#, G, G#, F, E, Eb, A, D, Db, A#, B, C

I could not find any inversions or retrogrades of the original row, so it would seem that the original row is kept intact throughout with the exception of variations in the form of incomplete rows later in the piece.

From the outset an overlapping occurs whereby the original row is played followed by a chromatic line which descends in this case from the [A] first note bar 4 in the bass clef to the [A] in bar 7, at this point the descending chromaticism, at least in a musical alphabet form, carries on from the [Ab] an octave higher to the [E] in bar 10 at which point it is then taken over by the [Eb] on the second beat treble clef. The chromatic run from the [Eb] continues down to the [A] in bar 12. As this outline takes place, the original row is interjected in transposition at specific points. On the second note of the chromatic run in bar 4, the first transposition of the original row occurs [second beat, treble clef] it follows the same pattern in which the row is played followed by a chromatic descent; this pattern intertwines between the right and left hand.

The pattern breaks up at bar 13, in the preceding fashion the [F#] in the bass clef would normally move to [F] and continue descending chromatically but it does not and is instead followed by [Bb] which is in continuation of a chromatic run in the treble clef. In the treble clef, the fourth transposition of the row begins starting on [G#].

The pattern begins again after the break up at bar 13 whereby the fourth transposition staring on [G#] proceeds to descend chromatically from the [C#] in bar 16 carried on in the bass clef, at the same time the fifth transposition is played starting on [D#]. The descent from [C] on the third beat of bar 16 bass clef is harmonised by a minor third below each note.

In bar 19 the sixth transposition is accompanied by descending minor seventh intervals, and in bar 22 the contrapuntal formation ceases. From bar 22 beat 3 the row is played in seventh transposition in the bass clef while the chromatic descending line is played in fourths with a slight rhythmic modification in the descent staring on the [G] which accompanies the fourths.

The eighth transposition at bar 25 is played in octaves while the run in the bass clef descends in tone clusters that gradually expand with the top notes of the clusters ascending by semitones from the fourth beat bar 27 onwards until the ninth transposition. At bar 35 where the eleventh transposition happens the descending chromaticism ends and the rows begin to overlap in keeping with the contrapuntal theme hitherto. Bar 36 is where the original row begins again, the subsequent rows start earlier than before emphasising counterpoint.

The rhythm of the row at bar 42 is contracted in duration by half, and in the same bar in the bass clef the rhythm accompanying the row is doubled in duration. In bars 45-50 there is rhythmic variation where the rows conflict in time as a consequence of the doubling and halving of the rhythmic values.

In Bar 50, the ninth, tenth and eleventh transpositions are played simultaneously forming a chordal block moving in equal intervallic structure.

At the end of bar 52, the first six notes of the tenth transposition are repeated almost four times. At bar 54 the first six notes of the eleventh transposition are repeated twice, interspersed is half of the original row in the bass clef at bar 55. The contrapuntal activity at this point intensifies until the original row in broken rhythm is stated softly in the last few bars.