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György Ligeti (1923 – 2006)

György Ligeti composed his Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano in 1982 and it had its world premier in 1983 during the 150-Year Brahms Celebration in Hamburg. Although the work carries the title Hommage à Brahms, it has – as Ligeti himself explains – “not much to do with Brahms; it refers to Brahms perhaps only with a certain similar conservative attitude – with clear ironic distance.”

Johannes Brahms (1933 – 1897)

Nevertheless, several parallels to the Brahms Trio are obvious. Both Trios have four movements, an Andante as the beginning movement (an Andantino in the Ligeti Trio) and show a distinctive interest of both composers in counterpoint and classical form.

Especially conspicuous, though, is the fact that both works have a slow movement at their emotional centre – with Brahms an Adagio mesto, with Ligeti a Lamento. The latter, though, stands as the concluding movement – without the possibility to change to a more placatory mood.


In the first movement – Andantino con tenerezza – Ligeti allows the violin to play a choral-like theme of descending, as he says, “lopsided” horn fifths.

The horn plays, as if apparently enraptured, soft diatonic figurations around the violin part – with each other but never together. The piano appears only seldom, but when it does, then particularly with the nuclear material of the “lopsided” horn fifths.

The second movement – vivacissimo molto ritmico – lets a wild, pulsating, polymetric woven counterpoint arise. The highly virtuoso movement, with its piano ostinato reminding us of alienated jazz, awakens the impression, “as if” – according to Ligeti himself –
“Hungary, Rumania and the whole Balkan lies somewhere between Africa and the Caribbean.”

The third movement – Alla Marcia – is based on the classical A-B-A form. After the first hammering march section played only by the violin and piano, the horn joins in the middle section, where it spins a soft surface of sound made up of tender threads of melody together with the other instruments.

The fourth movement – Lamento – is a heart rending mourning music written in the form of a passacaglia. Out of the descending “lop-sided” horn fifths from the beginning of the first movement, the thematic cell of the whole work, a chromatic motive of tears now arises that intensifies to boundless desperation until the music collapses in itself in the truest sense of the word: Hammered in by the piano into its lowest registers, only to leave the violin in icy heights, against this the horn in its lowest registers with pedal-tones that are hardly recognisable.

The piano lets the horn fifths motive sound a last time, but strangely alienated “Like a photograph of a landscape, which in the meantime has dissipated into Nothingness”. (G. Ligeti)

György Ligeti decided to combine three instruments with different tonal characters, creating a fascinating blend of sounds. The French horn, piano, and violin form incredibly complex sound structures in this composition, requiring performers to have not only excellent technique but also interpretive skills.

Ligeti’s Trio for French Horn, Piano, and Violin is a piece that combines elements of musical avant-garde with traditional compositional forms. The composer experiments here with various compositional techniques, such as micropolyphony, while still maintaining a certain formal structure that gives the piece coherence and logical development.

One of the most characteristic elements of this trio is its extraordinary expressiveness. Ligeti was able to perfectly utilize the capabilities of each instrument to create rich and emotional sounds. Thanks to diverse playing techniques and unusual sound combinations, this piece can move the listener and immerse them in a world of extraordinary sounds.

Ligeti’s Trio for French Horn, Piano, and Violin stands out for its originality, technical difficulty, and deep expression. It is a piece worth getting to know and appreciating for its exceptional artistic and musical qualities.

We will be working on Ligeti and many other aspects of horn art during the Horn Masterclass at the Music Academy in Łódź from 7-12.07.2024.

For this year’s edition of the Horn Masterclass, we have managed to invite wonderful lecturers – professors such as Peter Arnold, Tomasz Bińkowski, Monika Paprocka-Całus, and David Bagoly will be with us. Accompanying us on the piano will be the wonderful pianist Joanna Kowalewska.

Don’t hesitate and register now!! #WKM2024 is a great opportunity to develop your skills and meet new people with a passion for music and the horn. To sign up for the course, simply visit my website, where you can find the registration form and more information about the event.

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