This amazing recording features the first two books of Ligeti's Etudes for Piano, representing later work from the 1980s and onward, the Musica Ricercata from the early 1950s, and a brief etude from 1995 and the third etude book.
It is an illustration of Ligeti's penchant for building upon a traditional form with a highly personalized modern style, as well as the phenomenal playing of Pierre-Laurent Aimard. There is a great deal of complexity in tempos, range, expressiveness and power in these works, especially the etudes, and in the hands of Aimard, the pieces are staggering in their conception and execution. As a Sony Classical production, the sound is also top-notch and heard on headphones, the album is more exceptional from the standpoint of the clarity.
It is also illustrative to read Ligeti's notes about why he composed etudes:
The initial impetus was, above all, my own inadequate piano technique. . .I would love to be a fabulous pianist! I know a lot about nuances of attack, phrasing, rubato, formal structure. And I absolutely love to play piano, but only for myself . . . that's what I would like to achieve: the transformation of inadequacy into professionalism. I lay my ten fingers on the keyboard and imagine music. My fingers copy this mental image as I press the keys, but this copy is inexact: a feedback emerges between idea and tactile/motor execution . . . the result sounds completely different from my initial conceptions: the anatomical reality of my hands and the configuration of the piano keyboard have transformed my imaginary constructs . . . I call for support upon the four great composers who thought pianistically: Scarlatti, Chopin, Schumann, and Debussy.Ligeti also highlights the polyphony employed in ensemble playing in Africa, specifically Uganda, Malawi and other nations and the playing of the mbira (highlighted here before) and other similar instruments that bear a relation to the piano. Colin Nancarrow, another major modern composer, and the jazz pianists Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans are also mentioned as influences when it comes to the uniqueness of the playing and writing of each.
He also briefly discusses the Musica Ricercata as devolving from his devotion to twelve-tone music as well as his appreciation for Bartok and Stravinsky, noting that that the first of the eleven pieces has two tones transposed through octaves and then each adds another tone, so that the final has all twelve. As Ligeti states, the suite comprises
A severe, almost noble piece, hovering between academic orthodoxy and deep reflection: between gravity and caricature.To go from the later etudes back to the early twelve-tone work is to see how much a composer can evolve over the course of a long, fruitful career. For an amateur seeking a greater appreciation for the range of works for the highly expressive piano, this album was a real eye-opener.