Orchestra of Colours / ONASSIS CULTURAL CENTRE

Orchestra of Colours

Schnittke/ Ligeti/ Henze

5 December 2011
Main Stage
This concert features lesser-known compositions by three giants of post-war music: Alfred Schnittke, György Ligeti and Hans Werner Henze.
15 – 18 – 28 €
Concs. 10 – 15 €
Having encountered and engaged with the main methods and techniques of Serialism, all three composers would go on to reject blind adherence to a strictly defined compositional schedule and blaze highly personal compositional trails.

One of the leading Russian composers of the 20th century, Schnittke was one of very few Soviet artists who managed to break free of the stylistic strictures of Soviet cultural policy. Influenced initially by Shostakovich and later by Serialism, he developed a ‘polystylistic’ style (the label is the composer’s own) which combined music of various genres, past and present.

Schnittke wrote his Gogol Suite (1980) for the stage version of Gogol’s Dead Souls, which relates the failed attempts of Chichikov, a mysterious charlatan, to buy the souls of dead serfs from their masters to use as collateral in the purchase of an estate of his own. And just as Gogol conjures up an illusory, sordid world using what Nabokov calls “a life-generating syntax”, so Schnittke sweeps us up into an illogical, disintegrating world with music which, though it addresses poverty, is richly referential. Juxtaposing ‘high’ quotes from, for example, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with fragments of popular music, the composer calls upon rhythms and melodies to exist—like Chichikov’s souls—without flesh and blood.

Ligeti abandoned his native Hungary after the 1956 revolution. After some time in Vienna, he ended up in Cologne, where he became acquainted with Stockhausen, Koenig and other luminaries of the avant garde. In Germany, Ligeti’s compositional style would be profoundly influenced by the nascent potentialities of electro-acoustic music, which would lead the composer far away from music that could be broken down into—or described in terms of—melody, harmony and rhythm, and open his eyes to a new approach to music via the volumes and textures of what he termed ‘micropolyphony’.

The Chamber Concerto (1969-70) marks a stylistic and chronological half-way stage between the radical and ‘plastic’ Atmosphères (1961) for large orchestra, and Ligeti’s only opera, Le Grand Macabre (1978), which embraced an eclectic vocabulary. The style in which the work is written seems to develop between the first and fourth movements: beginning with a technique which articulates cluster chords using strict canons to produce a continually changing orchestral texture, the concerto ends with a fourth movement in which the austerity and density of single voices is relaxed to reveal a perceptible—albeit fleeting—sense of melody.

Hans Werner Henze is one of the latter half of the 20th century’s most important composers of opera and theatre music. He has summarized his own aesthetic in terms of the need “to breach the conventions so as to present them in a new light by making effective use of new expressive means”.

And, indeed, after briefly engaging with Serialism and quitting Germany for Italy, Henze did begin to draw freely on the innate qualities of stylistic elements from every era and place. He also went on record to state that his musical interests did not extent to irony and detachment. His Three Dithyrambs creates a flow of intense and dramatic contrasts in which the freely atonal development of musical ideas results in a clearly melodic composition with its share of stylistic references.


Alfred Schnittke [1934 – 1998]
Gogol Suite (1980)

György Ligeti [1923 – 2006]
Chamber Concerto (1969-70)

Hans Werner Henze [γενν. 1926]
Drei Dithyramben (Three Dithyrambs, 1958)

Orchestra Conductor: Miltos Logiadis