Review of Gyorgi Ligeti\'s Danse Macarbei

Aaron Warner

This piece is a lesson in polytonality, dissonance, and complexity. The
first thing heard is an imitation of a car horn that seems designed to grab hold
of the listener. If I were inattentive before this piece, I certainly was wide
awake when it was over. Ligeti seems to have sculpted a piece together from bits
and pieces of other musical styles: a sort of modern-art approach to music. The
violins tuning without a care in the first few moments, the slow mock continuo
of the highly dissonant bassoon counterpoint, and the later high pitch of a
clarinet all seem to be broad, bold strokes on a canvas of sound. Ideas come
floating to the front of the imaginary "stage", and drop back behind newer
The percussion also adds considerably to the complexity of the piece in
the later minutes, stomping along without any respect for the classical violin
or the clarinet\'s solo theme. A bird drops in, played by the flute, taking the
focus away from the slowing, stomping band. Perhaps this is a bit of editorial
from the composer himself on big-band music in general? The marching band ushers
in the beginning of the end, gaining speed and volume. The texture of the piece
grows with the addition of another instrument every few measures. After a short
build, the threshold of noise is reached. All of the instruments of the band and
orchestra are playing at their highest volume, playing solos of a mixture of
styles, in a polyrhythmic soup of sound. The peak of this amalgamation is
reached, and the slow, almost drunken marching band pulls us away, towards the
end of the piece.

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