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The Cosmopolitan Absurdity of Ligeti's Late Works


As Esa-Pekka Salonen notes, György Ligeti ‘was the most cosmopolitan of composers, but, paradoxically, remained clearly defined in terms of his roots and language’. As a ‘rooted’ cosmopolitan and survivor of Nazi and Soviet occupations, Ligeti retained an inherent idealism that reached back to Kant's notion of a cosmopolitan, universal future, albeit one tempered by nostalgia and fatalism. In their incorporation of disparate cultural influences, the late works in particular exemplify a form of cultural contestation—distinct from mere pluralism or hybridity—known as the ‘cosmopolitan imagination’. This paper focuses on one manifestation of this cosmopolitan impulse in four vocal and instrumental compositions. Each work manifests a comic absurdity that neither mimics nor merges the music and text which inspire it, and which binds Ligeti's music to larger modernist themes.

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