College of Music


The Pendulum New Music concert series, now in its 14th season, presents some of CU's best performers from all departments, premiering original music of our CU composers. Every monthly concert also features a faculty or guest performance.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Alarm Will Sound composer readings

In case you haven't heard, the amazing Alarm Will Sound is visiting next weekend, and they're going to present readings of our own CU student's works! This is going to be a memorable occasion!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Upcoming January 28th, 2015 Pendulum Concert!

What a beautiful selection of music to start off the 2015 year!

After Clendinning: “Ligeti Chord” as a Constructive Element in Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna by Egemen Kesikli

After Clendinning:
“Ligeti Chord” as a Constructive Element in Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna

Egemen Kesikli

* * *

In my latest blog I chatted with CU composer Dan Cox about his music and influences, and one of the questions I asked him was about Jane Clendinning’s approach to contemporary musical analysis, prominently based on Ligeti’s micropolyphonic music. Thankfully, I received several questions regarding the article and how it could apply to Ligeti’s music, so I decided to write an ‘analytical’ blog this month. And what better piece than the famous (or notorious) Lux Aeterna to understand Clendinning’s approach? Indeed...

But first is first: Let’s not give up highlighting the next Pendulum concert!

As usual, it will feature new works by CU composers, as well as masterpieces by living masters. “So it goes” by S. Wellington, “From Fireflies to Thunderstorms ” by E. Mulhern, “Un fond de paysage triste et glace” by C. Komschlies, “Three Driving Pulses” by S. Spark, and “En Masse” by M. Denney, which will feature the CU violin and viola students, are some of the highlights of the upcoming concert.

Pendulum is also happy to present the University Choir under Prof. Andrea Ramsey’s direction in this season opener, featuring works by Michael MyGlynn (, Stephen Chatman ( and by Andrea Ramsey herself ( As always, it will be exciting and fresh!

So mark your calendars: Wednesday, January 28, at 7.30 pm in Grusin Music Hall.

Now back to Ligeti!

* * *

But let’s first remember Clendinning’s article:

She believed that Ligeti’s music should be analyzed in three distinct levels: Microstructural, macrostructural, and aural, and all three are equally significant. The famous Ligeti trichord (025), used either as a harmonic device or cluster chord which is present in many works of Ligeti’s, would be a micro and macrostructual as well as aural element in this regard, considering that the pitch-material not only establishes the form, but also is easy to hear. Nothing is ever coincidental in Ligeti’s music, and the microstructural elements will always be aural. Getting confused? Don’t worry, Clendinning did provide an analysis of the work! Here we go with the details:

In her macrostructural approach to the piece, she suggested that the Ligeti chord is the formal element dividing the piece into three sections, set on the word “Domine” homophonically. Therefore the chord not only acts as a formal constructive device, but also is a vital element in aural level since it specifies the word “Lord”. She also underlined that it is not a coincidence to observe the trichord layered microcanonically throughout the piece. Clendinning, nevertheless, does not provide an adequate correlation between the microstructural and aural level, as she does for macro and aural. So I will attempt to bring a reasonable explanation for this “non-coincident” occurrence of the Ligeti chord in microstructural level. Have your scores ready, and let’s have some fun.

* * *

The piece opens with an F natural microcanonically layered in eight voices, followed by minor-second higher/lower pitch occurrences in first four bars. Until bar 8, there are already four pitches presented chromatically: E, F, F#, G (pitches in order); yet the pitch-centricity of F natural is reinforced by constant repetitions in each bar, although the range slowly enlarges. In bar 8, F natural no longer acts as a pitch center, but as a part of the first Ligeti chord: Eb-F-Ab (chord I). The chromatic departure from the “tonic center” in first eight bars here evolves into the first trichordal harmony, using the very tonic center as the middle pitch. At this point, we observe that the previously presented F sharp and E natural act only as upper and lower leading tones, once again reinforcing the pitch-centricity of F natural. From measure 8 until rehearsal letter A, constant repetitions of the Ligeti chords are layered micropolyphonically, presented in different pitch combinations: Bar 9 introduces the pitches Db-Eb-Gb (chord II), whereas bar 15 G-Bb-C (chord III).

The trichord in one of these three combinations is never missing until rehearsal letter A. Nevertheless, F natural and B flat are the only two pitches that are present continuously from the moment they are presented (F natural: beginning, Bb: bar 15), therefore another combination of the Ligeti chord is naturally created when the chord III is introduced (F-G-Bb)—I will call this Chord IV, keep it easy, you know. Until letter A, a total of 9 pitches are presented (C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-G-Ab-Bb) in addition to the harmonically non-functional, “leading tone” E natural, at the very beginning. All the pitches except E natural are a part of one combination of the Ligeti chord (025).

The remaining/unused three pitches of the twelve-tone row are A-B-D until rehearsal letter A, which I will call “transition to section II” (don’t you worry, I will explain this later). These pitches A-B-D undoubtedly and non-coincidentally form another Ligeti chord (Chord V), but the trichord is not present homophonically or microcanonically at this point. One of the pitches of Chord V, A natural, is introduced as a pick-up note in penultimate measure to letter A, and held in different layers (not-stopping) until the rehearsal letter B, yet it is not a part of any Ligeti chords. In fact, between letter A and B, the Ligeti chord (in any combination) is rarely prominent micropolyphonically, although the pitches are spread around in an irregular design. Here’s an example: there is an F natural and G natural in measure 25, however B flat (to complete the Chord presented microcanonically) is not present until mm.32, where this time the other two pitches are no longer present. Chord I is merely presented only once in bar 28, yet disappears very quickly; whereas Chord II is not even implied.

* * *

Y’all might ask me then, why the Ligeti trichord is no longer present either homophonically or micropolyphonically, although I suggested that it is a unifying element in all three-levels of structural analysis. To answer this question, we must go back to what Ligeti did at the very beginning of the piece: F natural was introduced and held for a long time, creating a sense of pitch centricity, and until the point where the first harmony was presented, minor seconds only acted as upper and lower leading tones which pointed directly into a overpowering F natural. A similar case happens at the rehearsal letter A, where A natural is dynamically and length-wise the dominant pitch. Non-occurring A flat and B flat are minor-seconds (upper and lower leading tones) around A natural, around which the pitch-centricity is emphasized (precisely like F natural).

But the beginning of the piece did not have micropolyphonic representation of the Ligeti chord yet; so those minor seconds acted only as leading tones. In letter A, they would actually complete Chords II and IV, hence preventing centricity around A natural, instead of indicating it. In other words, it would be a clash of minor seconds rather than “upper/lower leading tones” due to simultaneous presence of the trichords, which would be too dangerous for a clear statement of a new pitch-center. In conclusion, the piece “modulates” into a “new pitch-area”, and the final occurrence of the Chord I in bar 28 recalls the “primary pitch-area” to imply a “transition”. From the four Ligeti chords formed around F natural, the piece modulates into new trichords to be formed around A natural. (Dude, please do note that those terms in quotation marks are not academically recognized in context, so don’t accuse me for giving random terms).

* * *

Can we, then, expect all the other features of the primary pitch-area F natural to be present in the new pitch-area A natural? Luckily, Ligeti does not frustrate our expectations, and just like the harmonic statements in the primary-pitch area, he presents a new Ligeti chord around A natural in rehearsal letter B. This new trichord consists of pitches F#-A-B, followed by layers of different Ligeti chord combinations. In short, all of the pitches are a part of, or an implication of a Ligeti chord, including the “non-chordal” notes since they act as modulating devices in new pitch-areas. This is why the Ligeti chord is microstructurally is as significant as it is macrostructurally in aural level. The trichord, as a constructive element, signifies the word Domine in macro level as Clendinning also states; yet it is still the Ligeti chord microcanonically forming the “Domine”, pitchwise. In other words, the pitches used in the homophonic statements of the Ligeti chord are formed previously in microstructural level. Therefore, in aural level, the emphasis on word “Domine” via Ligeti chord is not created only macrostructurally, but also microstructurally.

So in short, it really is all about forming the aural-level, implying the word “Domine”. It is unlikely and academically incorrect to suggest that Ligeti was using word-painting in this regard, but in a way, he actually was.

Want to learn more about the piece, and read some actual good analyses on this topic? Check out the “bibliography” below:
Also, I found this really cool brief analysis of the piece, so you might want to check that out too:

Previously on this blog: “On obsessions and structures: Daniel Cox and his music: s

Next blog: How to break the ice between contemporary classical composers and Broadway: A brief introduction to Bob Kelly’s music (


Bernard, Jonathan. “Inaudible    Structures, Audible Music: Ligeti’s Problem, and His Solution.” Music
Analysis 6/3 (October 1987), pp. 207-236.

Clendinning, Jane Piper. “Structural Factors     in the Microcanonic Compositions of   Gyorgy
Ligeti” in Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945. Rochester: U of Rochester Press, 1995, pp 229-256.

________ “Harmonic and Formal Processes in Ligeti's Net-Structure Compositions," Music Theory
Spectrum 17/2 (Fall, 1995), pp. 242-267.