Do you want to learn more about practicing the Ligeti etudes? In this blog post, we’ll share more about specific ways for you to approach Ligeti’s Etude No. 4 - Fanfares.
If you’d like to see the lesson this blog post is based on, click here to watch it for free — otherwise, read on!
For those new to Ligeti’s music, Étude No. 4, titled Fanfares, is one of the most approachable introductions.
The musical content comes from a single ostinato which is alternated between hands and registers (a sort of invention on an ostinato). The notes are divided asymmetrically into a 3+2+3 pattern (annotated below), while the other hand stays in meter, resulting in complex overlapping accents.
Forms of Rhythmic Dissonance
Ligeti uses “non-isochronous meters” for this étude, which refers to meters (time signatures) based on different groups of prime numbers like 2 or 3.
The ostinato is in an isochronous meter because it’s composed of 3+2+3 notes, even though it’s written in 8.
Sometimes, the two hands are in different meters. On p. 28, for example, the right hand is in 12/8 while the left hand continues with the 3+2+3 pattern. Ligeti switches between episodes of chaotic, superimposed rhythms and easier, synchronized textures.
Ligeti also displaces rhythms between the hands, creating a phasing effect.
Often, two hands will begin synchronized only to shift as they go, though they remain in the same meter.
Fanfares is also a study in extreme dynamics. Certain passages call for very abrupt and almost impossible contrasts.
A similar juxtaposition between very close and far-away sounds is present in tape music (musique concrète), a possible inspiration for this passage.
Ligeti notated the music according to the ostinato; the advantage of this approach is that we always count it the same way.
One downside of Ligeti’s notation is that off-the-beat accents can be very difficult. It can also cause the hands to synchronize even when they aren’t supposed to be together.
Imri Talgam, who teaches the free associated lesson, proposes a solution: renotate the entire piece using the meter of the thematic hand, not that of the ostinato.
The best example of where this is useful can be found at the top of page 32–there’s the ostinato in the left hand with a seemingly irregular right-hand pattern. Isolate the right hand, and you’ll notice that it’s simply in 7/8 (3+2+2). This is much easier to play if we rewrite this passage in 7/8 (notated below):
Double notes are used to represent the fanfares in this étude, and they provide a pianistic challenge of their own.
When these land off the beat, we’re usually slightly less secure. Rewriting the piece in the meter of these double notes helps us focus on the most demanding part of the texture.
Practice the fanfares both ways–with Ligeti’s notation and Talgam’s re-notation.
Each has a different set of metric priorities. Ideally, we want to have the mental versatility to follow each part as we choose.
One final consideration: renotating the music has a subtle effect on the agogics, or the accent patterns we play.
When we accent notes, we make them slightly longer in value, though this is generally unnoticeable at a fast tempo. Just be aware of this tendency.
Practice just the accent patterns of the ostinato along with the thematic part, without the notes in between. This gets more difficult at the cross-metrical sections.
Use this fingering for the left-hand ostinato: 54314321. A slightly more uncomfortable fingering that can help automate the accent pattern a bit is 54321321.
This way, the position change corresponds with the last accent (this only works for the right hand).
We must have a soft and precise touch for the ostinato. Talgam recommends lifting the fingers above the keys to get a lighter, almost plucked sound.
Play with the absolute minimum sound at the very ending of the piece - the right hand constantly goes up and should fade out to nothing.
Double notes tend to become slightly less polished as the rhythms get more complex. Define the motion that you have to perform as a priority.
Give each accent a fast downward movement of the wrist–otherwise, the accents disappear. Gradually, we can remove accents as we become more technically comfortable.
Leaps also present a real challenge in this étude. Practice double-note leaps so that they’re physically efficient (relaxed but as fast as possible without using pedal).
Find points of synchronization right after a leap and find a way to emphasize them in your practice session, such as stopping or playing them twice.
Sometimes the third note in a group of three can get lost in the texture. Practice emphasizing the last note in a group of three by playing it twice.
This étude should be almost entirely without pedal and with very fast transitions.
In certain moments, however, a little bit of pedal can aid with rapid position changes, but learn the piece without pedal first.
This is a great Book 1 étude to start with, introducing many of the issues you’ll encounter in more complex etudes. Just remember that it took Talgam a very long time to feel comfortable with these double notes - it’s not easy! Best of luck!
If you’d like to watch the lesson on this topic for free, just click here.
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