Friday, 1 March 2013

With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles

The entrancing Hungarian composer György Ligeti's final song-cycle (for mezzo soprano and an ensemble comprising winds and percussion),  Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel ('With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles'), is something I'd love to share with you, as it is delightful. Its title must surely be an echo of Bartók's With Drums and Pipes from Out of Doors, which suggests its mingling of folk and modernist influences.

I've made no attempt to follow the meaning of the poems being set (by Sándor Weöres). It would probably have helped if I had, but...

It opens with a song, Fabula ('Fables'), full of silly sound effects and Aventure-style vocals.

Then comes Táncdal ('Dance Song'), a joy. The minimalist-born marimba patterns and comic whistles accompanying the singer's pattering song don't detract from its bright, folksong-like quality.

Kinai templom ('Chinese Temple') is as beautiful and poised as a Chinese pictogram, setting peaceful single 'words' to peaceful chiming chords. It's strange, hypnotic, slightly sad and magical.

Kuli ('Coolie') is highly theatrical. It sounds to me like the song of a child playing with toys, somewhat roughly at times. Ravel's  L'enfant et les sortilèges comes to mind, briefly. 

Alma álma ('Apple, apple') evokes for me a skipping girl singing dreamily to herself, sadly. The song is accompanied by four harmonicas - a wonderfully fresh sound.

The sixth song Keserédes ('Bittersweet') is the pearl of the set (which is saying something!). Beauty and strange harmonic turns feature as a lovely melody (breathing the air of Eastern Europe) floats over enchanting chiming chords and drum patterns (possibly inspired by African music). The ethereal yet good-humoured ending (featuring the ocarinas) is the crowning touch of magic.

The jabbering of a 'Jay' (Szajkó) is evoked in the final song - a last joke. 

Late Ligeti is full of surprises.

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