Pierre-Laurent Aimard Credit: Marco Borggreve

The University of Chicago’s concert series has distinguished itself with a season-long celebration of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, one of the most formidable voices of 20th-century music. That series concludes this weekend with a solo recital by French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard—one of the greatest exponents of Ligeti’s music—performing all three books of his Etudes for Piano. Ligeti wrote these pieces late in his career, reviving a form that had largely been banished by modernists when he published his first group of them in 1985. Though Ligeti loved playing piano, by his own admission he possessed “inadequate technique.” But these pieces demand monster skill, and they remain some of the most complex works in piano literature. While his writing was influenced by composers like Scarlatti, Chopin, Schumann, and Debussy, Ligetti looked elsewhere for inspiration in creating these polyrhythmic—and sometimes polymetric—marvels, from the jazz of Bill Evans and the harrowingly complex player-piano rolls of Conlon Nancarrow to Indonesian gamelan and balafon and mbira music from central Africa. The end result makes it clear that Ligeti’s conception was entirely his own. Aimard recorded all of the then-extant etudes, as well as Ligeti’s early solo piano study “Musica Ricercata,” as part of his exhaustive György Ligeti Edition series in 1995 and 1996, under the composer’s supervision. Ligeti wrote three final etudes by 2001, but even without them Aimard’s third collection stands as one of the most authoritative, bracing documents of the works today. Though they still sound utterly modern and challenging in their virtuosic reach, Ligeti’s etudes have become part of the standard repertoire even if most institutions are hesitant to program them. They serve as a fitting conclusion to the concert seriese. Tonight’s program also includes Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106.   v

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