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Atmosphères is an orchestral work by György Ligeti in 1961. It was built from February to July of the year and was in on 22 October 1961 Donaueschingen Festival premiere . The work is considered a key work within New Music and became famous primarily for its use in the 2001 film : A Space Odyssey . The total duration is approximately nine minutes.


Instrumentation: 4 flutes (all also piccolo), 4 oboes, 4 clarinets (also small clarinet in Eb), 3 bassoons, contrabassoon - 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba - piano (played by 2 percussionists in the string room) - strings (1st violin = 14 voices, 2nd violin = 14 voices, viola = 10 voices, violoncello = 10 voices, double basses = 8 voices)

The differentiated, micropolyphonic system is characteristic of the work . The 87 instrumental voices merge into one large, no longer separable overall sound that oscillates and changes constantly. The 4/4 time is not decisive as a pulse generator for the piece, but only serves to synchronize the individual voices as well as the temporal structure. With Atmosphères, Ligeti sought to turn away from a structurally conceived way of composing. So it says in the program booklet of the premiere:

“In Atmosphères , I tried to overcome the structural compositional thinking that replaced the motivic and thematic, and thereby to realize a new concept of form. In this musical form there are no events, only states; no contours and shapes, just the unpopulated, imaginary musical space; and the timbres, the actual carriers of the form, are - detached from the musical shapes - into intrinsic values. "

- György Ligeti : program booklet Donaueschinger Musiktage 1961, p. 14.

Again and again, increasing and decreasing, long sustained, sometimes changing giant clusters follow one another directly, evoking associations with a space scene . Soon a cluster is screwing its way into higher and higher altitudes, until it is suddenly replaced by a deep double bass roar. Again, light nuances blend into the overall sound, which finally frees itself from the deep hum, then falters again and again, soon becomes more whirring, until the winds gain the upper hand and offer a clattering soundscape. The action calms down, towards the end of the piece the instruments only carry out light, almost melodic vibrations. After a last little swell, the sound disappears into nothing.

The work also represents Ligeti's first occupation with East Asian music. He radicalized static effects in him, as they are generated in non-European musical cultures by the uniformity of the temporal sequence through strict metrics, diverse rhythms and, above all, extremely slow tempos.

Semantic- associative aspects

In a comment on the Atmosphères under the heading “Structures in the structureless”, Harald Kaufmann said that it was “surprising in a piece composed with such emphasis on the material aspect” that a subliminal level of meaning was “tinted” in the musical structure. Ligeti dedicated the score to the memory of Mátyás Seiber and "actually thought [...] during the composition of the depiction of a mass for the dead within the material sphere." Ligeti wanted to understand it in such a way that "in the cellar, far away, in the subliminal, a requiem is going on. "The" material texture "is designed in such a way that it allows associations" which have points of contact with the associations according to the old requiem sequence. "

A semantically significant key point is the above-mentioned tipping, which occurs approximately in the middle of the piece, from the highest heights of the violins and piccolo flutes into the depths of the double basses . “Ligeti admits that he was thinking of a fall in tartaro.” A subsequent 56-part canon leads to a kind of “funnel” via a gradual narrowing of the frequency band. “This is the moment to think about the beginning of a dies irae. After passing through the narrow gate, after a short, apparent pause, the tuba mirum spargens sonum sounds, the trombone that sounds a wonderful sound. This association arises from the aggregation of all brass instruments. The sound mix of four trumpets in the lowest register is particularly dark and ominous [...]. […] Soon afterwards […] the texture of the chromatic cluster dilutes to the diatonic cluster. This is the material aspect of the forgiving after the horror: Agnus Dei, dona eis requiem. "


The premiere, at which the Südwestfunk Symphony Orchestra played under the direction of Hans Rosbaud , was so well received by the audience that it was requested to be repeated immediately. Ligeti's work was considered particularly sensational because Atmosphères broke with the superstructure of serial music through its strived for lack of structure . Its use in Stanley Kubrick's science fiction film " 2001: A Space Odyssey " made it more popular . Ligeti later said in an interview with WELT editor Sven Ahnert that he hadn't thought of “cosmic things” while he was working on the composition.

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from background texts on the “Cold War”. In: Cold War: FRG versus GDR - “Avant-garde” versus “Socialist Realism”. In: Peter Schleuning and Wolfgang Martin Stroh: A political history of music. On the website of Wolfgang Martin Stroh, accessed on February 13, 2013.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Burde: György Ligeti - A Monograph , Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag AG, Zurich, 1993, p. 121
  3. a b c d e f g h i Harald Kaufmann : Structures in the structureless in the supplement to Wergo LP WER 60022
  4. ^ Ligeti in dispute with Kubrick. For $ 3,000 "2001" atmosphere - interview with György Ligeti in the WELT on March 1, 2001


  • Harenberg, cultural guide concert . Meyers Lexikonverlag, Mannheim 2006, ISBN 978-3-411-76161-6 .
  • Booklet of the CD György Ligeti: Atmosphères. Deutsche Grammophon, 00289 479 0567.