Mp3 Blog #5: Ligeti, Palestine, and Volumina

György Sándor Ligeti:
Volumina (1961-62)
For organ
Performed by Zsigmond Szathmáry
Available on Ligeti Edition 6: Keyboard Works

On Monday I had the unique opportunity to hear Charlemagne Palestine perform the Cassavant Gallery Organ at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral in Montréal. For this concert (which was recorded for a possible future release) Charlemagne Palestine fittingly performed his improvised composition Schlingen Blängen: An ascension for Shirley Lipschitz 1912-2006 as a memorial for his recently deceased mother.

Charlemagne Palestine recorded an earlier version of Schlingen Blängen in 1979. ( The recording was recently reissued on compact disc. The original 70 minute recording comprises one depressed organ note undergoing slow and hypnotic timbral transformations. The effect is very similar to the much quicker timbral transformations featured in Ligeti’s organ work, Volumina.

Although similar in concept and technique to the original recording of Schlingen Blängen, Monday’s concert carried a greater emotional affect. At the beginning of the two hour performance, Charlemagne Palestine walked around the cathedral’s navel while singing and rubbing the rim of a brandy glass. Afterwards, he depressed one chord on the organ and slowly began to add notes and timbral richness. About an hour later the organ suddenly stopped in a deafening silence until a distant recapitulation of the beginning sounded from the back of the cathedral. Another prolonged organ crescendo followed. This time the timbres were thicker while the harmony included sliding and percussive clusters. The extended climax recalled the beginning of Volumina as every organ stop was opened and a complete cluster screamed off every wall in an impenetrable mixture of agony and joy. It was one of those musical moments that is impossible to record and, likewise, impossible to forget. Afterwards, the organ stops were slowly returned and the work ended with a silence more startling yet definitive than the about one an hour before.

To date, the memorial’s resonance seems greater than I can find the words express and I’m sure that Charlemagne Palestine’s mother and Ligeti appreciate it in their collective ascension.

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