Ligeti’s organ studies

Cláudio de Pina

CESEM / FCSH – NOVA University, Portugal


This paper concerns the analysis of the organ studies Harmonies (1967) and Coulée (1969) composed by György Ligeti (1923-2006). Ligeti composed only a few works for the pipe organ; Ricercare per organo (1953), Volumina (1961-62, rev. 1966), Harmonies (1967) and Coulée (1969). To fully understand Harmonies and Coulée, one should acquaint himself with rest of the work of Ligeti, either electronic or orchestral. Albeit everyone of them has a different approach, there is a logical interconnection: the resulting sound produced. In that vein, an analytical methodology of electroacoustic music is useful to fully understand his organ works, since you can’t derive all the explanations from the score. Both have a comprehensive performance notes regarding; interpretation, registration, other possibilities for achieving the required sounds and an explanation of certain aspects of the notation.

Harmonies revolves around a continuous change of a ten note chord. The wind supply of the organ is deprived of air. The resulting sound is a subtle transition, caused by the reduction of air pressure. Alas, the resulting sound is not correlated to the pitch written. This operation ‘starves’ the wind supply to the pipes and shifts the spectrum toward a “pale, oddly unfamiliar, ‘wilted’ sound colours” (Ligeti, 1969).

Coulée is a shorter piece starting with only two notes played in prestissimo, like a fast trill. The number of notes increases to five notes throughout the piece, achieving an auditory effect of a stream of notes, similar to his harpsichord work Continuum (1968).

Both pieces have an inner formal structure and pitch organization, denoted by further analysis of the notation and the resulting sound. The sound analysis is made with spectrograms generated with Acousmographe of several interpretations of both works.

 Keywords: Pipe organ, Extended techniques, Ligeti, Analysis, Composition, Acoustics


Organist, improviser and composer of contemporary music. Titular organist of the historical pipe organ of Parish of our Lady of Ajuda. Researcher in GIMC/CESEM. Studied in Gregorian Institute of Lisbon, Hot Jazz Club and Physics Engineering in FCUL. Studied with Annette Vande Gorne, Gilles Gobeil, Trevor Wishart, Hans Tutschku, Jaime Reis, Åke Parmerud, Adrian Moore, Eurico Carrapatoso and César Viana. Master in Musical Arts, Dean’s Honour Roll 2018/19. PhD candidate in Musical Arts regarding contemporary music for pipe organ and electroacoustic music (ESML/FCSH). His scientific output mainly concerns; musical analysis, musical composition, electroacoustic music, acoustics, sound synthesis, organ and musical performing. His work has been selected, edited and published worldwide.