Ligeti was at the heart of progressive movements in classical composition in Europe from the 1960s onwards, but in this book I examined his work through the frame of his earlier Hungarian influences. I dug out numerous sources from communist-era archives, demonstrating the machinery of artistic censorship and Ligeti’s enmeshed place within it, also reading his later works with an eye to his deeper heritage. I turned to Kurtag (subject of my first book), to explore both his early work, and how he was at the forefront of progressive music in Hungary, while also part of a broader context of experimental music and theatre in Budapest. Ultimately the book argued against the rigidly dualistic constrction of ‘cold war culture’ by emphasising the strength of Budapest’s strong musical traditions; but it also pointed up the need to understand these composers, and their different value systems, as a part of the spheres in which they developed their professional lives.


“Rachel Beckles Willson is exceptionally suited to explore this history from multiple perspectives. Her fascinating study of Hungarian music during the Cold War brings a nuanced reading and first-hand sources to bear on complex political situations and rivalries that spanned decades. Along the way employs Ligeti, the successful emigre, and Kurtag, the ‘home-town hero’, as avatars for two divergent musical paths that, although associated withdifferent aesthetic and ideological positions, remain rooted in their common cultural heritage…. Rachel Beckles Willson has done a wonderful job marshalling disparate sources and modesof analysis to shape a complex portrait of Cold War Hungary’s musical and cultural ferment, and her book is an invaluable contribution to the scholarly study of late twentieth-century music.” — Amy Bauer, Music & Letters

“In Beckles Willson’s hands this whole scene comes to life and takes shape. Much of her anecdotal detail is new… As for the musical discussions and evaluations, these, too, are often stimulating. The real strength of a scholar like Beckles Willson lies in her detailed knowledge of a particular scene and the fact that she is uniquely equipped to trawl these waters and identify the marine life, what it eats and is eaten by. Her picture of Hungarian music after the war is illuminating because she knows what Hungarians were saying to and about each other, and it is in this context that one can begin to understand what it was that the Kurtág of the Webernesque String Quartet and the Ligeti of Aventures emerged from in the late fifties and why their work took the form it did.” — Stephen Walsh, The Slavonic and East European Review

“Beckles Willson’s contribution is important for the way in which it broadens the concept of nationalism to account for displacement and exile. … Beckles Willson’s study is valuable not only for the information it provides but also for the methodological questions it raises. This thought-provoking book deserves to be widely read, and it is sure to spark lively debate about music and power, nationalism, and how scholars approach a period that, for many, remains within living memory. — Lisa Jakelski, Twentieth-Century Music

Buy it.



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