In Ligeti's own description of the Piano Etudes, he says, they are "Etudes in a compositional and pianistic sense"1 that "behave like growing organisms."2 Upon more detailed analysis, Ligeti's complex ideas of organic structure and illusion are revealed. However, the complicated, yet highly organized configuration does not detract from poetic expression. In this respect, they are like the Etudes of Chopin and Debussy.
Although Chopin, Debussy, African idioms, Nancarrow and jazz are compositional influences in Ligeti's Piano Etudes, these pieces are altogether unique. By revealing his musical and extra-musical inspiration, Ligeti is only referring to the musical/aesthetic environment in which he composes. In his Piano Etudes, Ligeti has uniquely assimilated this environment and the result is music that breathes and communicates on a personal level. Their directness of communication, innovative rhythmic texture, and virtuosic pianism place them among the most attractive and important works of contemporary piano literature.
1In an introductory lecture for a performance of Desordre in Gutersloh on May 5, 1990 as described in liner notes to Erato ECD 75555, 1990 (Notes translated by Sid McLauchlan, performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard). 2Gyorgy Ligeti, translated by David Feurzeig and Annelies McVoy in the liner notes to "Works for Piano, Volume 3: Etudes, Musica ricercata," Sony Classical SK 62308, 1997 (Pierre-Laurent Aimard).