igeti had initially planned to write a work in one movement, made up of twenty-seven linked fragments. In the course of the compositional work, this project was modified. The final version consists of two movements: the first, slow and static, is the elaboration of only one of the fragments; the second brings together the twenty-six others, which however remain indistinct because of their partial overlap.
The Cello Concerto is thus organized in two parts of equal length, similar in their final bars, in the manner of a freely rhyming distich. The soloist’s cadenza at the end of the second section-which is a “whispered cadenza” and far removed from the pathos of traditional concertos-is like a figurative version of the final event of the previous movement: an abrupt fortissimo suddenly reveals the abyss between the deep bass and the fragile treble held by the cellist. The composer has compared the latter to a “tightrope walker”: the conquest – silent in its vertigo – of increasingly impractical harmonics brings him to the limits of possibility.
The second movement is also an “instrumental adventure”. But, unlike the vocal works so titled (Adventures and New Adventures were composed in 1962 and 1965 respectively), it is no longer that of (non) meaning, but that of a point of view, of a perspective: what Ligeti called the “window technique. A same sound landscape which scrolls, pierced by openings which open on itself, or on other openings which in their turn reveal it… (can we still speak about “variations”?). In this adventure, a process dear to the composer – and destined to develop significantly in later works – finds its place: the superimposition in different strata of asynchronous rhythmic figures, in the manner of a deregulated precision mechanism (how can one not think of the Poèmes symphonique pour 100 métronomes of 1962?)
As for the first movement, it evolves in the rarefied atmosphere so characteristic of certain earlier pieces, precisely that of Atmosphères (1961). A single note – when did it begin to exist? – is imperceptibly blurred to form a cluster; in the same calm, this cluster leads to a new immensity: a B flat that extends over five octaves (it is such a space that opens Mahler’s First Symphony).