Blending the Sublime and the Ridiculous: A Study of Parody in György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre

by Sewell, Amanda J

Abstract (Summary)
Most musical depictions of the apocalypse do not begin with a car-horn prelude. However, György Ligeti’s only opera, Le Grand Macabre, written in 1978 and revised in 1996, is not most music. Dark, humorous, sometimes off-color, and always thought-provoking, Le Grand Macabre is filled with examples of musical and musical-historical parody. This thesis analyzes five parodic episodes from Le Grand Macabre, evaluating them in light of the theories of literary scholar Linda Hutcheon, musicologist David Metzer, and others. Metzer, especially, proposes a twofold perspective for works comprised of quotation: either the dramatic action collapses internally, resulting in insanity, or it collapses externally, yielding destruction. A comet strikes in the penultimate scene of Le Grand Macabre, and the final scene involves the characters trying to discover whether or not they are dead. Ultimately, the only person to die is Nekrotzar, the self-proclaimed Death. However, Ligeti insists that the ending of the opera be left to individual viewers to interpret: he does not want the production to end as either a farce or an apocalypse. Thus, I analyze Le Grand Macabre based not on Metzer’s twofold concept, but rather on a continuum in which the two extremes are insanity and destruction. Critical to this analysis is a discussion of Peter Sellars’s production of Le Grand Macabre at the 1997 Salzburg Festival. Ligeti attacked the production, and most reviewers agreed that Sellars interpreted the story as an apocalypse, not as the ambiguous adventure Ligeti had envisioned. Accordingly, I explore this ambiguity in light of Umberto Eco’s The Open Work to determine whether an inconclusive ending automatically denotes an “open work.”
Bibliographical Information:


School:Bowling Green State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:ligeti le grand macabre parody quotation metzer


Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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