Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph N. Straus

Committee Members

Norman Carey

Jeff Nichols

Philip Lambert

Subject Categories

Composition | Musicology | Music Pedagogy | Music Performance | Music Practice | Music Theory


ligeti, polyrhythm, piano, etudes, dissonance, performance


Interpretive approaches to the Études have been limited by Ligeti’s choice of notation, which creates several layers of difficulty in the presentation of complex rhythms. In order to resolve some of these difficulties, this dissertation includes a complete re-notation of four Etudes, using a methodology based on research in cognition and perception of rhythm.

Based on this new score, the notion of rhythmic dissonance is developed as an analytical tool to investigate in-time perception of rhythmic complexity, drawing on existing work on metric entrainment and metric dissonance. Different compositional strategies for the production of rhythmic dissonance are shown to have a decisive formal function on both the micro- and macro-levels. The relation between perception of rhythmic patterns and the influence of other musical parameters is explored, using concepts from information theory, and auditory scene analysis.

Using this conceptual framework, I argue for the need to open a new space for interpretation based on analysis of rhythmic perception and re-notation of the score. This is demonstrated using detailed analyses of Automne à Varsovie and Fanfares, with discussion of various alternative re-notations and their influence on performance.

Finally, I suggest a model for maximizing listeners’ experience of rhythmic dissonance by performers. Using knowledge of the most perceptually salient polymetric layers, performers can modulate the relative prominence of each layer in order to create a maximally differentiated musical texture. This model can be extended to other Ligeti Etudes and related repertoire, as well as other types of notated, rhythmically complex music.