The Hungarian composer György Ligeti composed Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes in 1962, during his brief acquaintance with the Fluxus movement.
The piece requires a conductor and ten "performers", and most of their efforts take place without the audience present. Each of the hundred metronomes is set up on the performance platform, and they are all then wound to their maximum extent and set to different speeds. Once they are all fully wound they are all started as simultaneously as possible. The performers then leave. The audience is then admitted, and take their places while the metronomes are all ticking. As the metronomes wind down one after another and stop, periodicity becomes noticeable in the sound, and individual metronomes can be more clearly made out. The piece typically ends with just one metronome ticking alone for a few beats.
Comparisons have been drawn between this piece and other process music, such as certain works by the American minimalist composer Steve Reich, and with other music unconcerned with conventional 'musical' sound, such as the work of the American experimental composer John Cage.
Ligeti did not repeat this type of experiment, but many of his later instrumental works also featured slowly evolving landscapes of sound. It is an example of Ligeti's taste for micropolyphony.
The piece has been recorded several times. A current version lasts just under 20 minutes.
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GYöRGY LIGETI- POEME SYMPHONIQUE 1962
for 100 metronomes - score
"Poeme Symphonique" (for 100 metronomes) requires, as its primary condition for performance, 100 metronomes.
Their acquisition may be accomplished in several ways. For example, they may be borrowed from one or more music instrument firms. (When the pertinent special shops are not to be found on the spot, it is recommended that inquiry be made to this end at so-called music dealers). For the purpose of attaining the desired result (i.e., the permission to borrow), some comments may be useful with regard to the value of the advertising to the firm, gained through its readiness to loan. In this connection one may offer to print the name(s) of the firm(s) on the concert poster, in the programme book or on a placard to be placed on the stage, or one or another combination of the listed possibilities. If necessary, the announcement may take the form of verbal communication, either by itself or as a means of following up the printed announcement.
Another way to bring about the acquisition of the metronomes is the insert advertisements in the newspapers. In this case all private persons will be invited to be so generous as to make temporarily available the metronomes in their possession for use in the performance. In cities which have their own music schools*, this request can be made directly to the teaching staff or the student body, with the assistance of the customary media of communication. In the two last-named instances it is recommended that the owners of the required instruments be asked to put some means of identification on them, to prevent their being misplaced or mixed up. This can be achieved, for example, through the obligatory affixing of the owner's name by means of a suitable strip of paper**.
Should it happen that a Maecenas makes it possible to borrow the metronomes for the purpose of performance, his name- after consultation with the person in question- shall be made public.*** The composition is provided with a passe-partout dedication: on each occasion the work is dedicated to the person (or persons) who have helped to bring about the performance through the contribution of instruments, by any means whatsoever, whether it be executive council of a city, one or more of the music schools****, one or more businesses, one or more private persons. If a patron can be found who will remove once for all the financial hindrances to the performability of the work by buying the necessary metronomes and guaranteeing the transportation costs which arise from time to time, "Poeme Symphonique" will be dedicated from then on to him alone.
In particular, the following instructions for performance are to be carried out:
1) It is preferred that pyramid-shaped metronomes be employed.
2) The work is performed by 10 players under the leadership of a conductor. Each player operates 10 metronomes.
3) The metronomes must be brought onto the stage with a completely run-down clockwork (that is, in an unwound condition). It is expedient that they be placed on suitable resonators. Loudspeakers, distributed throughout the concert hall, can serve to raise the dynamic level. It is recommended that each of the 10 groups of 10 metronomes be arranged about a microphone which is connected to an appropriated loudspeaker*****. The distance between the metronome-group and the microphonem as well as the regulation level of the allocated loudspeaker******, are to be differently set in order to achieve the proper effects of closeness and distance.
4) At a sign from the conductor the players wind up the metronomes. Following this, the speeds of the pendulums are set: within each group they must be different for each instrument.
"Poeme Symphonique" may be performed in two versions:
1) All metronomes are wound equally tightly. In this version the chosen metronome numbers (oscillation speeds) wholly determine the time it will take for the several metronomes to run down: those which swing faster will run down faster, the others more slowly.
2) The several metronomes of a group are wound unequally: the first of the 10 metronomes the tightest, the second a little less, the tenth, the least tightly. Care must be taken, however, that the winding and the regulation of the speeds of the several metronomes are carried out completely independently of each other. Thus the metronome in each group which has been most lightly wound must not be the fastest or the slowest in its oscillation.
The conductor arranges with the players beforehand the method and the degree of winding.
The performance may be considered ideal, if
a) in the first version all the metronomes
b) in the second version the first metronome of each group
is(are) completely wound.
The ideal manner of performance is the obligatory one. Non-ideal performances are only permitted if weighty reasons are present which force the occurrence of a deviation from the ideal performance, such as the playing of a shortened version of the work. In this unwelcome case the conductor must set, with the performers, the number of turns for (1) all the metronomes or (2) the first of each group, according to whether the first or second version is being played. The winding-up and the regulation of the oscillation speeds (the setting of the metronome number) must be done ceremoniously and formally. At the conclusion of this preparatory activity comes a motionless silence of 2-6 minutes, the length of which is to be left to the discretion of the conductor. At a sign from the conductor*******, all the metronomes are set in motion by the players. To carry out this action as quickly as possible, it is recommended that several fingers of each hand be used at the same time. With a sufficient amount of practise, the performers will find that they can set 4 to 6 instruments in motion simultaneously. As soon as the metronomes have been started in this fashion, the players absent themselves as quietly as possible******** from the stage, led by the conductor, leaving the metronomes to their own devices.
"Poeme Symphonique" is considered as ended when the last metronome has run down. It is up to the conductor to decide when the last metronome has run down. It is up to the conductor to decide the duration of the pause, before he leads the players back on to the stage to receive the thanks due from the public.
(Translated by : Eugene Hartzell)
*resp., colleges of music
**It is recommended that the use of fountain pen or ball-point pen be prescribed.
***See in this connection the paragraph on the music instrument firms.
****resp., colleges of music
*****or group of loudspeakers
******resp., group of loudspeakers
********Suitable footwear is requested.
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