Ligeti’s “Lontano”: Harmonic Alchemy

In Italian, Lontano means, “in the distance.”

This is the title of a haunting orchestral dreamscape, written by the avant-garde Hungarian-Austrian composer, György Ligeti, in 1967. The piece unfolds in vast sonic waves. Tone clusters form and dissipate in a gradually shifting kaleidoscope of color. Terrifying dream images emerge and dissolve.

Ligeti drew parallels between Lontano and parts of Bruckner’s majestically unfolding Eighth Symphony. In his program notes, he offered a technical description of the work’s intricate micropolyphony:

The “harmonic crystallisation” within the area of sonority leads to an intervallic-harmonic thought process which is thereby radically different from traditional and also atonal harmony. Technically speaking, this is achieved with the aid of polyphonic methods: fictive harmonies emerge from a complex vocal woven texture, gradual opacity and new crystallisation are the result of discrete alterations in the individual parts. The polyphony in itself is almost imperceptible but its harmonic effect represents the intrinsic musical action: what is on the page is polyphony, but what is heard is harmony.

Speaking in more poetic terms, the composer likened this music to the “opening and closing of a window on long submerged dream worlds of childhood.” Appropriately, Stanley Kubrick used Lontano to accompany scenes in the 1980 psychological horror film, The ShiningLater, it was used as part of the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s 2010 film, Shutter Island. 

Here is Claudio Abbado’s 1990 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic:


  • Ligeti: Lontano, Claudio Abbado, Vienna Philharmonic Amazon

Featured Image: “Molto Lontano” (1982), Antonio Corpora

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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