Resisting closure: The Passacaglia finale
Resistance to closure is found in the opera not only in the transgression of references to genre models and musical styles of the past, but also in its harmonic language. While much has been made of the tonal allusions or dislocated tonal harmonies in the Passacaglia finale,2 notions of functional hierarchy or even pitch centres do little to explicate the underlying processes that contribute to the sense of perpetual unfurling as the radiant Passacaglia frames the ambiguous conclusion. Contained within the resistance to tonal teleology is a process of differentiation in the pitch material, which mirrors and enhances the open-ended narrative plot. With the term ‘differentiation’, I mean to emphasise the intervallic characteristics in the music and their flexible development, rather than the analysis of pitch-class hierarchies. This chapter will attempt to describe how this takes place, and refers to sketches and comments, as well as existing analyses, before it arrives at an analysis of the pitch material that is reciprocal to the experience of perpetuity which characterises the Passacaglia. In conclusion, I will suggest how Ligeti’s conception of the material and approach to pitch organisation can be understood in the broader context of modernism and the composer’s musical heritage.