Research Article

DOI :10.26650/CONS2023-1265357   IUP :10.26650/CONS2023-1265357    Full Text (PDF)

A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre

Duygu Küçük ÖzbekŞebnem Ünal

This research emerged from my Proficiency in Art thesis titled “Analysis of György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre as an Example of Anti-Anti-Opera” and aims to analyze the musical structure and in particular the intellectual foundations of the opera Le Grand Macabre, composed by György Ligeti and an outstanding work in the 20th-century opera repertoire. This article analyzes the work to discuss its place in the modern and postmodern opera classification. Although György Ligeti had stated the work to classify not as postmodern but rather as anti-anti-opera in opposition to the anti-opera genre showing postmodern features, many experts have discussed the work since it appeared on stage in a way that was generally quite instructive in the qualitative analysis of modern and postmodern opera. The debates Le Grand Macabre created have had an important place in forming the intellectual and musical classifications in the history of 20th-century opera. This study firstly draws the conceptual, historical, and artistic framework of postmodernism, then provides basic information about the work, before finally arriving at the results in terms of the work’s modern and postmodern opera classifications. The study presents the example of where the opera Le Grand Macabre is placed by emphasizing it in the sense of how modern and postmodern opera emerged and developed over time, the philosophy on which it is based and the artistic phenomenon it has shaped. This study uses qualitative research with the aim of helping future research by making use of many sources that have not yet been translated into Turkish.

DOI :10.26650/CONS2023-1265357   IUP :10.26650/CONS2023-1265357    Full Text (PDF)

Bir Postmodernizm Tartışması: György Ligeti’nin Le Grand Macabre Operası

Duygu Küçük ÖzbekŞebnem Ünal

Bir Anti-Anti-Opera Örneği Olarak György Ligeti’nin Le Grand Macabre Operasının İncelenmesi başlıklı Sanatta Yeterlik tezimden ortaya çıkan bu araştırma, 20. yüzyıl opera repertuvarının seçkin eserlerinden olan ve György Ligeti tarafından bestelenen Le Grand Macabre Operasının müzikal yapısının ve özellikle de düşünsel dayanaklarının analiz edilmesiyle, eserin modern/ postmodern opera sınıflandırmasında aldığı yeri tartışmaktadır. Her ne kadar György Ligeti tarafından postmodern olmadığı ve fakat postmodern özellikler gösteren anti-opera türüne karşıt biçimde anti-anti-opera olduğu ifade edilen eserin sınıflandırılması birçok uzman tarafından eser sahnelendiğinden beri tartışılmıştır. Bu tartışmalar, genel olarak modern/postmodern operanın nitel analizlerinde oldukça yol gösterici olmuştur. Le Grand Macabre’nin yarattığı tartışmalar, 20. yüzyıl opera tarihi içinde düşünsel ve müzikal sınıflandırmaları oluşturmada önemli yer tutmuştur. Bu çalışmada öncelikle postmodernizmin kavramsal, tarihsel ve sanatsal çerçevesi çizilmiş, ardından eser hakkında temel bilgiler verilip en sonunda eserin modern/postmodern opera sınıflandırması açısından sonuçlara ulaşılmıştır. Modern ve postmodern operanın zaman içinde nasıl ortaya çıkıp geliştiği, dayandığı felsefe ve şekillendirdiği sanatsal görüngü üzerinde durularak Le Grand Macabre operasının bu anlamda bulunduğu yer üzerinden bir örneklendirme ortaya konmuştur. Nitel araştırmanın kullanıldığı bu çalışmada, henüz dilimize çevrilmemiş birçok kaynaktan yararlanılarak, çalışmanın ilerideki araştırmalara yardımcı olması hedeflenmiştir.


The 20th century marked a time when developments in technology and industry affected every area from world wars to daily life, and the period’s most dominant understanding began to be discussed under the title of modernism, which also included political and philosophical content. The opera of the 20th century began to show itself in its brand-new form, one in which modernism was reflected in every aspect. Modern opera is observed as a progressive and revolutionary creation that has created a special place for itself in people’s entertainment culture and even questioned the foundations of operatic art. Examples have even been given since the 1950s that completely differ from the opera experience preceding it. Moreover, some examples have been destructive enough to claim that the art of opera is dead and far removed from the stage and the masses. Created by avant-garde composers, this genre of opera revealed a character that is purely provocative, highly intellectual, and difficult for the masses to understand. The new opera of this period involved avant-garde music that was at the forefront of innovation in its field, with the term “avant-garde” meeting a critique of the existing aesthetic traditions, the rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences (Nicholls, 1991).

When considering the character seen in the music of the 20th century as the development of modernism, the existence of both idealist approaches such as radical modernism and experimental attempts such as avant-garde can be observed in many works in various situations. The shift of modernism to the US geography through World War II after 1950 made this movement more remarkable in terms of art’s political content. In a world polarized by the Cold War, modernist music that was in a sense embraced by liberalist policies had fused with more art movements and more politics, evolving into a postmodernist music that first emerged with an attitude against modernism.

György Ligeti was the composer of the 1976 opera Le Grand Macabre and repeatedly expressed his skepticism toward avant-garde and postmodernism. He insisted that these approaches are conformist and outmoded. The main idea that had driven him away from avant-garde is that avant-garde had become outdated after the end of the Cold War, for all situations had changed, both socially and technologically. In fact, Ligeti even questioned whether to continue composing with avant-garde methods such as the clustering method and micropolyphony. The works he produced after 1982 when postmodernist composing had reached its peak in the West are proof that he was careful to remain independent of these orientations.

Although Ligeti did not want to be classified as avant-garde or postmodernist, the place postmodernism has in the character of his opera is undeniable. Ligeti humorously called Le Grand Macabre a flea market (marché aux puces). His choice of this metaphor coincides with the grotesque character that arises from the clash of styles and genres heard in the work. This versatile character is also compatible with the postmodern disorientation. The focus on forms resulting from the juxtaposition of references has at times led critics to describe the opera as having a tired and even dated caricature. However, Le Grand Macabre does not have a representation of the loss of connection with history in the postmodern manner consisting of emptied stylistic references; on the contrary, it contains a deep historical awareness that leads to it having a modernist aesthetic. As such, the work doesn’t fit the concept of postmodernism as a new cultural sovereign but rather as a variation of modernism and can be incorporated into a continuation of postmodernism that has become a more explicit part of self-reflexive critical awareness and the expressive qualities of music (Edwards, 2017, p. 7).

When looking at Ligeti’s discourses, Le Grand Macabre appears as a work that aims to be distinct and unique, unrelated to any movement, and beyond classification. However, when undertaking an analysis of the work and taking the interpretations of different researchers into consideration, the work is clearly infused with the other works of Ligeti throughout his entire artistic life and is therefore an opera that carries traces of the movements his works had involved in the previous periods. This opera is not just an avant-garde and modernist but also a postmodernist opera, and because of this totality, it has become one of the outstanding operas of its age as a unique and distinct example.

This study has been carried out with the aim of presenting a tidy approach to the intellectual classification of the work accompanied by the aforementioned arguments with the hope of contributing to future research. The study also has the aim of contributing to future academic studies on modern and post-opera art.

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Küçük Özbek, D., & Ünal, Ş. (2023). A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre. Conservatorium, 10(1), 75-94.


Küçük Özbek D, Ünal Ş. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre. Conservatorium. 2023;10(1):75-94.


Küçük Özbek, D.; Ünal, Ş. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre. Conservatorium, [Publisher Location], v. 10, n. 1, p. 75-94, 2023.

Chicago: Author-Date Style

Küçük Özbek, Duygu, and Şebnem Ünal. 2023. “A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre.” Conservatorium 10, no. 1: 75-94.

Chicago: Humanities Style

Küçük Özbek, Duygu, and Şebnem Ünal. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre.” Conservatorium 10, no. 1 (Dec. 2023): 75-94.

Harvard: Australian Style

Küçük Özbek, D & Ünal, Ş 2023, 'A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre', Conservatorium, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 75-94, viewed 9 Dec. 2023,

Harvard: Author-Date Style

Küçük Özbek, D. and Ünal, Ş. (2023) ‘A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre’, Conservatorium, 10(1), pp. 75-94. (9 Dec. 2023).


Küçük Özbek, Duygu, and Şebnem Ünal. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre.” Conservatorium, vol. 10, no. 1, 2023, pp. 75-94. [Database Container],


Küçük Özbek D, Ünal Ş. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre. Conservatorium [Internet]. 9 Dec. 2023 [cited 9 Dec. 2023];10(1):75-94. Available from: doi: 10.26650/CONS2023-1265357


Küçük Özbek, Duygu - Ünal, Şebnem. A Discussion on Postmodernism: György Ligeti’s Opera Le Grand Macabre”. Conservatorium 10/1 (Dec. 2023): 75-94.


Published Online12.06.2023


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