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Oliver Parker
Oliver Parker

The Challenges and Rewards of Performing Ligeti's Continuum: A Harpsichordist's Perspective (PDF)

Ligeti Continuum Score PDF Download

If you are looking for a challenging and fascinating piece of music to play or listen to, you might want to check out Continuum by György Ligeti. This composition is a masterpiece of modern music that explores the boundaries of sound, time, and perception. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about Continuum, including how to download the score in PDF format, what are the main features and challenges of the piece, and how to appreciate its beauty and complexity.

ligeti continuum score pdf download


Continuum is a solo piece for harpsichord composed by György Ligeti in 1968. It is one of his most famous and influential works, and it represents his fascination with sound masses and microtime perception. The piece consists of a rapid succession of notes played by both hands on the harpsichord, creating a continuous stream of sound that seems to transcend the limitations of human performance. The piece lasts about four minutes, but it feels much longer or shorter depending on how you listen to it.

If you want to download the score of Continuum in PDF format, you can find it on, a website that offers free sheet music for various instruments and genres. You can access the score by following this link: You can also print it or view it online on your device.

Before you download the score, however, you might want to learn more about Continuum and what makes it such a remarkable piece of music. In this article, we will explore its background, analysis, and performance aspects, as well as some frequently asked questions about it.


György Ligeti was a Hungarian composer who lived from 1923 to 2006. He was one of the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century, and he contributed to various genres and styles of music, such as electronic music, opera, chamber music, orchestral music, choral music, and piano music. He was also interested in mathematics, science, literature, art, and philosophy, and he incorporated these elements into his musical works.

Ligeti's musical style changed throughout his career, but he is best known for his use of sound masses, which are complex textures composed of many layers of sound that move independently from each other. He also experimented with micropolyphony, which is a technique that creates a dense polyphonic texture by using many voices that play very similar melodies or rhythms with slight variations. These techniques create a sense of ambiguity and unpredictability in his music, as well as a rich sonic palette that challenges the conventional notions of harmony, melody, rhythm, and form.

The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It produces sound by plucking strings with quills or plectra when the keys are pressed. Unlike the piano, the harpsichord does not have a mechanism to control the dynamics or the duration of the sound, which means that every note has the same volume and decay. The harpsichord also has a distinctive timbre that is bright, crisp, and resonant.

Ligeti chose the harpsichord for Continuum because he wanted to exploit its unique characteristics and limitations. He was inspired by the idea of creating a continuous sound that would be impossible to achieve on a piano or any other instrument. He also wanted to challenge the traditional role of the harpsichord as a baroque instrument that plays simple and elegant melodies and harmonies. He said that he wanted to "destroy" the harpsichord with his piece, and to create a new musical language that would be alien and unfamiliar to the listener.

Ligeti's Continuum was also influenced by other sources and inspirations, such as African music, Balinese gamelan, minimalism, serialism, and fractal geometry. He was interested in how these musical cultures and concepts used repetition, variation, and transformation to create complex and organic structures. He also wanted to explore how different levels of perception and cognition affect the way we listen to music. He said that he wanted to create a piece that would "put into question time itself" and that would "make the listener lose all sense of time".


Continuum is composed of 12 sections, each lasting about 20 seconds. Each section has a different tempo, ranging from 160 to 200 beats per minute. The piece is notated in 4/4 time signature, but the actual rhythm is determined by the performer's ability to play as fast as possible. The piece uses only two pitches: C and D#. The piece is divided into two parts: Part A (sections 1-6) and Part B (sections 7-12). Part A is transposed up a semitone in Part B, creating a subtle change in pitch.

The piece is based on a simple pattern of four notes: C-D#-C-D#. This pattern is repeated by both hands on the harpsichord, but with different phases and accents. The right hand plays the pattern starting on C, while the left hand plays it starting on D#. The right hand accentuates the first note of each pattern, while the left hand accentuates the second note. This creates a cross-rhythm that shifts the emphasis of the pattern every four notes.

The pattern is also varied by changing its length and direction. Sometimes, the pattern is shortened to three notes (C-D#-C or D#-C-D#) or two notes (C-D# or D#-C). Sometimes, the pattern is reversed (D#-C-D#-C or C-D#-C-D#). These variations create different combinations and permutations of the pattern, as well as different intervals and harmonies between the two hands.

The piece also uses silence as a compositional element. There are moments when one or both hands stop playing for a brief period of time, creating gaps or pauses in the continuous sound. These silences create contrast and tension in the piece, as well as rhythmic and melodic interest. They also affect the perception of time and space in the piece, as they disrupt the flow of sound and create moments of anticipation and surprise.

The result of these techniques is a piece that creates a perception of sound masses and microtime. Sound masses are complex textures that are perceived as a whole rather than as individual notes or voices. Microtime is a level of temporal perception that is below the threshold of human awareness, where events happen too fast or too slow to be distinguished. In Continuum, Ligeti creates a sound mass by using a rapid succession of notes that blur together into a continuous stream of sound. He also creates microtime by using subtle changes in tempo, pitch, rhythm, and accent that are barely noticeable but still affect the overall structure and character of the piece.


Continuum is one of the most difficult and demanding pieces ever written for harpsichord. It requires a high level of technical skill, endurance, concentration, and expression from the performer. The performer has to play as fast as possible without losing accuracy or control over the notes. The performer also has to play with dynamic nuances and articulations that are not indicated in the score but are essential for creating contrast and expression in the piece.

and transcendence, as they become one with the instrument and the sound. The listener experiences a state of confusion and fascination, as they lose track of time and space and enter a new sonic world. The piece challenges the expectations and assumptions of both the performer and the listener, and invites them to explore new dimensions of musical expression and perception.

There are many examples of notable performances and recordings of Continuum by various harpsichordists and other musicians. Some of them are:

  • Elisabeth Chojnacka, who premiered the piece in 1969 and recorded it several times with Ligeti's supervision and approval.

  • Antoinette Vischer, who was a friend and patron of Ligeti and commissioned several pieces from him, including Continuum.

  • Christopher Hogwood, who was a famous conductor and harpsichordist who recorded Continuum in 1985.

  • Igor Kipnis, who was a renowned harpsichordist who recorded Continuum in 1990.

  • Zuzana Růžičková, who was a Czech harpsichordist who survived the Holocaust and recorded Continuum in 1996.

  • Mahan Esfahani, who is a Iranian-American harpsichordist who recorded Continuum in 2014.

  • Saskia Lankhoorn, who is a Dutch pianist who performed Continuum on two pianos with Kate Moore in 2017.

  • Lara Downes, who is an American pianist who performed Continuum on piano with electronics in 2018.


Continuum by György Ligeti is a remarkable piece of music that pushes the boundaries of sound, time, and perception. It is a masterpiece of modern music that explores the possibilities and limitations of the harpsichord and the human performance. It is a challenging and fascinating piece that requires a high level of skill, endurance, concentration, and expression from the performer. It is also a captivating and intriguing piece that creates a unique sonic experience for the listener.

If you want to download the score of Continuum in PDF format, you can find it on by following this link: You can also print it or view it online on your device.

We hope that this article has helped you to learn more about Continuum and to appreciate its beauty and complexity. We encourage you to listen to some of the performances and recordings of Continuum that we have mentioned above, or to try to play it yourself if you have access to a harpsichord. We also invite you to share your thoughts and feedback on Continuum, as well as any questions or suggestions that you might have.


Here are some common questions and answers about Continuum:

  • What is the meaning of the title Continuum?

The title Continuum refers to the continuous sound that is created by the rapid succession of notes on the harpsichord. It also refers to the continuum of perception and cognition that is challenged by the piece, as it creates different levels of temporal awareness and musical understanding.

  • How long does it take to learn Continuum?

The answer to this question depends on many factors, such as the level of experience, skill, practice, and motivation of the performer. Some performers might learn Continuum in a few weeks or months, while others might take years or never master it. The piece is very demanding and requires a lot of dedication and discipline from the performer.

  • Is Continuum playable on other instruments?

Continuum was composed specifically for the harpsichord, and it exploits its unique characteristics and limitations. However, some performers have adapted Continuum for other instruments, such as piano, organ, guitar, accordion, synthesizer, or even two pianos. These adaptations might change some aspects of the piece, such as the timbre, dynamics, duration, or articulation, but they might also reveal new perspectives and possibilities of the piece.

  • Is Continuum a minimalist piece?

Continuum is not a minimalist piece, although it shares some elements with minimalism, such as repetition, variation, and transformation. Minimalism is a musical style that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in America, and it is characterized by the use of simple and static musical materials that are gradually changed over time. Ligeti's Continuum is more complex and dynamic than minimalism, and it belongs to a different musical tradition and context.

  • Is Continuum a serial piece?

Continuum is not a serial piece, although it uses some elements of serialism, such as permutation and transposition. Serialism is a musical technique that emerged in the 20th century in Europe, and it is based on the use of a series or a set of musical elements that are arranged in a fixed order and manipulated according to certain rules. Ligeti's Continuum is more flexible and free than serialism, and it does not follow any strict or predetermined system.



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