In 1957, on Christmas Eve, I was invited for dinner by a new friend, the pianist György Szoltsányi. I did pay a call on him, but had to excuse myself for not being able to stay for dinner, as my friend György Ligeti had just sent a telegram to let me know that he would be arriving at the Gare de L'Est at half past ten.
The Szoltsányis found it surprising that someone should be travelling on Christmas Eve itself but told me to pick him up and bring him with me, they would delay dinner until we got back. They stayed in the Boulevard Garibaldi, a fair distance from the station. I was rather anxious about changing lines on the Metro, as I would not be travelling from the usual direction on the way back; at the time, I had only been living in Paris for a couple of months.
The train arrived on time, and I told Ligeti that we were invited for dinner by György Szoltsányi, a former pupil of Dohnányi. "The Metro is still running," I said. "We don't need the Metro," said Ligeti, "we'll walk." And he, who had never been to Paris before, led me to Boulevard Garibaldi on foot, calling out each new street name just before we came up it.
He had a perfect sense of direction, could find his bearings anywhere; on maps as well as on musical scores. He had a special affinity with streets. His musical scores were like maps of cities with a complex road system. Parallel, vertical, diagonal, twisting-turning roads and streets. He always knew which way to go and always led the way. If I couldn't follow him, that was my fault, my weakness.
In 1998, he mentioned Bartók's "last will and testament" to Bálint András Varga, in which Bartók had stipulated that nothing was to be named after him while there were still streets named after Hitler and Mussolini in Budapest. "My wish," said Ligeti at the time, "is that nothing should be named after me, but if there is no way to avoid it, let it be known as "György Ligeti's Wrong Way" [tévút].
And here we are, twenty-five years later, in the Ligeti György Street.
In György Ligeti's Wrong Way, which may be closely related to Kafka's True Way: "The true way goes over a rope which is not stretched at any great height but just above the ground. It seems more designed to make people stumble than to be walked upon."
I am happy that I can spend the time left for me in a building that stands on Ligeti Street.
Budapest Music Center
28 May, 2023
Photo: György Kurtág and Vera Ligeti with György Kurtág Jr. and Lukas Ligeti / BMC