An étude (or study) is a piece that poses a specific technical and/or interpretive challenge. The famous études are those by Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy. When the iconoclastic, experimental 20th century composer György Ligeti began to write his own, he admitted he wasn’t up to playing them: he said he hoped to transform his own “inadequacy into professionalism”.

Danny Driver

Though interested in the technical side, Ligeti was equally concerned with the extremes of sound. Many of the challenges of these studies concern rhythm and meter (influenced by complex African rhythms and jazz as well). In Automn a Varsoviehe requires the pianist “with only two hands… to play simultaneously at two, three, sometimes four different speeds”. Harmonically, he described his music as “neither tonal nor atonal”.

Ligeti produced his First Book of Étudesin 1985, his Secondduring the 1990s. Book 3was intended to contain six pieces but only four had been completed before Ligeti’s death in 2006. The first two books have been recorded several times, but it is illuminating to compare Danny Driver’s excellent version with the...