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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2021

A Vocalist’s Guide to György Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre”

Molly Hennig

Senior, Vocal Performance, Music Industry


“Mysteries of the Macabre” is a collection of three arias from Ligeti’s opera “Le Grand Macabre” arranged as one piece for solo soprano voice and piano, and it is regarded as highly demanding in its performability due to its complicated melody and rhythm. This project exhibits the feasibility of rehearsing and performing Mysteries of the Macabre by developing a comprehensive guide that both students and professional vocalists may use to navigate the piece. The process of creating this guide involved documenting rehearsals in the form of a rehearsal logbook. Each entry in the logbook notes the progress made during a specific rehearsal, what questions or challenges appeared during the rehearsal, and what tools or practices proved helpful to overcoming them. The following presentation on this project analyzes three excerpts of the piece as examples of the piece’s challenges concerning rhythm, melody and text, specifying why the passage appears difficult and what techniques are best suited to mastering it. In doing so, the presentation demonstrates the adaptability of certain techniques for similar issues surrounding other vocal pieces beyond “Mysteries of the Macabre.” Therefore, the project implies an improvement on the accessibility of more difficult vocal music for learning singers and musicians.

Project Background 

The idea for this project came from Barbara Hannigan’s performance of “Mysteries of the Macabre.” I had never seen a piece of this difficulty performed so expertly and with so much character. My piano teacher, Dr. Eli Kalman, encouraged me to perform this piece as a challenge for myself. After I expressed my interest in the piece to my project mentor Dr. Anna Hersey, she suggested that I learn the piece as a project under the Office of Student Research and record the process in the form of a rehearsal diary. The COVID-19 shutdown happened shortly after the research was accepted, and so the project needed to take a different approach. It wasn’t safe for me to perform this piece live, so I worked with pianist Carson Rose to produce a recorded piano track for rehearsals and demonstrations. I was still able to document my rehearsal process, thankfully, with a greater concentration on technique rather than performance, and this diary was instrumental in helping me learn “Mysteries of the Macabre” – the most advanced vocal piece I’ve sung yet. The project as a whole was a highly rewarding experience for me, as the process of developing this guide served as a way for me to return to the basic building blocks of reading and performing music. My hope is that future singers use the techniques explored in this guide to more easily learn music that would otherwise seem too difficult for them.

What Do You Think? 

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  1. Margaret Grewal

    WOW, how exciting is this. Congrats on this project. This project is a testament to your musicianship and passion for music. Keep up the work Molly. I am always amazed by your work.

  2. Abby Shreve

    Molly- you continue to amaze me. This project and thorough explanation is absolutely amazing. Huge congratulations to you my friend!! <3

  3. Joshua Kriegl

    Great work, Molly! I enjoyed hearing about how you practice, and what techniques you use for difficult passages and what some may consider “unplayable” music. I’ll like that you show that this kind of music is not unlearnable given the right methods and strategies are used when practicing. Congratulayions for a wonderful presentation!

    • Joshua Kriegl

      Sorry for all the typos! I don’t think auto-correct was working.

  4. Ann Kunkle-Jones

    Excellent work, Molly! I really enjoyed learning about the process of learning a challenging piece of music. You are incredibly talented and hard working!

  5. Alison Shaw

    This was awesome! You are so creative! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Nathan Krueger

    Molly, great work here. Learning music of this difficulty can be daunting and you have done a great job of laying out a practical approach. Congratulations!


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