In 1955, Ligeti composed his Éjszaka és Reggel (Night and Morning), on texts by the famous Hungarian poet Sándor Weöres (1913-1989). Éjszaka begins tentatively and builds to a powerful climax, hypnotically repeating just two words, “Rengeteg tövis” (countless thorns) before the rhythm relaxes and the dynamic level recedes. Reggel begins, appropriately enough, as an altogether brighter piece, and a rooster soon energetically announces dawn. The concluding proclamation of morning’s arrival, however, quells the rooster’s shrill song and seems to broadcast a warning.

According to Ligeti, his famous Lux aeterna (the communion from the Latin mass of the dead) of 1966 represented an experiment with harmonic klangfarben (sound-colour) music, “by which I broke with my preceding style of chromatic tone clusters.” He described the work as a 16-voice “micropolyphonic” composition—meaning its polyphonic texture is so dense that individual lines are indistinguishable and only the resulting harmonies, which blend seamlessly into one another, can be heard—with “diatonic voice leading of complex canons.” The work begins on a single pitch sung by the sopranos and altos, and gradually, as Paul Griffiths puts it, “the eternal light spreads to other voices, producing harmonic clouds that occasionally thin to reveal simpler chords: memories of life in the afterworld.”

Beginning in 1948-49, Hungarian cultural and political life was forced into line with the doctrines of the Soviet regime. One of the ways composers such as Ligeti could avoid conforming to the prescribed aesthetic of Socialist Realism was by turning to Hungarian folklore, which was tolerated. Inaktelki nóták (1953) was one of a number of arrangements of folksongs Ligeti made in the early 1950s. The work is in four brief movements. The first and second are rhythmically energetic, the third is much slower and darker, with archaic-sounding two-part counterpoint, and the finale is a reprise of the second part.

A Deruchie