Transformations of diatonic materials and tonal procedures in Ligeti’s etude no. 15 “White on white”

Man Ching YU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This essay examines interrelationships of various diatonic materials that arise in Ligeti’s Etude No. 15 “White on White,” focusing on transformational properties between different diatonic trichords. Ligeti’s distinctive treatments of diatonic materials reflect the utilization of triadic intervallic structures in transformational procedures. In particular, ic5 dominates in abundance, contributing to the consonant tonal property between various pitch-class transformations among trichords, and that some are smoothly interconnected by common tones for preserving diatonic coherent sound. Additionally, some transformations are analogous to tonal procedures – harmonies progress from tonic to dominant or subdominant and vice versa – that manifests Ligeti’s pronounced reference to the context of the traditional common practice as three pitch-classes among the same types of trichords map onto each other solely by ic5. Along with the coherent diatonic sound that Ligeti forges, tonal contrasts are achieved through simultaneous tonal occurrences being established by transformed pitch-classes, forming tonal pairings in third relationship with ics 3 and 4 that illuminate the traditionalistic tonic and mediant linkage prevailing in the nineteenth century. Copyright © 2013 Department of Musicology Faculty of Music, Belgrade.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-138
JournalNew Sound
Publication statusPublished - 2013



Yu, M.-C. (2013). Transformations of diatonic materials and tonal procedures in Ligeti’s etude no. 15 “White on white”. New Sound, 41, 117-138.


  • Ligeti
  • Transformation
  • Double transformation
  • Common tone
  • Diatonic trichord
  • Diatonic collection
  • Micropolyphony
  • Harmonic net-structure
  • Tonal pairing
  • Interval-class