The work was commissioned by the ZEIT-Foundation, expressing the special wish that it should be associated with the City of Hamburg. It is dedicated to the German horn player Marie Luise Neunecker, who premiered the original six movements with the Asko Ensemble in January 2001 in Hamburg (the place of the premiere being another special wish from the ZEIT-foundation).
The final revision is cast in seven movements:
- Signale, Tanz, Choral
- Aria, Aksak, Hoketus
- Solo, Intermezzo, Mixtur, Kanon
György Ligeti wrote about his work:
In this piece I experimented with very unusual non-harmonic sound spectra. In the small orchestra there are four natural horns, each of which can produce the 2nd to the 16th overtone. By providing each horn or group of horns with different fundamentals I was able to construct novel sound spectra from the resulting overtones. These harmonies, which had never been used before, sound "weird" in relation to harmonic spectra. I developed both "weird" consonant and dissonant harmonies, with complex beats. Horns blend very well together, and to enrich the sound further, the two clarinettists play basset horns. Even though it is replete with spectra of strange beats, the resulting overall sound is soft and mellow.
The ”ZEIT“ Foundation which commissioned the work had the special wish that the World Première should take place in Hamburg and the movement titles also be associated with the city. I thought to myself: Bach dedicated his well-known six Concerti grossi to the Margrave of Brandenburg – why should I not dedicate my horn concerto to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg?
- ZEIT-foundation Archived 2010-07-27 at the Wayback Machine official website
- "Hamburg Concerto". Schott Music. Retrieved 22 July 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "György Ligeti on his Works". The Ligeti Project, Vol. IV (CD liner). György Ligeti. Teldec Classics. 2003. 8573-88263-2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
- Study score published by Schott Musik International, Mainz, Germany