In Communist Hungary, it was impossible even so much as to dream of having [my compositions] performed. People living in the West cannot begin to imagine what it was like in the Soviet Empire, where art and culture were strictly regulated as a matter of course—they had to conform to abstract concepts that were almost identical to the regulations of the National Socialists. Art had to be “healthy” and “edifying” and to come “from the people”; in short, it had to reflect Party directives.
Later, in the West, journalists often asked me the question: “For whom to you write your music?” My experiences in the “East” prevented me from making any real sense of this question. A banned artist does not ask questions of this kind because the products of his art never reach an audience. And so I did not write “for” anyone, but simply for the sake of the music itself, from an inner need. A real performance—this struck me as an unattainable luxury in Hungary.
On 23 October 1956 revolution broke out in Budapest—a spontaneous and extremely bloody revolution. And it was crushed by the Red Army in a no less bloody manner. On 10 December, together with my wife, I took the train in the direction of the Austrian border, which we then crossed illegally on foot at night.
Gyorgy Ligeti (2001)