The prize, worth 15,000 euros, recognized "particular contributions to interpretations and composition, musicology, and teaching."
"This award reflects the importance of this well-known composer [in] the history of music in the second half of the twentieth century," said Patrick Dinslage, a trustee of the Frankfurt Music Prize Foundation.
According to Agence-France Presse, Ligeti was prevented from attending the ceremony by his health, and the award was accepted on his behalf by Jonathan Nott, chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.
Ligeti was born in Romania to Hungarian parents and left for West Germany in 1956, where he came to prominence through such works as Apparitions and Atmosphres. Several of his pieces are familiar to moviegoers from the soundtrack of the 1967 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. His large-scale works include the surreal 1978 opera Le grand macabre, which had its American premiere at San Francisco last fall.
The Frankfurt Music Prize, created in 1980, is presented each year, alternating between a classical musician and a jazz or pop musician. Previous winners include violinist Gidon Kremer, pianist Alfred Brendel, jazz pianist Chick Corea, and conductor Georg Solti.