|About this Recording
8.553169 - LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphony No. 2 / Little Suite / Symphonic Variations / Piano Concerto
Witold Lutuslawski (1913 - 1994)
The first ideas of the composer, which are found in the score of the Symphonic Variations, completed in 1938, were written down by Witold Lutoslawski, then a student of 23, as a composition pupil of Witold Maliszewski, in his class at the Warsaw Conservatory. The Piano Concerto was completed in 1988, so that half a century separates the earliest and the most recent of the compositions here recorded, each of them presenting a symphonic work by the composer under a different form and at a different period of his development.
The Variations, the work of a young man, could be considered as a prelude to the work of Lutostawski after 1957, starting from the Five Songs, settings of poems by Kazimiera Illakowiczówna, and the Funeral Music. The Little Suite serves as a kind of interlude that one may, or indeed must, hear apart from the evolution of the composers musical language. The Second Symphony may be regarded as one of the most precise revelations of this language and the Piano Concerto as an example of the synthesis that marks the last compositions.
The Symphonic Variations were performed for the first time in April 1939, in a broadcast by Polish Radio in Warsaw, and again on 17th June at the royal castle of Wawel at Krakow in one of the concerts at the World Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, which was held in Poland in 1939. On both occasions the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra of Warsaw, predecessor of the Polish Radio Orchestra in Katowice, was directed by Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953). As this pioneer of contemporary music in Poland said, the symphonic work of the young composer, which lasts barely ten minutes, would be "a little fellow preserved in formalin".
The Variations are based on a tonal theme, ten bars long, after the statement of which, from a formal point of view, we can distinguish seven variations and a fugato conclusion, Allegro ma non troppo, the whole work forming a structural entity. The variations are not here a matter of contrasts of tempi with no contrasting juxtaposition of fast and slow, but rather the transformation of melodic and rhythmic motifs and, above all, of colours. This approach to variation technique could include certain analogies external to the idea of 'permanent variation' of the school of Arnold Schoenberg; in the harmonies of several chords or in the motoric ostinati can be heard echoes of early Igor Stravinsky, while in the contrapuntal technique we can sense the idiom of the First symphony and even of the Funeral Music of Lutosrawski himself.
In 1950 Witold Lutosrawski accepted the proposal of Polish Radio that he write a work for the orchestra of Radio Warsaw, which specialised in popular repertoire. He had already written his First Symphony, completed in 1947, regarded very negatively by the politico-cultural authorities of the time. In Poland, as in other countries dominated by the Soviet Union, it was a time when official propaganda had to be introduced into art, including music, in what was called socialist realism, while formalism was deplored. The First Symphony regarded as 'formalist', while the Little Suite became one of the most popular works in Polish music of the early 1950s. More than once Lutostawski declared that his music in this period had the character of 'substitution'. The reason was that on the one hand he wanted to continue his serious attempts to renew musical language in order to create works that would fully satisfy him and would have condemned these, having regard to the doctrine of the day, but, on the other hand, because he did not yet feel himself able to construct his new language of sound, the composer underlined this aspect of the problem, declaring "all this period was spent in writing as I could and not writing as I wanted, because I was not yet capable of doing so. It was a time of deliberate compromise."
This is why some compositions, such as the Little Suite or the Silesian Triptych should not be interpreted so much as signs of the composer's accommodation with the aesthetic doctrine of socialist realism but rather as pages of applied music, based above all on the inspiration of folk-lore, music that remains doctrinally neutral yet meets with approval. It should be stressed that the beginning of the 1950s brought also a considerable number of didactic works, especially for piano, as well as children's songs.
Thus in listening to the Little Suite we must isolate it from the period in which it was written: it must be seen as a stylization of folklore characteristic in the nationalist currents in European music of the first half of the twentieth century, a stylization marked by the spirit and craftsmanship according with the work's destination. In the music of Lutoslawski as a whole, the Little Suite serves as a prelude or technical study to the project for which the first ideas appeared exactly in 1950 and which were realised in 1954. This was the Concerto for Orchestra, a masterly work of Polish neo-classicism, based in large measure on the inspiration of folklore.
The Little Suite, written first for a chamber orchestra, aversion performed for the first time for a broadcast in 1950 by the Polish Radio Orchestra in Warsaw, but not published, was arranged the following year for full orchestra and it is in this form that it has become part of concert repertoire. The work was first performed by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice, conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg, on 20th April 1951. It consists of four movements the themes of which are drawn from the folk-music of the South-East of Poland, around the village of Machowo, in the voyvode of Rzeszów.
In the title of the first movement Piccolo (Allegretto) comes the dancing part of the piccolo, accompanied by the rolling of the side-drum. In the second movement, entitled Hurra Polka (Vivace) the triple metre deliberately employed in a binary dance-form gives the music the character of a scherzo. The melody of the third movement Song (Andante) passes from one instrument to another, and the last movement, Dance (Allegro molto) is in three parts, of which the first and last provide the stylization of a regional dance, the Lasowiak, while the central section is a stylized version of a popular song, Poco pü largo.
Before receiving his diploma in composition at the Warsaw Conservatory in 1937 Witold Lutostawski had already completed in 1936 his studies in piano in the class of Jerzy Lefeld. Although, as a boy, he had played the violin as well, it was the piano that played an important part in his life: for five years he was a concert pianist. Under the National Socialist occupation of Poland he earned his living playing in Warsaw cafés, among others in a duo with the composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914 - 1991). The Variations on a Theme of Paganini for two pianos (1941, arranged by the composer in 1978 for piano and orchestra), a work often played, stems from his experience at that time.
The piano holds an important place in the work of Lutostawski. There are pieces written for piano solo and songs corning from the 1940s and 1950s as well as chamber music, where the piano, more than other instruments, has a particularly exposed part to play. The idea of entrusting the central rôle to the piano, that is to say to write a piano concerto, goes back to the 1940s, but was only realised in the last, particularly fertile period of Lutostawski's creative life, ten years that were particularly rich in compositions.
The Piano Concerto, written in 1987 and 1988 for the Salzburg Festival, comes after the Third Symphony, the three Chains and the Partita and before the Interludium, Chantefleurs et Chantefables as well as the Fourth Symphony. It is part of the group of works of which the general importance among Lutostawski's works, could be compared to the music written by Bartók during the last ten years of his life. The fact that this form of music which, in the second half of the twentieth century, seemed to lose its power, did not attract him until so late could have several explanations.
Without any doubt the appearance of Krystian Zimerman, an extraordinary pianist, to whom the concerto is dedicated, stimulated the composer, although other players, in particular Ewa Poblocka, who performed the work under the direction of the composer, have proved the remarkable attraction of the work. Another reason was the fact that Lutostawski's compositional technique, while continually changing and undergoing transformation, in the 1980s became, in his own self-critical view, impeccable. The composer saw that technical problems were no longer an obstacle to him and that he had no need to tackle limitations nor to look for better solutions than those he had adopted: he realised that the language that he had created could serve him in an entirely independent way, freely and without any restrictions.
It should be noticed that at this exact time the part played in his scores by aleatory counterpoint definitely diminishes and that the rôle of melody increases noticeably and binary form, revealed in such a spectacular manner in the Second Symphony, where the two movements have the titles Hesitant and Direct, ceases to be a dogma. It is equally significant that the delayed creative work of Lutostawski, which bears the distinct marks of a synthesis, of a classical and even Apollonian perfection, accepts some idioms of the past without the characteristic traits of post-modernism. The Piano Concerto could therefore be considered as an example of a modernism that is at the same time both proud and tolerant that seems to tell us, on the one hand, that there is no longer a return to the traditional form of the piano concerto and, on the other, that pays tribute to this tradition.
On the subject of the form of his Piano Concerto, first performed on 19th August 1988 in the Salzburg smaller Festspielhaus by Krystian Zimerman and the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer, Lutoslawski gave the following explanation: "My Piano Concerto has four movements, played attacca, although each of them has a distinct ending. The first movement is in four sections. In the first and the third the motifs are carelessly and lightly stated, sometimes a little capriciously, never too seriously. Unlike the first and third sections, the second and the fourth are taken up with an extended cantilena which in the end leads to the climax of the movement."
"The second movement is a kind of moto perpetuo, a lively pursuit by the piano over the orchestra; it ends in a calm that prepares for the third movement. This opens with a recitative for solo piano which follows, always without the orchestra, a slow singing theme. The middle section, which starts with the entry of the orchestra, contrasts with the first through its more impetuous character, at times dramatic. The cantilena, not accompanied by the orchestra, returns to bring the movement to an end."
The fourth movement, through its structure, alludes to the form of the Baroque chaconne. Its theme, always played by the orchestra, is made up of short notes separated by rests and not, as in the traditional chaconne, by chords. This theme, repeated several times, provides a basis for the following musical discourse. On this foundation the piano expounds a series of always different episodes. These two bases function according to the principle of chain-form, which means that the beginnings and endings of the piano episodes do not correspond with the beginnings and endings of the theme. They come together only once, towards the end of the work. The theme appears for the last time in a shortened form, without pauses, played by the full orchestra without the piano. There follows a short fortissimo piano recitative above the orchestra, after which a short coda, marked Presto brings the work to an end.
It was twenty years after the First Symphony (1941 - 1947) that Lutostawski wrote his Second Symphony. Composed in the years from 1965 to 1967 to a commission from North German Radio in Hamburg, it was intended as part of the hundredth concert of the series Das neue Werk. Direct was first performed by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez on 15th October 1966 in Hamburg. The first performance of the complete work, Hesitant-Direct, was given by the Polish Radio Orchestra on 9th June 1967 under the direction of the composer. The following year the recording of the work headed the list of the International Music Council of Composers of UNESCO.
The composer explained his attitude to the symphonic form in an essay written for the Oklahoma University Press:" ...the word 'symphony' (like the words 'sonata' , 'variations' etc.) is intimately bound up with the idea of a closed form. The existence of this comes from the ability of the listener to remember the music heard and to integrate its particular fragments in the course of listening so that the work, after being heard, once or several times, can be perceived as something existing outside time. Nevertheless to reduce the idea of closed form to such an existence 'out of time' would be a gross simplification, since, in composing closed forms, we profit largely from the fact that music is an art that exists in time. We compose, among other things, to provoke in the listener a cycle of definite reactions, of which the order and arrangement in time has an importance essential for the definitive result: the perception of the work as a whole. ...Simplifying things a little we can say that a work in closed form is an event for the listener, while a work in open form is a means of introducing the spirit of the listener. The simplification in question concerns above all this second form, for, actually, it is an object of lively interest to many composers and its development is very interesting. Its opposite, closed forms, which flourished in the baroque period and the classical, are practised today in a petrified and degenerate form. I see neither the possibility of nor reason for the revival of particular old forms, such as the sonata, the rondo and so on, yet the principle of closed form does not seem to me an anachronism. I myself, when I listen to music, make use of my memory, my capacity for integrating impressions and I react to each impulse communicated by the composer of the work. Everything that I have written so far is intimately bound up with closed form and I believe that closed forms have before them possibilities for prolonged development."
"The expression of this view is also my Second Symphony. It is clear that after what I have just written this work has not many points in common with the classical or neo-classical form of the symphony. I have decided, nevertheless, to use the name 'symphony', in the sense of a composition for symphony orchestra, written in a large-scale closed form."
The remarks above found remarkable concrete artistic expression. The work is based on the a priori principle that the listener who perceives a complex work as a whole, equivalent in quality and in expression to a symphony, is not capable of giving attention, concentrated to the maximum, such as the musical material of the work demands, repeated twice during the course of the piece, as is the case, for example, in the symphonies of Brahms, where the intensity of the message reaches its height in the first and last movement of the sonata cycle. In his String Quartet (1965) Lutoslawski already used binary form. He transfers this idea to the symphony in writing a first movement that oscillates, indecisive and inviting, that engages the listener's attention little by little (Hesitant) and the essential principal movement (Direct) which tends ceaselessly and irrevocably to the culminating point of the whole work. Of this 'irresolution' in the musical material from the beginning it might be said that the form, in breaking the beginning continuum, makes a false start. From the point of view of the whole work this constitutes the dialectic of this mosaic section and of that which seems to us monolithic. The mosaic of the first movement is the effect of the sequence of fragments of the form, some episodes and some refrains, as Lutoslawski calls them. Two consecutive episodes are followed by six alternating refrains entrusted to trios of double reed instruments, two oboes, two bassoons and cor anglais, and five consecutive episodes in which these instruments do not take part.
In this movement Lutoslawski engages the attention of the listener on several levels with an ever greater intensity , absorbing him in drawing his attention to elements that were not there and that now appear. This is the case with the instrumentation and the play of orchestral colour, of the classes of intervals and the harmonic qualities of which he makes use. It is the case too with the ad libitum element, fragments not conducted where the musicians play their parts in 'unsynchronized freedom', as soloists, after which follows music in time, conducted, where the elements of chance exactly foreseen are dissolved.
This dialectic, which seems to us so characteristic of the traditional dualism of themes in the 'historical' symphony, although the composer makes use beyond this of 'themes' in the traditional sense, this alternation of moving and static sequences passes and continues into a second movement that can be compared to a block of sound, where tension continuously increases, where the cadence of the narrative constantly grows faster, always faster as it approaches its goal, the climax. The parallel presence of rapid and slow tempi, of 'interventions' of the wind instruments that are always more intense and longer, while accelerating the development of the form, blur, in the principal movement of the Symphony, the complex and capricious rhythm; the trenchant writing that makes use of measured and homogeneous rhythm gives way to a form of writing that is sparse and capricious in its rhythmic complexity.
In this Symphony we can already discern, since the constituent elements of the form are linked together, with the passage from the first to the second movement serving as a chain, the bases of the procedure that Lutoslawski called 'chain technique' . He stressed its importance for the music that he wrote in giving the title Chains to three compositions written in the 1980s.
Piotr Paleczny has made a large number of recordings for leading companies, in addition to his work in the broadcasting and television studio. His wide repertoire centres on the works of major Polish composers, Chopin, Paderewski and Szymanowski, with the Piano Concerto of Lutoslawski a recent addition.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
Close the window