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8.554283 - LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Symphony No. 1 / Chantefleurs et Chantefables (Pasichnyk, Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)
Witold Lutosławski remains among the most distinguished Polish composers, by the side of his close contemporary Andrezj Panufnik, in the generation after Szymanowski and before that of Penderecki and Górecki. Lutosławski was born in 1913 into a family of some intellectual distinction. His mother, a mathematician by early training, was a doctor and his father Józef, once reputedly a pupil of Eugen d'Albert, like his brothers, a man of culture and of strong patriotic instincts. The dangers of German occupation in the war of 1914 led the family to take refuge in Russia, where Józef and his brother Marian fell early victims to the Bolsheviks. In 1919 Lutosławski returned with his mother and older brothers to Poland, eventually settling in Warsaw, where he was able to develop his musical abilities. Here he studied the violin with a former pupil of Joachim and in 1927 entered the Junior Conservatory, from which school-work later compelled him to withdraw. He was able, however, to study composition with Witold Maliszewski, a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov in St Petersburg, and to continue with the same teacher when, in 1933, he abandoned his university study of mathematics to enter the Conservatory. During his years there he began to make a name for himself as a composer, with what he later regarded as his true professional debut in 1939, with the performance of his Symphonic Variatians.
The war brought inevitable difficulties and hardships, after the invasion of Poland by Germany in the autumn of 1939 and the subsequent partition of the country with Soviet Russia. Serving as an officer cadet, Lutosławski was taken prisoner, but managed to escape and make his way to Warsaw, where his mother had moved, while his brother Henryk fell victim to the Red Army. In the following years he collaborated with Panufnik, playing a wide repertoire of music for piano duo in cafés and other meeting-places. Much of this store of compositions and arrangements accumulated for this purpose was destroyed in the Warsaw uprising. At the same time he began work on his Symphony No. 1, the first movement of which occupied him intermittently between 1941 and 1944, when it was completed. The other three movements were eventually finished in 1947.
In the years that followed, Lutosławski was to some extent overshadowed by Panufnik, a situation that ended when the latter chose to take refuge abroad from a régime that he found repressive. Lutosławski too experienced problems with the Communist musical establishment and his new symphony was condemned as "formalist" the charge leveled in the same year against Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others in Russia. His reaction to censure came in a series of safer compositions, although he himself described works of the period, which made use of folk material, as a necessary stage in his development, in no way the result of political pressure. Nevertheless, it was necessary to earn a living. The later relaxation of cultural policy brought increased contact with contemporary trends abroad and a growing international reputation for Lutosławski, in addition to the unassailable position he now held in Polish music at home and which he maintained until his death in 1994.
's Symphony No. 1 is scored for a full orchestra that includes a large percussion section, with tam-tam, tubular bells, xylophone and celesta, a harp and a piano. The first movement opens boldly, soon to introduce a rhythmic trumpet theme. A second subject, heard first from the lower strings, provides a lyrical contrast. The material is developed, leading to a formal recapitulation and coda. In the slow movement an extended figure unwinds in the lower strings, to which the French horn adds a poignant melody. Violins and violas introduce a quirky accompanimental figure, leading to an oboe melody. A solo violin takes up a derivative of the first theme and after increasing dynamic tension, elements of the principal theme are heard, as the movement draws to a close, the texture darkened by a solo viola. Pizzicato double basses, imitated by the cellos, open the Allegretto misterioso. This bizarre scherzo material, initially using the twelve semitones of the octave in a repeated series, is soon followed by something akin to a contrasting trio and the movement continues with a contrast and collaboration of these two elements. A rapid and energetic finale ends the symphony, its tension relaxed briefly before the end. The composer regarded the symphony as marking a closing stage in his career in a musical language that seemed unlikely to lead anywhere. Now he sought a new approach to the organization of his musical material.
The Silesian Triptych, for soprano and orchestra, was completed and first performed in Warsaw in 1951. The three folk-songs are tonal in character, admirably suiting their texts. In the first song, marked Allegro non troppo, the girl hears the lark but laments her parting from her lover, who has deserted her for another. The second of the set, marked Andante quieto, is delicately scored, its texture coloured by the harp and the celesta. For the singer the well-water seems to regret the faithlessness of her lover. The song ends with a wordless vocalise. The Triptych ends with an Allegro vivace, as the cuckoo sings and the girl warns against marrying a rich girl. She has wealth enough in her virginity and her Sunday clothes.
Jeux vénitiens (‘Venetian Games’) was commissioned by the conductor Andrezj Markowski for the 1961 Venice Biennale. Scored for a relatively small orchestra, the work marked a new stage in Lutosławski's development as a composer, influenced now by the chance hearing of a broadcast of John Cage's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The new technique now involved an element of chance, with considerable freedom given to the players, who were nevertheless controlled by the constraints of timings and the order in which aleatoric sections should be played. This aleatoric counterpoint became a feature of Lutosławski's style. Here the first of the Games makes use of a series of given sections, identified by the first eight letters of the alphabet and to be played in that order, the length of each section determined by the conductor. The second part opens with a subdued texture for violins and violas to which other instruments add their own interruption. Other instruments are added and rôles reversed, before a dynamic climax in which clusters of piano keys are depressed by the use of cardboard cylinders covering a range of notes, black and white. The third part is a flute solo of some freedom, accompanied by the other instruments, with the strings providing a more or less measured element. There is again an element of chance in the final part, although its sections are strictly timed and controlled by the conductor. Tension mounts in an increasing welter of sound, before percussion leads to a more delicate texture, as a piccolo heralds the close of the work.
For his song-cycle of 1991, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, first performed in London in the same year, Lutosławski again turned to poems by the French surrealist Robert Desnos, whose words he had used in his 1975 Les espaces du sommeil, for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Desnos died of typhus in Terezin (Theresienstadt) in 1945. His Chantefleurs et Chantefables had been written for children of his friends and part of the collection later to be published had been given to his publisher before his arrest. There is a winning simplicity about the poems and Lutosławski's settings, skilfully coloured in their instrumentation. Dedicated to Paul Sacher, the work is scored for an orchestra of single woodwind and brass, timpani, harp and strings, with a percussion section that includes a xylophone, vibraphone, xilorimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells, side drum and tambourine. There are sections where performers are allowed a measure of freedom and there is occasional use of quarter-tones. The first song, La belle-de-nuit (‘The Marvel of Peru’), uses vibraphone and strings in its instrumentation, with equally delicate and appropriate scoring of La sauterelle (‘The Grasshopper’), as it hops from place to place La véronique (‘The Speedwell’), the French name of which inevitably recalls the bull-ring, is a conversation between the flower and a bull, while L'églantine, l'aubépine et la glycine (‘The Wild Rose, the Hawthorn and the Wisteria’) inspires a more energetic setting. La tortue (‘The Tortoise’) moves slowly, followed by La rose (‘The Rose’), opened by the harp with clarinet and bassoon, which gently evokes the rose and its scent. L'alligator (‘The Alligator’) calls for Mississippi rhythms, L'angétique (‘The Angelica’) is wistful in its delicacy and the final Le papillon (‘The Butterfly’) brings more elaborate textures.
The three Postludia were written between 1958 and 1960 and the first, in celebration of the Centenary Congress of the Red Cross, had its first performance in Geneva in 1963, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet. The work has been described as enigmatic, marking a period of some uncertainty in Lutosławski's development as a composer, coming, as it did, after the success of the Musique funébre (Funeral Music) in memory of Bola Bartók. The first Postludium makes relatively delicate use of a large orchestra, as melodic fragments are heard over continuing string textures, leading to a dramatic climax, stressed by the drums and tambourine of the percussion section.
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