About this Recording
8.553779 - LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Concerto for Orchestra / 3 Poems by Henri Michaux / Mi-Parti / Overture for Strings (Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

Overture for Strings

Concerto for orchestra

Trois poèmes d'Henri Michaux



The present release contains two works from the period during which, as Lutoslawski himself said, he wrote as he could and not as he would, and two others of the period when he already wrote as he wanted. He ended this first period with a work that assured him a position as the most famous Polish composer of the first half of the 1950s, one that is among those of his most frequently performed, the Concerto for orchestra. This marks the height of his precocious achievement, still rooted strongly in neo-classicism, which owes a great deal to Bart6k. The Concerto was awarded the First Class State Prize in 1955, when the doctrine of socialist realism was already nearing its end. The following year brought the inauguration of the first international festival of contemporary music, the Warsaw Autumn, and this marked the moment when the shackles of communism on the arts became less oppressive and Polish music was able to open itself to new ideas from Western Europe and America. Nine years later, in 1964, Lutoslawski wrote one of the most innovative of his works, the Trois poemes d'Henri Michaux, which won him the same prize After his Muzyka zalobna (Funeral Music) and Gry weneckie (Venetian Games), these are the next stage in his development as a composer, which bears fruit in Mi-parti, also included here. It is possible to hear certain traces of Lutoslawski's mature style in the Concerto for Orchestra, as in the Overture for Strings, also to be found here.


Lutoslawski's chamber music offers an area of particular interest, with a specially intriguing connection between this and the beginnings of his symphonic work that is of major importance. This stems from the fact that Lutoslawski wrote only a modest amount of chamber music, although it would be difficult to appreciate his work without the String Quartet and the Epitaph for oboe and piano, while this chamber music element is equally present in the symphonic scores that make up the essence of his work.


The Overture for Strings was written in 1949, dedicated to Mirko Ocadlik and first performed in Prague on 9th November by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra under Grzegorz Fitelberg. It belongs to the body of works commissioned by Paul Sacher for the Basle Chamber Orchestra, together with Bartok's Divertimento and Stravinsky's Concerto in D. Since the 1930s the string chamber orchestra had become one of the most popular ensembles of the twentieth century, not exclusively but particularly connected to the traditions of neo-classicism. If it is overshadowed by the First Symphony of 1947 and the Concerto for Orchestra of 1954, in some ways the Overture is the most interesting of Lutoslawski's compositions before the Funeral Music. Taking into account all its largely neo-classical features that relate it on the one hand to Albert Roussel and on the other to Bartok, the Overture in many ways suggests the course that his music was to take after the Funeral Music and Venetian Games, that is to say, the music proper of Lutoslawski. It might be said that here the composer uses a technique that would later be characteristic of his writing, the technique of joining and meshing together various elements and in their interchange. This short, five-min0te composition is a sonata-allegro with the exposition reversed, but this in no way detracts from the wealth of technical details, skilfully deployed, as if the composer wanted to create a super-complete symphonic aphorism, yet without turning his back on neo-classical tradition; super-complete since there are more necessary elements of the form than are needed; an aphorism since these are all used with extreme economy, yet without the work giving the impression of ascetic music. The whole rests on three thematic ideas, marked by expressive motivic structures, and towards the end of the development a new theme appears. The feeling of the integral nature of this structure is reinforced by the repetition of the three themes in the recapitulation in reverse order to that of the exposition, as well as the partial presentation of them contrapuntally in the development. While forming a unity, the themes are decidedly different. The first consists in filling out the spectrum of the twelve semitones by motifs of four notes that come from two eight-note scales. The melodic design of these motifs suggests Bartok, while the way of presenting them brings Webern to mind, their form characteristic of Lutoslawski in the 1970s. The second theme, which also uses an eight-note scale, although implying the modal, can be considered as a first attempt at forming the harmonic system that was to find its place in the Funeral Music. It is only the third theme that, through its motor energy, shows its neo-classical character. This additional idea, towards the end of the recapitulation, also deserves particular attention, the idea that suggests the absent slow movement, which, in a surprising way, gives some hint of the adagio episodes in Lutoslawski's compositions of the 1980s. When we hear today the Overture for Strings, we can conclude that it is a direct predecessor to the Funeral Music and Venetian Games, works of major importance among Lutoslawski's compositions. Written after the completion of the First Symphony in 1947 and before work on the Concerto for Orchestra had started, in the same year that socialist realism was officially proclaimed in Poland (1949), it does not have the characteristics of functional music, present in the following works, particularly the Little Suite (1950) and the Silrsian Triptych (1951).


Three important scores by Lutoslawski call to mind the names of the three eminent Polish conductors who inspired these compositions. Funeral Music (1958) owed its inspiration to Ian Krenz (b.1926), Venetian Games (1961) to Andrzej Markowski (1924-1986) and the Concerto for Orchestra to Witold Rowicki (1914- 1989). It was he who proposed to Lutoslawski the composition of a work for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra that he had founded in 1950. This was the period when the doctrine of socialist realism, imposed also in Poland through the Stalinist Soviet dictator in the arts, Andrey Zhdanov, limited certain composers in their attempts to modernise their musical language and turned others towards paying political tribute in their music. Introduced in 1949 in Poland at the national conference of composers and music critics called together by the Ministry of Culture at Lagow Lubuski, this doctrine became a real threat to composers. This was also the case with Lutoslawski, when his First Symphony was described as "formalist", not fulfilling the aesthetic demands of a communist society. The composer wanted, at first, to answer Witold Rowicki's commission with a relatively short piece, functional in character, a piece d'occasion, in which he would put forward no fundamental aesthetic aims. It turned out quite differently: the material dictated a developed, symphonic form, based on motifs from popular Polish music and constructed on a plan generally showing clear neo-classical features, The first performance of the Concel1o for Orchestra took place on 26th November 1954 and was given by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Witold Rowicki, to whom the work was dedicated.


The Concerto consists of three movements, the first Intrada, marked Allegro maestoso, the second Capriccio nottumo ed Arioso, marked Vivace and the third Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale, marked Andante con moto - Allegro giusto. The third movement lasts longer than the first two together and it is also the third movement that provides the climax of the work. This formal arrangement already suggests the idea that, ten years later, would become the fundamental major formal principle in Lutoslawski's-music: the idea of following an introductory movement with a principal movement. Lutoslawski borrowed this approach to cyclic form from his composition teacher, Witold Maliszewski (1873-1939): his teacher had suggested to him a sequence of movements, introductory, linking and principal, and it was to him equally that Lutoslawski owed a profounder approach in the structural use of popular material in composition.


The Intrada makes use of a popular melody from Mazovia that, in its successive appearances, is continually enriched. The composer draws from this material, beside the first theme, the second, cantando. If comparison may be made with the later work of Lutoslawski, it could be said that here the future idea of Mi-parti can be seen, applied in a special way, that is showing the same material always in a different way, something that has little in common with variation technique. Lutoslawski is here, above all, a composer of melodies and not, as already for some years after Funeral Music, a composer of harmonies, while the essential compositional narrative develops in the melodic line. The first episode of this movement develops over the basis of the low cello pedal-note F sharp: it has its corresponding palindrome as the movement goes on, the high flute F sharp, sustained and prolonged. It may be suggested that this movement is a kind of attempt at the form of Funeral Music, in which the fourth movement, the Epilogue, is the retrograde inversion of the first movement, the Prologue. The Intrada develops in arch form: the thematic material appears first in a series of progressions that rise in fifths and then descend in fourths.


The second movement is in the form of a scherzo and trio, where the scherzo, which first appears with two repeats and returns at the end of the movement, is a Capriccio and the trio an Arioso. It is perhaps in the Capriccio that the concertante role of the instruments is most strongly marked, as, in their solo passages, they exchange fragments of the motifs. It is a rapid Vivace and in its passage-work and juggling with instrumental techniques the later Lutos!awski can easily be recognised. It is at the same time the Notturno, this element realised in a dynamic reduced to mormorando, that meets violent contrast in the central Trio, where the fortissimo trumpets introduce the Arioso.


In the last movement of the Concerto we can notice, perhaps more exactly, the early declaration of technical elements later used by Lutoslawski. First the technique described as enchainee, linked together, often referred to in critical commentaries on his work. In the Passacaglia the eight-bar theme is repeated eighteen times and develops from the lowest register of solo double basses with the help of the harp, passing through successive instruments which are added and state it, until the tutti of the whole orchestra, for which it makes its final appearance in the highest register of the violins. Each time that the theme appears it is accompanied by non-thematic el1isodes, mingling with it, one meshing with the other, but not synchronized, Lutoslawski himself indicated this procedure as one that he was going to develop later as his technique "en chaine". The third movement of the Concerto can be understood as a kind of variant of the form of the whole work, shown in its inversion. The movement is the longest and its material the most important, preceded, as it is, by an introduction and by a scherzo interlude: in the pattern of this third movement we see an inversion: after the Passacaglia, the most developed, comes the Toccata, with its ostinato theme, which has the character of a linking episode, before the archaising theme of the Corale, first heard in the oboes and clarinets. The Corale has a final character, but it is exactly here that there occurs, prepared by the Toccata, the climax of the work. After the four voices of oboes and clarinets, we have the statement of the chorale in the six voices of the brass and then extending over five octaves in fourteen string parts. After this there is a short coda, marked Presto.


The Trois Poemes d' Henri Michaux were composed between 1961 and 1963, commissioned by the conductor of the Zagreb Radio Choir, Slavko Zlatic: they were first performed at the Zagreb Music Biennale on 9th May 1963, when the Zagreb Radio Orchestra was conducted by the composer and the Choir by Slavko Zlatic. It was on this occasion that Lutoslawski started conducting again. He had abandoned it for some years, and only now began to resume activity as an orchestral conductor, exclusively of his own music. During the first performance in Poland of the Trois Poemes, at the Warsaw Autumn Festival on 22nd September of the same year, he conducted the Cracow Polish Radio Choir and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Jan Krenz. The scoring makes use of twenty-three instruments, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns and trombones, harp, two pianos and a percussion section of four, with a mixed choir of twenty solo singers, five sopranos, five altos, five tenors and five basses, A direction in the score states that the orchestral ensemble should be on the left and the choir on the right of the platform, each with their own conductor, The numbers of the choir can be doubled or trebled in larger halls, which should not lead to performance of two or three voices in unison on the same part: they should not be synchronized. The score is published in two separate parts: the orchestral score contains shortened notation of elements of the choral part and, similarly, the choral score includes shortened notation of the elements of the orchestral part. The composer makes use of three relatively short poems by Henri Michaux (1899-1984); these come from the volume Plume (Paris: 1938) and are les Pensees (Thoughts) and le Repos dans le malheur (Repose in misfortune) which form the first and third movement, while le Grand Combat (The Great Combat), the central movement of the work, comes from the collection Qui je Jus (Who I was; Paris: 1928). The composer said that he had been fascinated by the poems of Michaux that he had first discovered in 1958, translated into Polish in the Polish monthly review Tworczosc.


It is this work that marks the beginning of Lutoslawski's involvement with French surrealist poetry, an involvement to which we owe, as well as the Poemes, the only work, apart from the functional Lacrimosa, written during his student days, where the use of the choir is possible but not obligatory, in which he has used a choir, three cycles of orchestral songs. Lutoslawski found in the work of the Franco-Belgian poet and painter values that not only fascinated him artistically but which inspired him musically. This is what he had to say on the matter: "Michaux has features in common with the surrealists, it is clear… But there is still something else, of great importance for the work of a Composer: it is the form of his poems, written for the most pan in a mixture of verse and prose, and the verse itself is irregular. The sameness of rhythms in traditional poetry and even in contemporary poetry... is an insurmountable obstacle for a Composer of our time... With Henri Michaux, on the contrary, it is possible to remain absolutely natural as a musician, while following the form of his poetry, because of its formal and rhythmic variety." He added in another interview. "The poems of Michaux possess, in my opinion, not only a narrow, Concrete meaning, they are not exclusively a sceptical reflection on the subject of human thoughts (Pensees), an account of a fight between two men (Le grand combat) nor an act of resignation (Repos dans le malheur). This is only the external appearance of these poems, beneath which is hidden a wealth of meaning, of imagination, of ideas and of feeling - it is this that allows a subjective approach to these verses and their subjective interpretation. In their specific ambiguity certain kinds of poetry come near to music, which is the most ambiguous of the arts, or, rather, an art that has no sense, no definite meaning - which comes to the same thing."

The act of creating a vocal-instrumental piece had a character of its own in that Lutoslawski only looked for a text when he had already envisaged the form of the composition: he set out to find verses that in some way would be near this form. After having found such poems, he gave a definite shape to the form that he had earlier sketched, when it was the word that decided the details of sound and determined them. "At this final stage", Lutoslawski declares, "the words could also take the role of matter, of material that has its value in Sound. Neither in this case, however, did I know nor did I want to separate the sound of the word from the meaning it contained. It is no mere fancy that I mean to explain, to comment on the music through the words, I never compose in a way that has the text helping me to add music to it. And, finally, I say that the word is united with the music, that they form a fusion. Also the text once chosen has an important role, at the forefront nearly in the work that is being born, in the third stage of the work. Here music adds 10 the word and not the opposite."

The principle cyclic link, from the point of view of expression, is the second movement, where the choir represents a group of people who comment and associate themselves with the combat between two people, with their struggle. Lutoslawski here uses the human voice in different ways, apart from singing, in dialogue, whispering, shouts, recitation, showing the approximate register of the voice instead of a definite, pitch. It is here in particular that he uses words as sound material that does not only convey its content, but that reflects the emotional atmosphere of the poetic content. In this work, in which Lutoslawski makes extensive use of his controlled aleatoric technique, he sacrifices to it, it is true, the comprehensibility of the words given to the twenty voices, yet this technique allows him to give special prominence to the emotional content of the words, even if they are incomprehensible. It is not only this piece, indeed, that could be attributed to the style that attracted attention to Polish music in the first half of the I960s. Although Lutoslawski had already been very aware of tone-colour and the form of musical techniques, it is only this work that can be considered sonoristic, in which colours and the alternation of sound techniques give a primordial but also formal expressive quality, putting on one side melodic and harmonic qualities. A similar approach is dictated by the poetry of Henri Michaux, poetry of surprising metaphors, intellectual rather than emotional lyricism, which attacks through compressed images, tackled paradoxically. This poetry had suggested to him the first idea, in three parts, of a suite of vocal-instrumental pictures, from the changing, capricious techniques of the "thoughts" in the first link, through the feverish anxiety of the dramatically agitated forms of the "great combat" in the second link, to the calm of contemplative feelings in the "rest in misfortune" of the final link.


Mi-parti was written in 1975-1976 in response to a commission from the city of Amsterdam for the Concertgebouw Orchestra, which gave the first performance, under the composer's direction, in Rotterdam on 22nd October 1976. Lutoslawski himself said about the work: "My piece is called Mi-parti. I found the word in the Quillet dictionary with the definition: Composed of two equal but unlike parts. It was exactly what I wanted. Not that this mi-partition corresponds to the form. Not at all. The form is a single movement that lasts a quarter of an hour. In it are several threads. Each of them develops while inteifering one with the other and represent an action. The form of this piece consists in the progression of at least three actions, with a slow part at the beginning and a very active part from the middle on." It is, therefore, a bipartite form, but in a single movement and with different tempi. There is a surprise at the end "exactly after the climax... Everything that leads to the climax, including this, is painted in warm colours, I use this word colour rather in spite of myself, only because I can find no word to translate an acoustic phenomenon, We will call warm colours those of groups of sounds containing above all thirds and sixths, while the cold colours are those obtained from major seconds, tritones, fourths and fifths... after the climax there begins a passage that brings a chord that I could call icy and which is in absolute contrast with everything that goes before. After this the colours change again, returning very gently to the colours of the opening, but this time pianissimo, and that is the end of the piece."


Mi-parti is a work in a single movement, made up of a series of sections, each one constructed from series of different phrases. The statements of such phrases, introduced by particular instruments or pairs of instruments playing one line, make up the three first sections. The three following sections add density to the sound material by the polyphonic statement of its variants, until now presented rather by a chamber group than an orchestra. The sound material grows here up to a fortissimo symphonic tutti that finds its resolution in the string cantilena of the coda, reaching its end in the final chord.


Andrzej Chlopecki

(English version by Keith Anderson)










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