About this Recording
8.570987 - LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Violin Music (Complete) / SZYMANOWSKI, K.: Myths / JANACEK, L: Violin Sonata (Daskalakis, Yampolsky)
English  German 

Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994): Recitativo e Arioso • Subito • Partita
Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937): Myths, Op. 30
Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): Violin Sonata


Witold Lutosławski’s Complete Works for Violin and Piano are flanked in this programme by masterpieces of fellow Eastern European composers Leoš Janáček and Karol Szymanowski. The lives of these three composers spanned the years 1854–1994, a period of dramatic historical change, political turmoil and radical developments in Western music. Each of these artists had a distinctly original voice and left behind a very personal and significant musical legacy.

Witold Lutosławski was born and died in Warsaw. He started playing the piano and violin as a child and began composing at the age of nine. His family supported his musical development even though he had lost his father and uncle in 1918, both shot in Moscow by Bolsheviks. Lutosławski studied composition with Witold Maliszewski, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, and later spoke very respectfully about his teacher even though they had considerable aesthetic differences. Lutosławski’s plan to study further in Paris was thwarted by the outbreak of World War II, during which he supported himself in Warsaw by playing piano duets in bars, the only legal performance venues at the time. Constrained for years by the threat of censorship, he composed works commissioned for particular occasions or young audiences. He said of that time, “I could not compose as I wished, so I composed as I was able”. Two particular musical experiences were pivotal in his musical development. At the age of eleven he heard Szymanowski’s Third Symphony “…and the richness of modern music, the world of the twentieth century opened before me”. Later he drew on the influences of Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók, and he revered Webern. Lutosławski’s harmonic language is dissonant yet structured, favouring certain intervals (seconds, tritones and perfect fourths) as well as clusters and implied tonalities in a polyphonic setting. The second pivotal experience in his development occurred in 1960: already a mature composer, Lutosławski heard for the first time an excerpt from John Cage’s Piano Concerto: “As I heard it, I suddenly realised that I could compose music that was completely different from what I had previously written”. He did not copy Cage or even try to emulate him, but this inspiration was the catalyst which helped him to redefine his own style. He gave Cage credit for bringing the element of chance back into music, and from that point Lutosławski introduced a new technique into his music, called “controlled aleatoric”. It releases the musical voices from a common rhythm and gives each voice an independent set of instructions. Thus there is an improvisatory element but the parameters are clearly defined.

Recitativo e Arioso was written for Tadeusz Ochlewskeimu in 1951, before Lutosławski’s use of controlled aleatoric. It is a melancholic, masterful miniature. In a chromatic context D and F major triads vie with an E pedalpoint until the final B major triad offers resolution. The intervals in the violin line are very expressive, with uplifting fourths and “crying” major and minor seconds.

Subito, written in 1992, is one of Lutosławski’s last works. In its form a Rondo, it is short and compact, with expressive interludes between the recurring fast and explosive (“sudden”) main motive. The rhythmic intensity leads to a climactic end. Here Lutosławski has refined his aleatoric technique by embedding it in traditional notation. In both of these works he chooses clearly to separate the material given to the violin and the piano: the instruments do not “share” motives. Both works show his care for form and attention to detail.

Partita was commissioned by Pinchas Zuckerman and Mark Neikrug in 1984; later Anne-Sophie Mutter commissioned a version with orchestra. Here Lutosławski combines Neoclassical elements—the form and structure of the piece, the relationship of the instruments—with his personal harmonic style: dissonant, rhythmically powerful and clearly structured. Controlled aleatoric writing makes up the second and fourth movements, which are actually just bridges between the three main movements. Here the violin and piano play independently of each other: the notes and values are written clearly in each part but the players should not try to coordinate them. Lutosławski thus gives his interpreters a certain independence without compromising his own responsibility as the composer.

Lutosławski was recognised during his lifetime as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. Looking back, he credited Szymanowski with bringing modern western European music into Poland. Karol Szymanowski was born in 1882 in Tymoszówka (Ukraine), formerly a part of Poland which had been annexed by Russia. His highly cultivated and musical family was proud of its noble Polish heritage. Szymanowski began his musical studies as a pianist with his father. In 1901 he went to Warsaw to study, and founded the Young Polish Composer’s Publishing Company in 1905 with young fellow musicians in order to foster communication with the European music world and to stimulate opportunities at home and abroad. The company, based in Berlin, was very active for six years. In his youth Szymanowski had been strongly influenced by the music of Wagner, yet as he matured he distanced himself increasingly from German Romanticism. Important influences came from Debussy, Stravinsky and Scriabin, as well as a reverence for his great Polish predecessor, Chopin. Before the outbreak of World War I Szymanowski travelled widely. He spent several years in Vienna; and he derived particular inspiration from trips to Italy (1909), Sicily (1910) and North Africa (1914) where he visited Constantine, Tunis and Algiers. Upon his return he wrote the Three Myths for his friend and colleague violinist, Pawel Kochánski. The new stimuli, particularly the encounters with Arab and early Christian cultures, had helped him to mature stylistically during a creative period which continued although the war hindered his mobility. The Szymanowskis’ house was destroyed in 1917, and in late 1919 the family emigrated to the newly independent Poland. Meanwhile, Szymanowski’s fame as a composer began to spread. He championed not only his own music but Polish musical culture altogether. As the Director of the Warsaw Conservatory from 1927 to 1932 he made significant reforms in Polish music education. Over time his diverse activities, including extensive performing, took their toll on his health, and he died in 1937.

Szymanowski’s style incorporates a great range of colours, nuances and dynamic contrasts, as well as special effects which augment the spectrum. In Myths he uses glissandi, harmonics and pizzicato—as Lutosławski did in his Partita. The sensual myth motives are recognisable: The nymph Arethusa flees from the river god Alpheus after he has seen her bathing and fallen in love with her. Protected by Artemis, Arethusa turns into a fountain. The handsome Narcissus, having rejected the love of the nymph Echo, is punished by Aphrodite, falls in love with his own reflection in water and pines for it, transfixed, until he withers away and is transformed into a flower. Pan is the god of the forest, half man half goat, son of Hermes and a nymph. He cavorts with the Dryads and chases the nymph Syrinx, who assumes the shape of river reeds. Pan cuts these and makes the first reed flute. As with all great programme music, knowledge of the stories is not essential to appreciation.

Like Szymanowski, the Czech composer Leoš Janáček did great service to the development of musical education in his homeland. He had achieved great fame by the time of is death in 1928 but came from humble circumstances. Born in Hukwaldy, Moravia, in 1854 to a family of teachers and church musicians, he was sent at the age of eleven to the choir school of the Augustinian Monastery of Old Brno. His subsequent education spanned many years and places, including Prague, Leipzig and Vienna. He worked during most of his student years as a teacher and choir director, and he taught his ensembles important new repertoire, including Mozart, Beethoven and Dvořák. His own early compositions were influenced in part by Dvořák and Wagner, as well as by modal church and folk music. In 1881 he founded the Brno Organ School, which remained under his direction until 1919, when it became the Brno Conservatory. Janáček reached maturity as a composer around 1897, when he distilled his ideas regarding “speech melody”. Using the natural intonation, colour and timbre of the spoken voice, he imitated the sound of the Czech language in his music in order to depict the feelings and emotions behind the speech, the meaning of the expression. “I don’t need to understand the words”, he said to his student Vilem Tausky. “I can tell by the tempo and modulation of speech how a man feels; if he lies, or if it is just a conventional conversation. I have been collecting these speech rhythms for years, and I have an immense dictionary. These are my windows into the soul of man…” This breakthrough marked a significant development in the quality of Janáček’s compositions, starting with the opera Jenůfa, which had its première in 1904. His music had attained a dramatic immediacy, with soaring narratives embedded in textures of unparalleled energy and expression.

Janáček’s Violin Sonata was written in 1914–15 and given final revision in 1921. The work has some characteristics of a traditional sonata but it also brought a new, unique tone into the repertoire, partly thanks to the dark colours of its tonality, Janáček’s favourite key of A flat minor. The second movement is a poignant ballad; the third movement a scherzo which is desperate rather than playful. Both outer movements of the sonata depict urgency, whereby the first ends with resolution while the final movement closes in utter resignation; the last statement of the chorale theme in the violin, accompanied by high tremolos of the piano, represents the Russian invasion into Hungary in 1914. Janáček’s counterpoint was perhaps conservative but his use of texture and register, the juxtaposed blocks of material comprised of compelling melodies and bursts of motion, were unprecedented.

Ariadne Daskalakis

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