• WL100/6: Epitaph, **3 January 1980

Epitaph (1979) is virtually alone in Lutosławski’s output in being a duet that he never orchestrated.  There are orchestral versions of Dance PreludesGrave and Partita, and through these arrangements his chamber music has reached a wider audience in the concert hall and on disc.  Epitaph has not been so lucky, and there has been less than a handful of CD recordings.

Craxton_JanetYet Epitaph was the work which spurred Lutosławski’s late flowering of small chamber compositions, which included other duets with piano: Grave for cello (1981), Partita for violin (1984) and Subito for violin (1992), whose material was intended for an unfinished violin concerto for Anne-Sophie Mutter.  Lutosławski wrote Epitaph when he was 66, at the request of the British oboist Janet Craxton to commemorate her late husband, Alan Richardson.  With the pianist Ian Brown, Craxton premiered Epitaph at the Wigmore Hall in London on 3 January 1980.

At the time, Epitaph had a huge impact for its small size.  The musical world had become used to Lutosławski the composer of impressive works for orchestra (Second Symphony, LivreMi-partiNovelette) or for soloist with orchestra (Cello Concerto, Les espaces du sommeil).  Here all of a sudden was this melodic and gutsy gem of a duet, and his music was within reach of chamber musicians (to add to the  String Quartet of 1964).

It is more than likely that Lutosławski wrote Epitaph as a trial run en route to the Double Concerto (1979-80), which was premiered eight months later by the oboist Heinz Holliger and his wife, the harpist Ursula Holliger, with the Collegium Musicum conducted by Paul Sacher.  There is no specific material shared between the two pieces, but Sacher had been asking Lutosławski for something for Heinz Holliger for over a decade, so it is quite possible that the two works were interlinked in Lutosławski’s creative processes at some stage.


In May 1968, and again in a chasing letter dated 19 March 1969, Sacher pressed Lutosławski for a concerto for Holliger.  Lutosławski, who by then was engrossed in writing a cello concerto for Rostropovich, replied on 2 April in conciliatory tone, but his projected timescale was to be dislodged by a further nine years:

‘Une telle oeuvre est toujours dans mes plans, mais, comme cela arrive bien souvent, les dates où je m’attendais de terminer les compositions sur lesquelles je travaille maintenant se déplacent et je serais très vraisemblablement en retard.  J’envisage, que je serais prêt de commencer le travail sur l’oeuvre en question seulement en 1971.’


It is perhaps appropriate that Holliger (with the pianist Szabolcs Esztényi) gave the Polish premiere of Epitaph on 24 September 1980 at the 24th ‘Warsaw Autumn’, exactly a month after he had premiered the Double Concerto:

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