• WL100/14: Lutosławski at Polish Radio

WL w Polskim RadiuPolish Radio’s new website Witold Lutosławski w Polskim Radiu looks like being one of the most interesting archival sources on the composer so far.  There are audio files and photo galleries connected with Lutosławski’s work at Polish Radio in the 1940s and 50s as well as a host of radio interviews made with and about him over the years. The initial on-screen teething problems have now been sorted, although the promised English-language transcripts of some of the items have yet to materialise.

The contents are already of considerable interest, and I hope they will be added to in the coming weeks and months. Currently the contents include:

• over thirty radio reminiscences and interviews
• two examples of incidental music for Polish Radio Theatre unheard since the mid-1950s
• three photo galleries: Witold Lutosławski and His Time (52 items), From the Family Album (22) and Documents from Polish Radio (17)

For those who don’t understand Polish, the second and third groups above may be of the greatest interest.

Incidental Music

Polish Radio has unearthed two sequences of Lutosławski’s incidental music for Polish Radio Theatre.  This activity was one which he pursued from the late 1940s until 1960.  Little has been written on his incidental music because it was thought that it existed, if at all, almost exclusively in score form.  Polish Radio has now released these two audio compilations from its sound archives.

The earlier of the two is called Anccasin ef Nocolette on the PR website.  I must admit that I cannot rationalise the language nor find any source for this title.  Martina Homma has identified the item as Okassen i Mikołajka, which seems linguistically more reliable.  She dates the broadcast of this authorless text to 8 November 1954 (eighteen days before the premiere of the Concerto for Orchestra).  Although the PR site gives the duration of the music as 5’39”, it lasts for 11’17”.  The music is Baroque pastiche, the fragments up until 08’50” for harpsichord alone. Thereafter, a flute and violin join in.  I wonder if Lutosławski was himself playing the keyboard.  The recording is rather basic and the performance is not without the occasional fluff.

The second of the two sequences was broadcast almost three months later, on 30 January 1955.  It was composed for one of the Arabic folk tales from Klechdy sezamowe (Tales of Sesame, 1913) by Stanisław Leśmian, who is better known by his first forename, Bolesław.  The music for Zeklęty rumak (PR site), or O zaklętym rumaku (Homma), is more fantastic and richly scored, for chamber ensemble, than the frankly boring music for the earlier piece.  It lasts for 10’27” (the PR site says 5’14”).  Let’s hope there are more riches in the sound archives from Lutosławski’s prolific period as a composer of incidental music.

Photo Galleries

There are many unfamiliar items here, so these three sections present new windows into the past.  The third section of documents is perhaps the least interesting as it draws on administrative paperwork from the post-war decade. The second section of family photographs consists almost entirely of old images of the Lutosławski family rather than of the composer.  His likeness to his brother Jerzy and his father Józef is very striking.

It is the first section that brings Lutosławski really to life, with photographs dating from after the Second World War up until 1993.  I was thrilled to see the sequence of photos from the rehearsals and concert for the full premiere of the Second Symphony, which Lutosławski conducted in Katowice in 1967.  There are also black and white stills from the documentary film made by Krzysztof Zanussi in 1990 for the BBC (see my post WL100/13: In Conversation with Zanussi).

But for me it’s the first two photographs which I find utterly compelling.  They were evidently taken during the same photo shoot (PR indicates that this was in January 1946) as another image used on the front cover of Polish Radio’s listings magazine Radio i Świat in April 1948 (see the top illustration in Panel 2: 1946-49 Music for Radio from my exhibition ‘The Hidden Composer’).  Of these two new images, which are technically much better than the one reproduction that I found, it is the first which I find almost unbearably haunting.

WL, January 1946

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