• WL100/27: Notebook, 19 March 1961

Lutosławski and Rain

In order to justify classical rhythmic formulae, the argument has been used that this rhythm (i.e. ‘harmonic’, based on pulse) comes from nature: walking, the heartbeat.  Well, it is not correct to say that other rhythms have no counterpart in nature.  In fact, natural phenomena proceed for the most part in an irregular rhythm.  Example: the rhythm of the drops as rain begins to fall (pizz., in b.67 presto (II) from Jeux v.).

Dla uzasadnienia klasycznych formuł rytmicznych posługiwano się argumentem, że rytm ten (tzn. ‘harmoniczny’, oparty na pulsacji) pochodzi z natury: chodzenie, bicie serca.  Otóż nie jest słuszne twierdzenie, że inne rytmy nie mają odpowiedników w naturze.  Na pewno zjawiska natury przebiegają w swej większości w rytmie niepulsacyjnym.  Przykład: rytm kropel, gdy deszcz zaczyna padać (pizz., w t. 67 presto (II) z Jeux v.).

Witold Lutosławski, 19 March 1961  [my translation]

This is a rare example of Lutosławski linking extramusical observations to his music, aside from his several references to the theatre.  The passage in question (in the second movement of Jeux vénitiens, which he was writing at this very time and would complete nine days later) is interesting from a number of points of view.

For one thing, the string pizzicati are almost completely covered by a denser, more active texture in the woodwind, brass, pitched percussion and harp, so hardly of foreground interest.  For another, this is not the first but the third such passage in the movement: the first is led off by the bassoon at b.9 and the second (more briefly) by vibraphone at b.46, both against a background of scurrying muted strings played arco.  In each of these first two cases, the ‘irregular’ rhythms lead to fuller textures in the wind and pitched percussion, and it is the second of these that eventually runs in parallel with the string pizzicati cited by Lutosławski above.

This third and most developed passage extends from b.67 to b.82 and is given to the strings for the first time and marked pizzicato to make the point (the orchestration of these three sections is a good example of how Lutosławski thought of his music’s instrumentation in structural terms).  Bars 67-82 take the form of an increasingly dense rhythmic texture that is interrupted by the playing of cardboard tubes on the strings of the piano at b.83 (see WL100/24: Notebook, 11 March 1961 for details of this passage).  Given the dating of both this diary entry and of his work on the second movement, it looks highly possible that Lutosławski did have the irregular rhythm of a natural phenomenon like raindrops in mind when he composed not only bb.67-82 but also the two earlier passages to which this pizzicato section is the successor.  Incidentally, the movement is not headed Presto in the published score – it simply has the tempo indication of crotchet/quarter-note = 150.

Here’s a recording of the (unrevised) second movement from the premiere of the otherwise revised and completed version of Jeux vénitiens, given at the Warsaw Autumn on 16 September 1961, with the National Philharmonic conducted by Witold Rowicki.  The bassoon entry at b.9 is at 0’05”, while the vibraphone at b.46 is inaudible, as too is most of the string pizzicato starting at b.67 (0’46”).

WL JV:II bb.64-72

WL JV:II bb.73-81

One Response to • WL100/27: Notebook, 19 March 1961

  1. Reblogged this on Lutosławski in Spain and commented:
    it seems Lutoslawski had Nature as a mirror of classical rhythms, but also for stochastic patterns like raindrops

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