• WL100/66: Overture, **9 November 1949

One of Lutosławski’s forgotten works is his Overture for strings, premiered on this day 64 years ago in Prague, by the city’s Radio Symphony Orchestra under the Polish conductor, and Lutosławski champion, Grzegorz Fitelberg.  It seems to have been the Overture’s fate to have been composed just as socialist realism was taking a firm grip on Polish music.  Yet there seems to be no record of it having been banned or criticised.  Even though it kept its distance from the simplicity apparently being required of Polish composers – it uses an octatonic scale and has some intriguing metric subtleties – it seems simply to have disappeared, perhaps regarded as irrelevant rather than dangerous by those with programming power.  Perhaps Lutosławski himself put it to one side; he appears never to have conducted it, and during his lifetime there were only seven performances (according to Witold Lutosławski. A Bio-Bibliography). There have, however, been five commercial CD recordings.

On one of my antiquarian forays in Kraków I came across the concert programme for the Overture’s first performance in the city (it looks as if it was also the Polish premiere).  It took place two months after the Prague performance, with the Kraków PO conducted by Witold Krzemieński.  The relevant pages of the programme are reproduced below, including another profile of Lutosławski – see an earlier one in WL100/54: Lutosławski and Panufnik (1945) – that sheds new light on Polish perceptions of the composer in the immediate post-war years (my translation is at the foot of this post).  There is, however, no hint in the note of state pressures for socialist-realist music, even though the concert took place just five months after the coercions unveiled at the August 1949 composers’ conference in Łagów and less than two months after official censure of his First Symphony at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw.  But Kraków was always at one remove from the capital, which is possibly why the Polish premiere took place there.

WL Overture programme 01.50

P.S.  This wasn’t the only time that a new Lutosławski piece shared the  billing with Borodin’s Second Symphony. The same was to happen in 1970 at the premiere of the Cello Concerto.

Overture 01.50 WL profile1

P.P.S.  Natty lapels!

Overture 01.50 WL profile2

New to Kraków listeners will be the first performance in our city of the Overture for string orchestra by WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI.  Lutosławski is one of the most outstanding personalities among the younger generation of Polish composers, through the creation of an exceptionally independent, insightful and decidedly exploratory musical language of his own.  Born in 1913, in 1937 he completed his studies at the Warsaw Conservatoire: composition with Prof. Witold Maliszewski and piano with Prof. Jerzy Lefeld.  He was by then already the composer of several pieces for piano, the ballet Harun al Rashid, a Fugue for symphony orchestra for his diploma, together with fragments of a Requiem.  The conservative and eclectic direction represented by his distinguished professor, Witold Maliszewski, did not prevent Lutosławski, after utilising the fund of knowledge and technique passed on to him by this worthy musician, from stepping out onto his own, independent artistic path.  The main stages of this path, a path on which Lutosławski gradually but consistently and steadily became independent and radicalised his musical language, were: Symphonic Variations (performed in 1938 at the Wawel Festival [it was actually in 1939: see WL100/43: Variations, **June 1939]), Etudes for piano (1943 [actually 1941]), Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (1945) and finally the Symphony (1947).  His last major piece is this very Overture for string orchestra, performed for the first time under the direction of Grzegorz Fitelberg in Prague, Czechoslovakia (October 1949 [actually, November]).

Lutosławski’s musical style is characterised by a desire for logic, economy and formal rigour, an inclination towards polyphonic texture, and lastly his own harmonic world, in which one senses throughout the basis of a modern and at the same time spontaneous and individual sound of ‘the new order’.  When it comes to the orchestral palette, which Lutosławski deploys masterfully, since the orgiastically colourful Symphonic Variations there has appeared in his work a marked return to greater economy, and even instrumental asceticism (Wind Trio).

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