• WL100/78: Jeux vénitiens pitch designs

Among loose manuscript paper in Lutosawski’s study in September 2002 were three rather special sheets relating to Jeux vénitiens (1960-61).  They are not preparatory material but rather a post-compositional aide-mémoire.  And the fact that they are written on English and not Polish manuscript paper confirms this.  Perhaps they were drawn out as preparation for a lecture to composition students.

On these three sheets Lutosławski has outlined the harmonic trajectory of the four movements of Jeux vénitiens. You will hardly find a more succinct summary of his pitch designs for this key work.

Sheet 1


This contains material for the first and second movements.  The harmonic framework of the first movement is well-known.  He gives here the pitch structures for the components that are introduced successively in sections A, E and G; there is nothing for C as that is for (unpitched) timpani.  He then gives the harmonic progressions underlying sections B D F and H.

The second movement is less straightforward.  First, Lutosławski ignores the opening 29 bars, starting his notation at the moment when the strings stop playing and pursuing it to the end of b.36, just before the strings re-enter.  Secondly, he jumps to the next non-string section, bb.55-68.  What is especially revealing here is that the changing chords are not fully represented in the score.  Instead, they serve as wells from which Lutosławski draws his droplets of sound in woodwind, brass, xylophone, vibraphone and harp.  Although this movement is often regarded as the most conventional of the four, this was a technique that he used on many occasions as it maintained the notion of twelve-note harmony while giving the texture air and a sense of intangibility.  The rest of the movement is absent from this summary.

Under six of the chords between b.59 and b.67 are some capital letters.  These were Lutosławski’s private code.  He thought of certain types of chord, with characteristic intervallic constructions, as reminding him of some of his favourite twentieth-century composers.  Elsewhere, for example, ‘P’ refers to Panufnik and ‘Ro’ to Roussel.  Here there are D, R and S.  I leave you to divine which composers are represented by these initials.

Sheet 2


Sheet 2 is devoted entirely to the third movement of Jeux vénitiens.  This was composed after the premiere of the other three movements in Venice (24 April 1961); the revised work was premiered in Warsaw later that year (16 September).  The concept of this new movement is to take the motivic cells from the woodwind in component A of the first movement, where they are treated harmonically, and unravel them gradually as a melodic line for solo flute. This line is absent from Sheet 2.

Instead, Lutosławski follows the two interlocking orchestral strands: (i) the developing continuum in  woodwind, harp and piano (A to W) and (ii), where ‘strings’ is written above the third system, the string chords that punctuate the sustained texture between letters D and W.  As can be seen in each of these strands, Lutosławski contracts and expands them, using the changing vertical space as an integral expressive device.  The string chords, for example, unfold outwards from the dense twelve-note clusters of L-P, but they reach their fully opened position not at the end of the movement but as the first chord of the fourth movement, as indicated here.

Sheet 3


As with the material given for the second movement, this third sheet is also selective in what it contains from the fourth movement.  The top line (bb.6-14) intriguingly gives a linear presentation of what in the score seems to be more of a shifting harmonic sequence in the wind.  Pitch-rotational techniques seem to be in operation.  There is no reference to the sfpp accent that first appears in b.10.  The second system does something similar for the string passage that begins in b.38 and goes as far as the introduction of the first objet sonore (‘a’) of the nine that will lead cumulatively to the movement’s climax.  For some reason Lutosławski has not included the pitch material for the piano for ‘e’.

He then jumps to the climactic chord at letter G, followed by the contracting harmonic span (celesta, harp and piano) that leads to letter J at the end of b.145.  The unlabelled, four-stave chord that concludes this sheet refers to the passages leading to and away from letter M.  Reading up from the bottom: cellos and basses, vibraphone and brass, celesta and piano, and violin and viola harmonics.  The harp cluster and dying embers of the flutes are not included.

There are several other posts on this site concerning Jeux vénitiens.  To find them, simply type ‘Jeux’ or ‘Jeux vénitiens’ into the blank (search) box in the header on the top right of any page and press ‘GO’.

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