• One Last Meeting (2007)

One Last Meeting:

Lutosławski, Szymanowski and the Fantasia

This article was first published in Zbigniew Skowron (ed.), Karol Szymanowski w perspektywie kultury muzycznej przeszłości i współczesności (Karol Szymanowski from the perspectives of musical culture past and present) (Kraków: Musica Jagiellonica, 2007), 309-26.  This volume of 40 essays was created to mark the 70th birthday of Professor Zofia Helman.


Riga, 4 May 1935: Karol Szymanowski (extreme left), Witold Lutosławski (extreme right)

Their first and apparently only personal encounter was fleeting and tangential at best. The photograph of Lutosławski and Szymanowski at an event in Riga on 4 May 1935 (1) seems today to symbolise the distance between them.  Szymanowski was 53 and on his last tour and would die within two years.  Lutosławski was 22, a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, and he was in Riga as part of a student exchange.  Lutosławski’s performance there of his new Piano Sonata (1934) appears to have pleased the older composer, but, for whatever reason, Szymanowski did not tell Lutosławski personally; the latter had to rely on a fellow student, the violinist Wacław Niemczyk, who conveyed to him the older composer’s snippet of encouragement.  Nevertheless, Lutosławski’s recollection over 40 years later of Szymanowski’s attitude to his younger compatriots was a fond one: ‘Szymanowski was extremely kind to our small group.  He came to our concert, we walked around the town together and accompanied him to Radio Riga’. (2)

Lutosławski’s attitude towards Szymanowski’s music, however, is better documented. Even so, it may be construed as being contradictory in both tone and intent.  All of the major commentators on Lutosławski retell the story of his response to a performance of Szymanowski’s Third Symphony.  The occasion was a concert in Warsaw in 1924, when Lutoslawski was just eleven years old.  He told Tadeusz Kaczyński that ‘the occasion was a real revelation to

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me’. (3)  According to Steven Stucky, Lutosławski said that he was ‘dazed’ by the experience. (4)  In his conversation with Bálint András Varga, Lutosławski put it rather more strongly, given that he was recollecting a childhood reaction: ‘I felt almost drunk, it was like a narcotic’. (5)

By any standards, these responses demonstrated that Lutosławski was profoundly affected, although he provided caveats lest others think that Szymanowski’s impact was too durable.  The Third Symphony ‘marked my initiation into contemporary music, and as such became a kind of symbol for some years after’. (6)  By the time he had been in Riga, had graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory and had started work on the Symphonic Variations (1936-38), Lutosławski ‘was reacting against Szymanowski – rebelling against the excessively romantic, expressionistic traits of his music.  Those were then alien to me’. (7)  Elsewhere, he became averse to ‘the whole somewhat over-delicate aesthetic of that period, and my work never again showed the direct influence of Szymanowski’. (8)  Charles Bodman Rae indicates that Lutosławski disliked Szymanowski’s music because it ‘represented an ‘over-hysterical’ tendency’. (9)  Whatever the specifics of ‘over-delicate’ or ‘over-hysterical’, it is clear that Lutosławski soon had set himself against overt emotionalism.

Commenting in 1981 on Lutoslawski’s aesthetic of the late 1930s, Stucky perceived that the young composer had an

ambivalent attitude toward Szymanowski […].  He could not […] escape wholly the attraction of Szymanowski’s opulent sound world; but at the same time he was put off by the extreme emotionalism infusing much of Szymanowski’s music and by its stylistic bonds with postromantic music. (10)

This was the line that Lutosławski had taken in his interviews with Varga and Kaczyński in the 1970s.  Within a few years, however, Lutosławski seemed

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to soften his stance when talking to Irina Nikolska.  After discussing his first hearing of Szymanowski’s Third Symphony, Lutosławski continued:

No less enthusiastic did I become – a little later – over Szymanowski’s First Concerto for violin and orchestra and some of his songs. […]  I must admit that even today I never remain indifferent to this Third Symphony and First Concerto.  But as a composer, I have virtually nothing to do with these works. (11)

As was his custom, Lutosławski had an ambivalent attitude to how others saw or heard his own music.  For the most part, he was at pains to stress his individuality, his separation from other contexts.  This could be manifested in his own distinction between what he heard of other composer’s music and his own path as a composer.  Or it could be a matter of disguising technical links with composers whose music he did not admire – Martina Homma, for example, has shown that he developed a species of linear twelve-note technique despite dismissing such connections with serialism in his many interviews. (12)  Or it could be his wish to belittle early compositions, such as the Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54), because of the political context in which they were composed – his post factum construction of his musical ethos in 1948-54 is notable for sizeable lacunae and veils which seem to betell a profound nervous embarrassment.

In the same vein, this essay suggests that Lutosławski’s links with Szymanowski were closer than he either realised or wished to acknowledge.  And we may take a hint, however tenuous it may seem, from a throwaway phrase in his interview with Varga: ‘Those were then alien to me’.  Was he perhaps hinting that ‘then’ was then (the late 1930s) and not now (1973, the year of his interview)?  This possibility is enhanced in his discussions with Nikolska in 1987-92.  Although he expressed his thoughts with obliqueness (and a double negative!), he admitted that he ‘never remain[s] indifferent’ to Szymanowski’s Third Symphony.  More importantly still, he then opened up the repertoire which affected him to include Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto and a few songs.  The qualifier here is his own role as a listener and as a creator: ‘as a composer, I have virtually nothing to do with these works’.  In other words, he

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might be affected emotionally or viscerally but not intellectually or technically.  And yet this concluding remark, once again, is not categorical.  What does he mean to indicate by ‘virtually nothing’?  Could it be that, either subliminally or semi-consciously, there remain traces, 60 years after the event, of Szymanowski’s music that Lutosławski heard in his formative years?  Conjecturally, these might include technical aspects, such as orchestration, musical material, structures, but also aesthetic considerations, such as the term ‘postromantic’ floated by Stucky.  Examples that have already been cited elsewhere include the present author’s linking of Szymanowski’s first Myth ‘La fontaine d’Arethuse’ to Lutosławski’s Subito (1992) (13) and Maja Trochimczyk’s observations concerning Szymanowski’s Third Symphony and Lutosławski’s Les espaces du sommeil (1975) and, to a lesser extent, Paroles tissées (1965). (14)

Where arguably the parallels with Szymanowski are strongest are less in the small-scale details and rather in their approaches to structure.  Les espaces is a particular example in which the nature of Robert Desnos’s text determines the work’s structural unveiling.  Lutosławski was evidently very taken with Desnos’s verse: ‘C’est un poème grandiose.  Je n’ai eu qu’à me laisser guider par lui.  Je ne peux pas juger de mon travail, mais en tout cas je peux parler de ma fidélité à sa forme’. (15)  Indeed, his own copy of the volume containing Desnos’s poem is marked up by the composer to highlight its structural sequence. (16)  He underlines each appearance of ‘Dans la nuit’ and circles each ‘Il y a toi’, drawing dotted lines around the first two extended ‘Il y a toi’ phrases, ‘Il y a toi l’immolée, toi que j’attends’ (line 18) and ‘Il y a toi sans doute, o belle et discrète espionne’ (line 26).  More particularly he brackets the prose verse to bring out what he sensed was its inherent structure.  Perhaps most interesting are the six Greek alphabetical letters (alpha to zeta) attached to the ‘paragraphs’ (lines 1-4, 6-8, 10-12, 14-17, 19-25, 27-33) before and after the first five ‘Il y a toi’ phrases  and up to the sixth phrase, ‘Il y a toi sans doute que je ne connais pas, que je connais au contraire’ (lines 34-35) which also starts the next and largest ‘paragraph’.  Normally in Lutosławski’s sketches, Greek letters are used to differentiate material, though here there is a balance between the similarity of atmosphere of these six sections and the musical development which distinguishes them.

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Such markings on the text point up not only its own immanent structure but also its appeal to Lutosławski’s compositional instincts: short sections leading to the major section (lines 34-48) indicated by a bracket around the text from ‘Il y a toi sans doute que je connais pas […] to ‘quand je baisse ta main’) and four linked brackets for the ‘coda’ of the text (lines 49-56) dominated by the ‘Dans la nuit’, which shared the textual foreground with ‘Il y a toi’ at the start.  (In the event, Lutosławski incorporated the first ‘Dans la nuit’ phrase in the major paragraph to make the the work’s climax after ‘millions d’êtres’, lines 49-51.)  The classic Lutosławski macro-structure – short sections (‘indirect’, to borrow the term from his Second Symphony, 1965-67) leading to a main section (‘direct’) and coda – is evident, but more subtle signals are also detectable.  The developing verse-refrain concept of the first half of the poem gives rise to possibilities associated with rondo and fantasia, as the recurrent textual phrases and their musical treatment are more intertwined than the musical materials in the equivalent preludial sections of Lutosławski’s preceding instrumental compositions.  Les espaces is therefore materially more integrated than many of its predecessors, and it comes as no surprise that Lutosławski referred to it as ‘tout un poème symphonique pour voix et orchestre’. (17)  Yet, as if to underline his wariness of being tied down to associations for which he felt some ambivalence, in his conversations with Kaczyński he flatly denied any such association. (18)

In his conversations with Kaczyński, Lutosławski reveals something of his attitude towards texted as distinct from purely instrumental works:

When I interpret a literary work I’m guided – like many others no doubt – by instinct.  We all have an unconscious musical code which translates into sounds the experiences provoked by the poetry [during a discussion on Paroles tissées]. (19)

I imagine the text I’m reading to be the poetic equivalent of a piece of music, but it doesn’t follow that there is a clear-cut link between the literary work and the composition.  The link is subjective and intuitive.  When I’m composing my vocal works, I fall back on my subconscious and allow the poem to work on my musical imagination [during a discussion on Les espaces]. (20)

In the context of this discussion, one cannot fail to remark on the vocabulary: ‘instinct’, ‘unconscious’, ‘subjective’, ‘intuitive’.  Furthermore, Lutosławski is quite clear that this compositional process is associated with his

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author’s photo (© 2002) of Lutosławski’s annotated copy of Desnos’s poem

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vocal-instrumental works, where his structures relate to those of his texts.  The implication is that his processes are less instinctive, unconscious, subjective or intuitive when he composes his instrumental pieces.  This is obviously a debatable point, but it is certainly true that there is an underlying structural and overt expressive design to his instrumental works that bespeaks a conscious schematic attempt to construct a desired effect.  This, however, was not always the case, as will be outlined later.

While, as Trochimczyk proposes, there may be aesthetic connections between Les espaces and Szymanowski’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’, there are perhaps greater underlying parallels between Lutosławski’s song cycle and Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto.  It may be no coincidence that this last work also shares the theme of night (its links are to Tadeusz Miciński’s

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fantastical, even surrealist poem May Night), and it is, as already observed, one of the few works cited favourably by Lutosławski.  While the Concerto’s structure resonates with the issue of rondo and fantasia already noted in Les espaces, it has no direct structural connection to Miciński’s poem, which unlike Desnos’s text lacks any real recurrent themes.  The Concerto’s structure is also elusive, associative and unaligned with classic models.  Jim Samson, for example, while distinguishing three thematic groups (A, B and C, mostly but not always coinciding with five ‘climaxes’), interlaces these with five ‘fantasies’, two ‘quick sections’, a cadenza and a closing reference to C.  The result is a complex web of static and mobile sections, of expository and developmental materials.  To add to the intricate analytical layering, Samson groups his total of fifteen sections into five groups of three. (21)

Alistair Wightman likewise understands the Violin Concerto as having five ‘spans’, although his divisions do not always agree with Samson’s, notably the division between spans four and five (Samson’s fourth ends with the cadenza, leaving a fairly short fifth span, while Wightman has a short fourth span and places the cadenza in the middle of the fifth). (22)  Such are the subtleties of Szymanowski’s score that it is not possible to be categorical in terms of structural detail, and the views of these two eminent Szymanowski scholars are witness to the interpretative flexibility applicable to this extraordinary work.  It is the very opposite of schematic.  Instead, Szymanowski relies on his instinct, his intuition, words which Lutosławski applied to his vocal-instrumental works.  It is also possible to suggest a shared orchestral world between the First Violin Concerto and Les espaces, particularly in the prominent, febrile writing for woodwind.  It is notable that both rely upon relatively static textures (sustained strings, hyperactive woodwind), especially in the early stages.  In Samson’s analysis of the Szymanowski he calls these sections ‘fantasy’.  And there are examples too numerous to mention in Lutosławski’s music where such textures and structural components might also carry this term.  Indeed, it is not unreasonable to equate ‘fantasia’ with the Second Symphony’s title for its first movement, ‘Indirect’.  As will be examined later, however, Lutosławski’s music developed ‘fantasia’ elements as part of its structural thinking too, whether consciously or subconsciously, and it is really this link with Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto that may prove more significant than orchestral detail.  (Of course, examples from other composers closer to Lutosławski’s musical heart may be cited, such as the Violin Concerto’s near-contemporary, Debussy’s Jeux.)

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Much of what follows is inevitably speculative.  The essay began with Lutosławski’s utterances on Szymanowski.  The next stage is to look at his views on two of his own works from the 1980s and 1990s: Symphony no. 3 (1983, although it had been a periodic preoccupation for the composer since 1974) and Symphony no. 4 (1992).  This discussion concentrates on the structural and emotional weight of these two works.  Much has been made, rightly, about Lutosławski’s development of, and reliance on, ‘end-accented form’, (23) especially in the 1960s and 1970s  It is possible to pursue these observations back into the 1950s (Concerto for Orchestra, Musique funèbre) as well as forward into the 1980s and 1990s, though in the last fifteen years of his life the strength of this particular process weakens.  It may be no coincidence that this change of focus coincided with Lutosławski’s increasing interest in melody.

Why choose these two symphonies rather than, say, a concerto?  Chain 2 for violin and orchestra(1984-5) would also be a good candidate.  The three Chain pieces operate in a manner not dissimilar to that pursued by Szymanowski in the First Violin Concerto.  By inference, given that the chain technique was in use in Lutoslawski’s music long before it was elevated to procedural pre-eminence as a title, there are also strong parallels between the two composers prior to the 1980s.  But Lutosławski’s symphonies in his late period, defined by Stucky and others as beginning in 1979 – at the onset of his focus on melody – present new challenges for both composer and listener.  In both of them, Lutosławski seemed intent on blurring, if not countermanding end-accented form.

Lutoslawski provided analytical outlines for both the Third and the Fourth Symphony.  It is worth quoting his view of the Third Symphony in some detail:

The work consists of two movements, preceded by a short introduction and followed by an epilogue and a coda.  It is played without a break.  The first movement comprises three episodes, of which the  first is the fastest, the second slower and the third is the slowest.  The basic tempo remains the same and the differences in speed are realised by the lengthening of the rhythmical units.  Each episode is followed by a short, slow refrain.  The third episode leads to a short, slow intermezzo which in turn is followed by the third and last refrain.  The second, main movement is based on a group of toccata-like themes contrasting with a rather singing one: a series of differentiated tuttis leads to the climax of the whole work.  Then comes the last movement, based on a slow

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singing theme and a sequence of rather dramatic recitatives played by the string group.  A short and very fast coda ends the piece. (24)

Among the significant features of this programme note are:

(i) Lutosławski understands his Third Symphony as essentially a two-movement form;
(ii) the simple outlines of such a structure (as heard in the Second Symphony) are blurred by being surrounded by other sections (introduction, epilogue and coda);
(iii) greater attention is paid to the details of the first movement than to the rest of the work, suggesting that it is more complex than what follows (not true);
(iv) the climax comes at the end of the second movement (fig. 77);
(v) the ‘epilogue’ is characterised as ‘the last (i.e., third) movement’.

This last observation is clearly at odds with the concept of a two-movement structure.  Perhaps the strangest aspect of Lutosławski’s note is his total failure to mention the work’s most striking feature: the four-quaver E natural octaves which not only open and close the Symphony but also act, rather like ‘Il y a toi’ in Les espaces, as structural signposts during the course of the piece, sometimes in varied or extended guise.  The consequence, particularly of this motif’s function at the very end of the Symphony, is to add further layers of meaning.

At the heart of any discussion of the Third Symphony is its planned and perceived structure.  Has Lutoslawski so compromised the concept of a two-movement form as to create, deliberately or inadvertently, a quite different structure?  If so, how is this ‘new’ structure manifest?  Lutoslawski was not accustomed to providing introductions to his works; his custom was to launch straight in to the first movement, section of ‘chapitre’.  The best-known introduction (at least in his sketches and programme note) prior to the Third Symphony is that which opens the Cello Concerto (1969-70).  There, however, its length, weight and dramatic function are of a much higher order than in the Third Symphony – it is a movement in its own right.  The introduction in the Symphony (up to fig. 3) is clearly intended as prefatory and arguably is there to act

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as a cushion for the hammer blows of the opening motif and as a relatively nondescript ‘vamp till ready’ until the first movement begins.  But, as Rae implies, when indicating that the introduction’s two stages are first and second ‘starts’, only in retrospect do these opening pages seem introductory.  The listener may have been beguiled initially into thinking that the ‘introduction’ was more substantive than it turns out to be, but that is all part of Lutosławski’s psychological play.

There is no mistaking the outline progress of the first movement, defined as it is not least by the changing orchestral palette and by the signposting of the E natural motif.  The role of the ‘intermezzo’ between the third episode and third refrain is not so apparent.  As a designated section, it is less easily explained than the introduction in terms of its function, because as such it serves more to blur the trajectory of the movement than to enhance it.  In practice, it blends aspects of both episode and refrain – the rapid figurations relate back to episodic materials while the oboe sighs (figs. 26-29) connect to the clarinet figuration in the preceding episode (fig. 22) and to the woodwind polyphony of the third refrain at fig. 30.  In fact, it makes sense to view the group ‘episode 3 – intermezzo – refrain 3’ as a second instance (the first being the transition between introduction and first episode) of Lutosławski blurring boundaries, indulging, as it were, in the decreasing tempo, tone and temperature of the first movement to break down the regularity of episode-refrain.  This was necessary to give the start of the second movement maximum impact (no such preparation is made for the second movement of the Fourth Symphony).  Whether the intermezzo is heard as a distinct section, therefore, is debatable, and that is expressively to the good.

With the arrival of an extended presentation of the repeated E naturals at fig. 31, Lutosławski shifts from indirect mode to direct.  Even so, Rae hears the second movement as ‘episodic rather than directional’, (25) and it is certainly true that it develops momentum by the varying of tension, with troughs as well as peaks.  The drive to the climax (fig. 77), when it comes, is brief when compared with the equivalent sections in the Second Symphony or Livre pour orchestre (1968), and it poses more questions than answers.  Lutosławski was unequivocal: it was ‘the climax of the work’.  Others are not so sure.  Rae, for

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one, calls the climax ‘abortive’, (26) ‘attempted rather than achieved … false’. (27)  These are strong words.  There is no doubt, however, that this ‘false’ climax is approached with some hesitancy, for all the excitement of the preceding couple of minutes; it is unemphatic and more quickly dispersed than any other main climax in Lutosławski’s previous orchestral output.  Not unnaturally, the listener’s expectations of a decisive culmination are thwarted, whether or not Lutosławski realised this during or after the work’s protracted gestation.  And, also not unnaturally, the listener remains expectant of a more decisive moment yet to come.

The main consequences of this ‘false’ climax regard the use of the terms ‘epilogue’ and ‘coda’ and where they occur.  Rae, (28) James Harley (29) and Jadwiga Paja-Stach (30) are among those who believe that the epilogue starts at fig. 84, where the strings reach an alternation of Eb and C.  John Casken has captured this moment and what follows with a characteristic poetry of expression; he calls it ‘an episode of visionary fragility’. (31)  It is an undoubtedly special moment in the Symphony, as it provides an unexpected resolution, potentially, to the fractured failure of the supposed climax at fig. 77.  The falling minor third, as Casken has noted, is highlighted here but has played an important if less obvious role earlier in the Symphony.  (Lutosławski was perhaps alluding to such connections when he suggested that the second movement ‘is followed by a large-scale epilogue ‘commenting‘ on the ‘events‘ that have taken place in the preceding parts’. (32)  I argue that the epilogue is more self-assured and forward-looking by nature of its expressive weight.)  Yet it is possible to view fig. 84 not as the start of the epilogue but as the goal of its first phrase.  Aloise Michaely (33) suggests that the epilogue begins earlier, at fig. 81, an observation with which the present author has concurred. (34)

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There are a number of reasons for this.  Firstly, the episode develops, as do the earlier sections of the Symphony, by episodic means.  Here, however, the episodes take the form of related statements and variation.  Figs. 81-83 consist of three string flurries (an echo of the collapse of the so-called climax) from which emerge different versions of a string recitative (cf. the cantilena section of the Cello Concerto).  These lead directly to the string cantando (fig. 84).  The process then begins again at figs. 89-92, where the recitative is inverted and develops contrapuntally against the flurries.  It is counter-intuitive to suggest that the epilogue starts partway through this process.  There is also a sense that the fall-out from the false climax is being folded in with the strings’ attempt to regroup, as both flurries and unison are interdependent, forming an unbroken thread, putting the past behind and leaning forward to something more positive, embodied in the melody beginning at fig. 84.

Lutosławski, contrarily, seems to dismiss this effort by inserting a forceful brass and string tremolo at fig. 92, followed by a ‘Poco lento’ for woodwind alone which Rae describes as Refrain 4.  This latter observation, implying connections with the three refrains in the first movement, suggests a type of idiosyncratic recall of which Szymanowski might have been proud.  Yet more potently still, the tremolo and the woodwind material recall something closer to hand, the fall-out from the climax to Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (figs. 134-6).  This is a timely reminder that it is possible to have two climaxes, as the finale of the Concerto also has an unresolved climax (figs. 86-95) and a second one with the hammer blows beginning at fig. 133 and culminating in the tutta forza of fig. 134.  In both works, there is a weeping figuration which suggests defeat, resignation or submission.

In the Concerto, it is followed by the ‘resurrection’ of the cello, which rises from the depths of its lowest string (open C) to create a brief, explosive coda to its transcendent repeated A naturals.  What occurs in the Third Symphony is different, but the echoes are unmistakable.  At fig. 93, the doublebasses, on their lowest string (open E), begin a process of harmonic accumulation which rises through the orchestra until it is crowned by a tutti return of the melody from fig. 84.  What was then fragile is now confident, especially because it is grounded on the low E, the one focal pitch of the entire Symphony.  This late thematic flowering, be it postromantic or simply melodic, explodes into a final canonic cascade leading to the closure provide by the final four E naturals.

While some, like Lutosławski and Rae, believe that the coda begins at the point of this explosion (fig. 99), most commentators place the coda earlier, at

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fig. 93.  This is surely correct, not only because the caesura at this point is so clear-cut but also because it has such distinct echoes of the closing pages of the Cello Concerto.  Where the Szymanowskian connection may come in is the ambiguity created by the fact that the thematic ideas straddle this divide.  Perhaps there is a double coda, at figs. 93 and 99.  Perhaps Lutosławski’s epilogue and coda are invisible, for reasons outlined above.  It may be going too far to suggest, as Matthias Hermann has proposed, that the Symphony is in only three sections: exposition (to fig. 31), evolution (figs. 31-92) and coda (figs. 93-102), but the principle underlying his concept of evolution is robust. (35)  In contrast, Harley (36) and Andrzej Chłopecki (37) suggest that the epilogue is a distinct movement.  Chłopecki has a point when he talks of the epilogue as ‘an alternative principal movement’.  The key word is ‘principal’, because there is no doubt in most commentators’ minds that the epilogue has expressive weight beyond that which its title suggests.  Rae goes so far as to say that the Symphony’s ‘most powerfully memorable ideas come in the epilogue’. (38)  This inevitably puts Lutosławski’s own interpretation under scrutiny.

The breakthrough for Lutosławski, although he seems in his commentaries not to have quite recognised this, came with the creation of a two-climax expressive form.  It exists in the Cello Concerto and again here.  If the short fast ‘codas’ are included, then there are three culminations.  In the Symphony, I would argue, the second climax eclipses what Lutosławski thought of as the work’s sole climax because it resolves tensions, is overtly melodic, and because it embodies a thematic-motivic-tonal design which cuts across nominal movement barriers in a new way.  Stucky’s translation of Kurt Westphal’s term Verlaufskurve – ‘a single compelling arc of musical motion transcending periodicity’ – is a useful measure of many of Lutosławski’s compositions. (39)  In the Third Symphony, there are instead a number of overlapping arcs which give rise to multiple interpretations of key moments.

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The Fourth Symphony confirms this new direction.  Again, Lutosławski posits a two-movement form, this time apparently shorn of a stated introduction, epilogue or coda.  In fact, this is a familiar type of Lutosławskian epilogue for which Rae has often used the word ‘aftermath’.  And there is a fast coda, more self-contained and therefore slightly detached from what precedes it.  While there is no introduction as such, Lutosławski apparently saw the Symphony as ‘a kind of introduction and allegro’. (40)  Speaking to Nikolska, the composer was rather downbeat in his expression:

The Fourth Symphony consists of two ordinary movements; the first movement is slow; the second, which is the main movement of the Symphony, is relatively fast.  In the form there are no appreciable innovations. (41)

It is the argument of this essay, once again, that the composer’s structural intentions for a piece do not necessarily coincide with the listener’s perception.  Not that, reading most commentators, the listener will receive much of an alternative view; the composer’s word is more or less taken as gospel.

The crux of the matter lies in the opening bars.  As Rae says: ‘This sombre opening is quite unlike the beginnings of the previous two symphonies, and conveys ideas of thematic and dramatic significance’. (42)  The tolling E naturals seem to have sprung from fig. 93 in the Third Symphony.  The harmonic-melodic world of the opening clearly links back to the earlier Symphony’s epilogue, and this idea of the Fourth Symphony leading directly on from the experience of the Third is extremely powerful and feeds much of the discussion that follows.  At least two commentators have raised questions about this opening.  Firstly, Casken observes the stark contrast of the clarinet+strings texture and the flurries that answer it at fig. 3, evocatively describing the latter as ‘a phantasmagorical ad libitum chimera totally at odds with the very personal material of the first episode’. (43)  His subsequent comment on the overwhelmingly goal-directed nature of the Symphony is highly pertinent:

It may seem perfunctory to alternate these ideas in the first part of the work, but it does establish a new set of criteria, namely that measured music, with which the work

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began, is going to play a far more important part in this Symphony than in any of Lutosławski’s other mature orchestral works. (44)

A more unusual suggestion comes from Rae when he reacts to the opening:

There is a peculiar psychological effect, as if one is listening to a slow movement and the first movement is omitted. (45)

Rae appears to be the only person to have made this strange comment, yet if the idea of the Fourth Symphony taking up the final threads of the Third Symphony is considered plausible, then his perceptive idea has some meaning.  Both Rae and Casken, and other writers, give the listener some clues as to the weight of this opening, Casken by pointing up the dialectical contrasts, Rae by suggesting that Lutosławski’s ‘ordinary’ first movement may not be quite what it seems.  Yet it is important to run further with this idea.  The initial contrast of sombre and phantasmagorical is developed three times in all.  On the second and third occasions (figs. 6 and 13 respectively), the pitch of the ‘sombre’ material is transposed upwards and developed.  While the first flurries (fig. 3) are crudely interrupted by a trumpet (shades of the introduction of the Cello Concerto), a feature that is recalled much later at fig. 59, the second (figs. 8-13) remain relatively stable.  The third presentation (figs. 13 to after 18) is by far the lengthiest.  It more importantly develops into a powerful cantilena whose like has been heard at the end of the slow section of the Cello Concerto and in the ‘real’ culmination of the Third Symphony.  In both these last cases, the cantilena leads to a major climax: in the Concerto it is smashed by the tutti onslaught at the start of the finale, in the Symphony it becomes itself the object of the final climax and leads directly into the coda.

In the Fourth Symphony, the listener is only a few minutes into the work when the composer presents a process, a momentum, which hitherto had come much later in his works and which indicated dénouement rather than anything preparatory.  Yet Lutosławski regarded this first ‘movement’ as introductory.  The passage from three bars before fig. 19 to the three f chords at fig. 21 does nothing but serve the impression that the music is much further forward in an end-accented symphonic scheme than expected at this stage in the proceedings.

// 325

The repeated chords of fig. 19 have a number of precedents, the extended ad libitum at fig. 20 is a classic climactic technique, while the three chords at fig. 21 presage an ‘aftermath’.  Fig. 22 seems to provide just this, but Lutosławski is simply showing his psychological cunning as, just like the transition from flurry to recitative at fig. 81 in the Third Symphony, here the ‘aftermath’ becomes by sleight of hand a component in the rebirth that is the second movement.  It is an odd way to signal the start of Lutosławski’s ‘allegro’, as if the new movement has slipped in surreptitiously by the back door.

The listener has every right to feel dislocated.  It is as if, as Rae implied, the opening five minutes of the Symphony are in fact its last.  But this work has to stand on its own two feet, not come across as a truncated version of another piece.  Lutosławski was posing the greatest possible challenge to himself: how could he develop a symphonic form on the basis of lyrical, impassioned melody rather than on textural juxtapositions?  The die was caste, there was no turning back.  It becomes clear that the immediate opening of the second movement is of little consequence and therefore the division into movements itself loses any real significance.  While the listener may gradually become aware of the significance of another melodic idea introduced at fig. 23 (characterised by Andrzej Tuchowski as ‘the main melodic idea of the symphony’ (46)), he will still have in his mind the pre-eminent lyricism of the opening bars of the Symphony.  These are what have set the tone and the agenda, not the dialectic of contrasting textures, nor the deceptive start of the second movement.

It is therefore significant that the lyrical is the dominant force also in the second movement.  All the other features, notably the wonderfully orchestrated set-piece polyphony at figs. 52-63 (an echo perhaps of the First Postlude, among other possibilities), are positioned as counterweights to the string lyricism.  Hence the major momentum of the movement is generated by the impassioned string lines appearing on unison notes at figs. 43 (A natural), 64 (B flat) running straight into 73 (C natural) and finally at fig. 82 (A flat).  As Rae astutely realises, ‘this is the area of the piece where the centre of gravity lies’. (47)

These waves of increasingly fervent material lead to the ‘climax’ at fig. 85.  But what a pale shadow this is of its predecessors.  It may be ff-fff, but

// 326

it is inert rhythmically and motivically.  The aftermath is prolonged and not shaped dramatically, and the coda, as already suggested, gives a somewhat formulaic impression.  This is not to suggest that from fig. 85 onwards the Symphony is ineffectual.  Rather, it requires a reorientation of perception.  This is no end-accented work.  If anything, it is a front-loaded piece: it is the opening that exposes the primary idea and the second ‘movement’ which provides the Durchführung.  Yet is there really any sense in using terms like first and second movements?  Notwithstanding the more impressive drive to a climax and its aftermath coming so contradictorily early in the Symphony, it makes more sense to view the two as one entity, a Verlaufskurve in which any semblance of subdivisions is secondary to a less rigid fantasia of statement, variation and interlude.  The Fourth Symphony is thus an extraordinary testament to Lutosławski’s expressive boldness.  Far from creating ‘two ordinary movements’, far from creating a form which has ‘no appreciable innovations’, he has created, whether consciously or not, a work of innate subtlety.

And this brings the argument back to Szymanowski.  Certainly, Lutosławski set his face against much of what Szymanowski represented.  He distanced himself from anything that smacked of direct influence.  And yet, on the level of musical argument, the two composers shared a healthy regard for moving beyond classical structural formulations into areas where new concepts could emerge.  After all, none of Szymanowski’s last three symphonies is conventionally conceived.  And his First Violin Concerto continues to mesmerise both in its details and its effortless associative structure.  This essay has not been able to address fully the matter of textures shared by the two composers (woodwind writing, lyrical cantilenas), but they do exist.  Nor has it discussed Lutosławski’s private harmonic sketches where symbols for a handful or so of Polish and non-Polish composers (including Szymanowski) are used to label characteristic combinations that he considered using in his own music.  Rather, it has concentrated on revising the appreciation of structural and expressive aspects in selected works, in the belief that more has yet to be done to reveal the ‘chaining’ of ideas across apparent boundaries.  Such examples of instinct, the unconscious, subjectivity and intuition are features which might suggest that Lutosławski was able to stretch out a hand, if not two, towards his distinguished predecessor.

© 2007 Adrian Thomas


(1) Reproduced in Ruch Muzyczny 40/7 (7 April 1996), 26, and again in Danuta Gwizdalanka and Krzysztof Meyer, Lutosławski. Droga do dojrzałości (Lutosławski. The Road to Maturity) (Krakow: PWM, 2003), 96-97. The reproduction here has been slightly cropped – in the original there were four other people to the left of Szymanowski.
(2) Polish Radio interview (1981), reprinted in Elżbieta Markowska and Michal Kubicki (eds), Szymanowski and the Europe of his Time (Warsaw: Polish Radio, 1997, 108.
(3) Tadeusz Kaczyński, Conversations with Lutosławski (London: Chester Music, 1980), 33.
(4) Steven Stucky, Lutosławski and His Music (Cambridge: CUP, 1981), 4.
(5) Bálint András Varga, Lutosławski Profile (London: Chester Music, 1976), 20.
(6) Kaczyński, 33.
(7) Varga, 5.
(8) Kaczyński, 33.
(9) Charles Bodman Rae, ‘Lutosławski’s Sound World: A World of Contrasts’, in Zbigniew Skowron (ed.), Lutosławski Studies (Oxford: OUP, 2001), 19 n.
(10) Stucky, 11.
(11) Irina Nikolska, Conversations with Witold Lutosławski (Stockholm: Melos, 1994), 75.  These conversations took place in 1987-92 and therefore may be read in a different context in terms of Lutosławski’s music than those with Kaczyński and Varga.
(12) See, for example, Martina Homma, ‘Lutosławski’s Studies in Twelve-Tone Rows’, in Lutosławski Studies, 194-210.
(13) Adrian Thomas, Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), 233.
(14) Maja Trochimczyk, ‘ ‘Dans la Nuit’: The Themes of Death and Night in Lutosławski’s Oeuvre’, in Lutosławski Studies, 121-22.
(15) Jean-Paul Couchoud, La musique polonaise et Witold Lutosławski (Paris: STock, 1981), 155.
(16) Jean-Louis Bedouin (ed.), La poésie Surrealiste (Paris: Seghers, 1970), 146-7.
(17) Couchoud, 131.
(18) Kaczyński, 73.
(19) ibid., 33.
(20) ibid., 73.
(21)* Jim Samson, The Music of Szymanowski (London: Kahn & Averill, 1980), 118-9.
(22)* Alistair Wightman, Karol Szymanowski. His Life and Work (Farnham: Ashgate, 1999), …
(23) Stucky, 130.
(24) Quoted in Charles Bodman Rae, The Music of Lutosławski (London: Faber, 1999, 3rd ed.), 166.  The paragraph cited in this essay incorporates the amendments to Lutosławski’s original programme note which Rae supplies.
(25) ibid., 172.
(26) ibid., 168.
(27) ibid., 173.
(28) ibid., 168.
(29) James Harley, ‘Considerations of Symphonic Form in the Music of Lutosławski’, in Lutosławski Studies, 181-2.
(30) Jadwiga Paja-Stach, Witold Lutosławski (Kraków: Musica Iagellonica, 1996), 66.
(31) John Casken, ‘The Visionary and the Dramatic in the Music of Lutosławski’, in Lutosławski Studies, 51.
(32) Nikolska, 96.
(33) Aloyse Michaely, ‘Lutosławskis III. Sinfonie’, Musik-Konzepte 71/72/73 (July 1991), 150.
(34) Thomas, 235.
(35) Matthias Hermann, ‘Symphony 3’, Witold Lutosławski. Twórcze życieA Life of CreationLeben und Werk (Towarzystwo im. Witolda Lutosławskiego DVD WL-001, 2006).
(36) Harley, 181.
(37) Andrzej Chłopecki, ‘Symphony 3’, Lutosławski Orchestral Works Vol. 3 (Naxos CD 8.553423, 1996), 13.
(38) Charles Bodman Rae, ‘Symphony 3’, Witold Lutosławski. Last Recording (CD Accord ACD 015, 1996), 13.
(39) Stucky, 128.
(40) Rae (2001), 23.
(41) Nikolska, 146.
(42) Rae (1999), 238.
(43) Casken, 53.
(44) ibid., 53-4.
(45) Rae (1999), 238.
(46) Andrzej Tuchowski, ‘The Integrative Role of Motion Patterns in Lutosławski’s Mature Symphonic Works: A Comparison of Livre pour orchestre and the Symphony No.4’, in Lutosławski Studies, 294.
(47) Rae (1999), 242.

Footnotes (21)* and (22)* have been added here as they were missing from the printed text.  All subsequent footnotes are therefore two digits higher than they were originally.  Apologies!

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