• Lutosławski: Ein Leben in der Musik

WL OsteuropaKickstarting the Lutosławski centenary in print is this volume which has just appeared in the osteuropa series (I received my copy today).  It contains thirteen items from Germany, Poland, Russia and the UK:

• Danuta Gwizdalanka: ‘Klassiker der Avantgarde. Witold Lutosławski: Leben und Werk’
• Anne-Sophie Mutter: ‘ “Ein neuer musikalischer Kosmos”. Über Witold Lutosławski’
• Dorota Szwarcman: ‘Auf den Schultern von Riesen. Lutosławski und seine Vorgänger’
• Dorota Kozińska: ‘Gründe und Abgründe. Lutosławski und der Sozialistische Realismus’
• Maciej Gołąb: ‘Lutosławski auf der Suche. Elemente und Ursprünge des Frühwerks’
• Krzysztof Meyer: ‘Pan Lutosławski. Erinnerungen an meinen Lehrer und Freund’
• Sebastian Borchers: ‘Von Warschau nach Darmstadt und zurück. Lutosławski, Penderecki und Górecki’
• Rüdiger Ritter: ‘Heißhunger auf Neue Musik. Das Ende des Stalinismus und der Warschauer Herbst
• Wojciech Kuczok: ‘Unsortierte Bemerkungen. Von Lutosławski zur schlesischen Komponistenschule’
• Adrian Thomas: ‘Das Cello-Konzert lesen. Lutosławski und die Literatur’*
• Izabela Antulov: ‘Wütender Antagonismus. Lutosławskis Cello-Konzert’
• Vladimir Tarnopol’skij: ‘ “Ein Symbol der Freiheit”. Lutosławskis Einfluss auf der Sowjetunion’
• Adam Wiedemann: ‘Heiliger Witold, bitte für uns’

This issue also includes a CD with two pieces: Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (the Naxos recording by Andrzej Bauer with the Polish National Radio SO under Antoni Wit) and Krzysztof Meyer’s Farewell Music (1997), written in tribute to Lutosławski.  The abstracts are also given in English and may be accessed online here.  The volume may be ordered online here (22 euros).

* This is a translation of my paper ‘Lutosławski and Literature’ (2010).

• WL100/7: Lutosławski info online

Looking for substantial information online on Lutosławski?  You will find more in this ‘timeline’ pdf than elsewhere:

The Diary of the Life, Works and Activity of Witold Lutosławski

Published in 2007, Stanisław Będkowski’s annotated chronology is the best source that I’ve yet found online. It includes many quotes from the composer’s own recollections, interviews and writings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if an updated version appears this year.

WL_Studies_1_2007_oklAlong with Stanisław Hrabia, Będkowski has also published Witold Lutosławski. Discography in the same source, the English-language Witold Lutosławski Studies (Kraków: Witold Lutosławski Center, Institute of Musicology, Jagiellonian University).  This discography is an updated version from 2008 of the discography in their massively informative Witold Lutosławski. A Bio-Biography (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2001).  Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if a further updated version appears this year.

Three volumes of Witold Lutosławski Studies have appeared (2007, 2008, 2009).  I’m not sure what plans there are for further issues.  All three volumes are well-worth investigating (among other items, Będkowski provides an index of Lutosławski’s correspondence in the third volume, while the 2008 issue includes a penetrating article on musical plot by Nicholas Reyland).  The full contents may be accessed online at:


• Lutosławski in the January pipeline

I have just been invited by the Polish Minister of Culture to join the Honorary Committee for Witold Lutosławski Year in 2013, which is an honour in itself.  I’m never quite sure what honorary committees do or are expected to do, but I promise to knuckle down and contribute as best I can.

Having just spent a few weeks preparing for last Saturday’s CD Review round-up of Lutosławski CDs on BBC Radio 3 – an hour’s discussion, live-on-air, with Andrew McGregor – I thought I’d have a few days off.  But Lutosławski continues to beckon.  So here are a few things that are coming up in the next month or so, not all of them yet accomplished.

• Around now, a German translation by Andrea Huterer of my paper ‘Lutosławski and Literature‘ (2010) will appear in ‘Witold Lutosławski. Ein Leben in der Musik’, Osteuropa 11-12 (Berlin, 2012).  This issue is being supported by the Polish Institute in Berlin.

• I’ve just written a very brief essay on ‘Lutosławski and his Performers‘ for the Polish Institute in Brussels.  It is for a Lutosławski tribute to be published in Dutch and French in January 2013 (all three versions should also be available online via www.culturepolonaise.eu).

• Also in January 2013, an interview I did a couple of months ago will appear in a centenary tribute to Lutosławski being published (in Polish) by the Wrocław Philharmonic.  The orchestra is not only named after Lutosławski but is the driving force behind the Opera Omnia series of Lutosławski CDs on the Accord label.

• On 23 January I am discussing Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto with Johannes Moser, in a pre-concert event for the Bournemouth SO, which gave the world premiere in October 1970.  This is part of the bicentenary celebrations of the Royal Philharmonic Society, which commissioned the concerto.  (The actual RPS anniversary is the next day, 24 January.)  I’m really looking forward to this encounter, at the Poole Lighthouse, between a music historian and one of the many young cellists who have taken this concerto into their repertoire.  The Lutosławski centenary falls two days later, on 25 January, when I might just pop over to Warsaw for the Polish inauguration of Witold Lutosławski Year.

• The Philharmonia Orchestra begins its Lutosławski series Woven Words on 30 January at the Royal Festival Hall in London.  Accompanying the series will be a substantial celebratory programme which includes several essays.  My ‘Parallel Lives of a Captive Muse‘ is one of them.  It’s already been published on the Woven Words website.

• Watch out for the fifth Lutosławski CD, with the BBC SO and Edward Gardner, which Chandos is releasing early in 2013 in its ‘Muzyka Polska’ series (First Symphony, Dance Preludes, Partita and Chain 2).  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing the booklet notes for these outstanding recordings and it’s been an(other) honour to be associated with it.

• I am currently writing a substantial profile of Lutosławski and his music for publication in late Spring 2013 (watch this space, and others!).

Well, I think those seven items are more than enough to be going on with!

• New Article (Lutosławski’s Parallel Lives)

I’ve just posted a new article – ‘Parallel Lives of a Captive Muse’ – which has been published at www.woven-words.co.uk as part of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s celebration of the centenary of Lutosławski’s birth next year.

• History of Music in Poland: Romanticism

[Book Review]

I hope to review the occasional book, recording and musical event in these posts.  These reviews are intended to be indicative rather than comprehensive.  To date, I’ve turned my attention to two topics: Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto on YouTube (4 December 2011) and Polish Music ‘Muzyka Nowa’, WQXR (25 January 2012).  I’ve now got round to looking at a two-volume study of Polish music and musical life during the second half of the nineteenth century:

• Irena Poniatowska, Romanticism Part 2A, 1850-1900: Musical Output (Warsaw: Sutkowski Edition, 2011), 424pp. ISBN 978-83-917035-7-1
• Elżbieta Szczepańska-Lange, Romanticism Part 2B, 1850-1901: Musical Life in Warsaw (Warsaw: Sutkowski Edition, 2011), 481pp. ISBN 978-83-917035-7-1

These two complementary volumes constitute vol.5  from the series ‘The History of Music in Poland’.  They were first published in Polish in 2010 and have been ably translated into English by John Comber (who has worked on all the volumes in the series).  They effectively cover the history of Polish music from the death of Chopin (1849) to the establishment of the first properly professional symphony orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic (1901).

The series is the brainchild of Stefan Sutkowski, who turned 80 in March this year.  His musical career has been extraordinarily varied.  In 1954-1974 he was an oboist with the National Philharmonic and therefore played a role in the premieres of a host of new Polish compositions.  From 1957, he also took the initiative in developing the performance of early music in Poland (Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense).  This strand in his activities led eventually to the establishment of the Warsaw Chamber Opera and a series of special festivals devoted to Mozart (1991), Baroque Opera (1993), Rossini (1999) and Handel (2000).  He also founded Pro Musica Camerata in order to disseminate Polish music through new printed editions of early music and on CD.

‘The History of Music in Poland’ has done something never before attempted: a history from medieval times to the present, in Polish and, more importantly, in English.  For the first time, non-Polish readers are able to obtain both an overview and more detailed insights into the many riches of Polish musical culture.  I should add that there is also one specific volume that, unfortunately, has yet to be translated.  This is not on an historical period, as elsewhere in the series, but on a single composer.  Tadeusz Kaczyński’s chronicled reminiscences in Lutosławski. Zycie i muzyka (Lutosławski. Life and Music), published in 1994 but apparently no longer available, is a mine of information, so I hope that plans are afoot for it to appear in English.

Musical Output

Poniatowska’s volume on musical output is organised by genre, ten in all: opera, ballet, song, cantata, choral music, sacred music (oratorio, mass, organ music), symphonic music, the instrumental concerto, chamber music and piano music.  These chapters are further divided.  The last, for example, consists of an informative introduction and subsections on the etude, sonata, variations, suites and collections of works, romantic salon-style lyrical miniatures (with further headlines for characteristic Polish dances), profiles of three individual composers (Stolpe, Zarębski and Paderewski), and an account of the reception and resonance of Chopin’s music.

The volume begins with an invaluable synoptic table covering over 40pp, tabulating side-by-side the four chronologies of world history and culture, Polish history and culture, European music and Polish music.  Her first chapter succinctly sketches in the historical, cultural and educational contexts within which Polish music of this period existed.

The ten subsequent chapters on genre are designed as a ‘handbook’, synthesising and building upon existing scholarship.  The overview that emerges will be new to many Polish and non-Polish readers.  Despite the obstacles put in the way of cultural activity – in admittedly different degrees – by the three partitioning powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria, there is far more to be discovered in these fifty years than has previously been recognised.  Music history has focused on Moniuszko (opera, vocal music), Wieniawski (music for violin), Paderewski (music for piano), with further reference to Zarębski, Żeleński and Noskowski.  The reputation of Polish music of the period has therefore rested on the shoulders of six or so composers, mainly because their music found its way into print during their lifetimes or, in the case of Zarębski’s Piano Quintet (1885), almost fifty years after his death.  There is still a backlog of manuscripts and performing materials in Polish archives.  There would have been even more had a huge amount not been destroyed during World War II.

What Poniatowska has achieved here is to place a newly widened range of Polish composers and their music in the public eye.  In the chapter on opera, there are outline analyses of plots, numbers and music styles, creating, by the variety and extent of observation, a compelling narrative of the range of output of several dozen composers (I lost count).  The same is true of the other chapters.  While opera was evidently the genre that thrived best in these turbulent decades, symphonic music was ‘most modest’.  That’s putting it kindly.  With no dedicated symphony orchestras, where were the opportunities?  It was a desert for new Polish symphonic music (with a few exceptions) until the turn of the century, so it is understandable that Poniatowska should extend her chronological envelope to 1910 in this chapter to include the symphonies by Paderewski and Karłowicz, though interestingly there is no mention of Szymanowski’s First Symphony (1907).  Yet, in the light of Szczepańska-Lange’s account, it is sad to realise that the moderately active concert life of the period did not extend as fully as it might to the support and development of homegrown compositional talent.

I can testify to the value and usefulness of this book.  I’m currently writing a CD note on three works for piano and orchestra by Żeleński and Zarzycki, a composer who until now has just been a name to me.  I know that I shall be indebted to the information on these composers and their pieces, as there is nowhere else to access it in such a comprehensive and readable compendium.

Musical Life in Warsaw

Szczepańska-Lange’s chronicle of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century is a different kind of book, focused on one city and divided into just two very substantial sections: opera and concert life. These are each subdivided into an introduction and mainly a chronological sequence of smaller periods.  The chapter on concert life also has subdivisions concerned with individual features such as charity concerts and the move towards the founding of the Warsaw Philharmonic.

Szczepańska-Lange marshalls her materials deftly, with plentiful excerpts from newspaper reports bringing the narrative to life.  She has sifted through a wealth of sources (she gratefully acknowledges the friendly atmosphere of the microform reading room of the National Library where she spent ‘hundreds of hours’), and her diligence, perceptiveness and enthusiasm show through.  In particular, she has detailed the vagaries of political pressures from Russia and their impact on cultural organisations.

A measure of how Warsaw more or less managed to keep up with opera houses to the West (Wagner excepted) may be gleaned from the dates of key premieres: Don Carlos (1873), Aida (1875), Lohengrin (1879), Mefistofele (1880), Carmen (1882), Tannhäuser (1883), La Gioconda (1885), Manon (1888) and Otello (1893).  Language for performance became problematic: the Warsaw premieres of Eugene Onegin (1899) and The Queen of Spades (1900) were both given in Italian, symptomatic of the times.  Warsaw Opera was no different from its counterparts in its intrigues, but its repertoire during this period of occupation was surprisingly wide and varied.

Although Wagner’s operas from The Ring onwards were not performed in Warsaw until well into the twentieth century, preludes and excerpts did occasionally appear on concert programmes (the Prelude to Parsifal in 1883). Concert music was a very poor cousin to opera, with no adequate venues, infrequent visits by virtuosi like Wieniawski, and concert-going habits quite different to those which developed later.  The distinguished Polish author Stefan Żeromski wrote in his diary about a concert that Anton Rubinstein gave in 1880:

The hall was overcome by the most remarkable silence in concert history; it was something truly incredible, almost no one was late; and what is even more unlikely, no one ran out for their garments to the cloakroom during the last number; the ladies refrained from conversing aloud; and the gentlemen did not go out after every number for a cigarette!  Verily, one has to be such an Orpheus as Rubinstein to perform such miracles.

Szczepańska-Lange’s overview of the period in her Introduction is a model of its kind, giving accounts of different types of events and their appearance within the chronology.  In the subsequent chronicle, the artistic and organisational comings and goings are effectively woven in with details of repertoire.  The move towards a permanent symphony orchestra began long before 1901.  In 1881, the composer Noskowski created his own orchestra with the specific intention of promoting new works by himself and others, both Polish and foreign, such as Smetana, Dvóřak and Saint-Saëns.  But little concrete happened until the very end of the century, when the conductor and composer Młynarski spearheaded the final drive to establishing not only the orchestra but also the Philharmonic Hall, which remains the home of the Warsaw Philharmonic to this day.

Polish composers had to fend for themselves, usually through teaching or administration.  The few composer-virtuosi – Wieniawski, Zarębski and Paderewski – based themselves abroad.  Zarębski is an interesting case.  He studied with Liszt, toured across Europe and lived and taught in Brussels, died in 1885 in his 30s, and left a modest body of music for solo piano and the marvellous Piano Quintet.  Ponietowska discusses his music in her volume, but Zarębski’s appearances in Szczepańska-Lange’s companion volume are few, indicating how rarely he visited Warsaw (it appears he played there only twice).  There are, however, wonderfully intemperate and sarcastic responses to his appearance in 1879 playing the Mangeot double-keyboard piano.  The interlinking of compositions and performances across these two volumes does not require the mental and physical gymnastics mastered by Zarębski on the Mangeot piano, but it does lead to a hugely enriched and enriching double account of this largely forgotten period of Polish musical history.  I for one am immensely grateful to have this new interlinked resource on my bookshelves as I prepare my CD note on Żeleński and Zarzycki.

What neither of these books does is to engage with aesthetic and philosophical approaches to Romanticism.  This is not for want of knowledge or understanding.  It is simply that these books have a different and more basic goal: to put into print the essential facts about the largely hidden composers and music of this period in Polish culture.  They offer opportunities for the rest of us to explore further, but that exploration will not come to much unless scholars edit and publish the scores so that performers, broadcasters and recording labels can enable us to hear the music.  What has until recently been dismissed as a dank backwater of European music may then be seen and heard to have had a much more intriguing and lively character, if these two volumes are anything to go by.  At that point, issues concerning the term ‘Romanticism’ within the Polish context will come into focus.

• Yours for only £1131/$1767 …

No author likes being remaindered, but this Amazon ad (sent to me by Raymond Yiu) is absurd.  What planet are they on?  £1131/$1767?  That’s £11/$17 dollars per page.

My extremely modest little paperback study, Grażyna Bacewicz: Chamber and Orchestral Music, was published in Los Angeles in 1985, and remains the only book in English that explores Bacewicz’s music in any detail.  I’ve no idea what the print-run was, though it wouldn’t have been large.  Scarcity is one thing, but imagining that anyone would pay anything over the list price (c.£11/$17 – equivalent to a single page at this ad’s rate) is plain ridiculous.

There is another used copy on Amazon, on sale for $350, which is preposterous in itself.  If anyone interested in Bacewicz’s music would like to see what I sketched out in 1985, just get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.


Another friend, Justin Geplaveid, alerted me this week to a Polish TV documentary on Bacewicz, made in 1999 to mark the 90th anniversary of her birth and the 30th of her death.  It’s an old-style, chronological account, and none the worse for that.  It is in Polish only.  Even so, much can be gleaned about her life and work.  There are plentiful excerpts from an interview with her sister Wanda and appearances by her teachers Kazimierz Sikorski and Nadia Boulanger. Keen observers will also glimpse Lutosławski, Mycielski and Serocki in company with Boulanger and Bacewicz.  There are some home movies and, most importantly, excerpts of live performances of her music.  There is a full list of performances and performers at the end of the film.

Included in these archive performances are Divertimento (1965), Witraż (1934), Violin Concerto 1 (1937), Oberek (1949, Grażyna Bacewicz, with her brother Kiejstut), Concerto for String Orchestra (1948, the first movement in a compilation of recordings, including one conducted by Yehudi Menuhin), Olympic Cantata (1948), String Quartet 4 (1951), Symphony 3 (1952), Music for Strings Trumpet and Percussion (1958), Musica sinfonica (1965, as a ballet), The Adventure of King Arthur (1959, radio opera), String Quartet 7 (1965) and Violin Concerto 7 (1965, conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki).

• Iwaszkiewicz on Górecki

The recently published third and final volume of diaries by the Polish poet, playwright and novelist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 2011) has brought to light some interesting comments on music.  Despite showing intense bitterness and self-absorption on political matters (he had, to say the least, a controversial history of working with the communist establishment since 1945), Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) had some keen insights on cultural matters.  His background in music went back to his early years when, as Szymanowski’s younger cousin, he not only suggested the idea for and wrote the libretto of King Roger (1918-24) but also provided Szymanowski with translations of Rabindranath Tagore for the Four Songs and his own poems for Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, both written in 1918.  He also provided the verse for Szymanowski’s Three Lullabies (1922).

Here are three diary entries which have been drawn to my attention by a friend in Warsaw, who also kindly provided the translations.  The first, from 1966, is a tart nostalgia for the musical past.  The second (1969) and third (1977) entries contain somewhat surprising observations on two pieces by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who was the only Polish composer to whom Iwaszkiewicz paid any detailed attention in these diaries.  I’ve added some contextual information to two of the three entries.

8 August 1966

W radio ostatni obraz Harnasi  i Infantka Ravela.  Wierzyć się nie chce, że oni byli, żywi, prawdziwi, dotykalni.  Karol!  Ravel!  Co za postaci półpowieściowe, nieuchwytne, niewyobrażalne.  Czy rzeczywiście nie ma już takich ludzi?  Czy tylko mi się wydaje, bo jestem stary i zmęczony, i nie widzę, co mam pod bokiem.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  Mój Boże, chyba tego nie można porównać.  Może  w ogóle teraz nie ma artystów.  Może tamci jako ‘artyści’ naprawdę należeli do XIX wieku?  Jak Chopin, jak Liszt?

On the radio, the last scene of Harnasie and Ravel’s Infante.  I do not want to believe that they were here, living, real, tangible.  Karol!  Ravel!  What characters, half taken from a novel, elusive, unimaginable.  Are there really no such people any more?  Or is it only my impression, because I am old and tired and do not see what I have close at hand.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  My God, surely one cannot make any comparison.  Perhaps there are no artists at all now.  Perhaps those men, as ‘artists’, truly belonged to the 19th century?  Like Chopin, like Liszt?

24 September 1969

Taka cudowna noc dzisiaj księżycowa.  I pomyśleć, nie mam nikogo, z kim bym mógł wyjść na spacer po ogrodzie.  Hania° nie wychodzi nigdy do ogrodu, zwłaszcza po zachodzie słońca.  Wysłuchałem tylko co Muzyki staropolskiej Góreckiego.*  Monotonne to, ale bardzo ‘wielkie’.  O szerokim  oddechu, prymitywne, z puszczą, z wiatrem, z mordem.  Nic z lukrowanego obrazka a la Wołodyjowski.†  Chyba taka Polska jest prawdziwa.

Such a wonderful moonlit night tonight.  And to think that I have no one with whom I could go for a walk in the garden.  Hania° never goes out into the garden, especially after sunset.  I have just listened to Gorecki’s Old Polish Music.*  Monotonous this, but very ‘great’.  Broadly breathed, primitive, with a primeval forest, with wind, with murder.  Nothing like the sentimental picture-book that is Wołodyjowski.†  Such is perhaps the true Poland.

° Iwaszkiewicz’s wife, Anna
* This must have been the live broadcast on Polish Radio of the world premiere, given by the National Philharmonic SO, conducted by Andrzej Markowski, as part of the 12th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music.
† Wołodyjowski: a reference to a recent feature film Pan Wołodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969) which was based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel of the same name (1888).

8 September 1977

Iwazkiewicz at Baranów, 1977

Iwaszkiewicz gave the opening paper at a conference of musicologists and musicians at Baranów, 4-12 September 1977.  He made this diary entry after the delegates had listened on 7 September to a recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  This must have been a tape of the world premiere given in Royan five months earlier as the piece had not yet been performed in Poland (it was given its Polish premiere at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 25 September 1977).

[…] tak od czasu do czasu wpisywać jakieś laments daje fałszywe wyobrażenie o całym continuum wewnętrznym, które wcale nie składa się wyłącznie z lamentów.  Nie jest też tym continuum przerażającym, jakie wczoraj zaprezentował Górecki w swojej III Symfonii.  Beznadziejny powrót tego samego akordu w pierwszej części symfonii sprawia wrażenie psychopatyczne, maniakalne, a jednak wstrząsające – właśnie jako continuum wewnętrznego, czegoś bardzo głębokiego i tragicznego jakby w założeniu, bez dramatycznych zawołań, bez żadnego ‘teatru dla siebie’.  To bardzo dziwny i niepokojący utwór.

[…] writing down from time to time laments of some kind gives a false impression of the whole internal continuum, which does not at all consist solely of laments.  Nor is it a terrifying continuum, of the kind presented yesterday by Gorecki in his Third Symphony.  The hopeless return of the same chord in the first movement of the symphony makes a psychopathic, maniacal, and yet shocking impression – exactly like an inner continuum, something very deep and almost tragic in its assumption, without dramatic calls, without any ‘theatre for theatre’s sake’.  A very strange and unsettling piece.

• Lutosławski and Birdsong

I was intrigued to discover last week that Witold Lutosławski (right) had identified two passages in his music where he was willing to acknowledge the influence of birdsong.  The source was Bálint András Varga’s new book of interviews, Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011).  Hungarian readers have had access to most of these interviews, plus a good few more that are not in the English edition, since its original publication 25 years ago as 3 Kérdés, 82 Zeneszerző (Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest (Zeneműkiadó Vállalat), 1986).  But for English-language readers this is our first opportunity to study the responses of a wide range of composers to three identical questions (with follow-ups) that were posed to them by Varga.

His three questions were:

1.  Have you had an experience similar to Witold Lutosławski’s?  He heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto [sic: Varga refers to the Piano Concert (not Concerto)] on the radio – an encounter which changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period, the first result of which was his Jeux vénitiens (1960-61).
2.  A composer is surrounded by sounds.  Do they influence you and are they in any way of significance for your compositional work?
3.  How far can one speak of a personal style and where does self-repetition begin?

Lutosławski’s response to 1. was already contained in Varga’s valuable interview with him that he conducted in Warsaw in 1973 – Lutosławski Profile (London: Chester Music, 1976), the first extended dialogue with Lutosławski published in English.  Lutosławski’s reaction to 3. came in written form and is too guarded to be revelatory, except for his acknowledgment that Varga was right to spot a motivic connection [a fairly minor one, in truth] between the central section of ‘Capriccio notturno e Arioso’ in the Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54) and the opening and closing bars of Novelette (1978-79).

Lutosławski was the most reticent of composers when it came to acknowledging extramusical connections in his pieces, but in answer to question 2. he cites the blackbird, again in Novelette.  He says that “in the fourth movement [‘Third Event’], I have recognized the blackbird in the rhythm of the main subject as played by the violin[s] [fig.26]”.  Varga includes a reproduction of the theme (p.163), which Lutosławski wrote out for him on his Budapest hotel’s headed notepaper.  It was apparently a Norwegian blackbird!

An even more tantalising prospect is raised by Lutosławski’s second example, the opening solo flute phrases of the third movement of Jeux vénitiens (1960-61): “They do not recall the song of any particular species, yet they do make the impression of birdsong”.  The flute solo dominates this movement (written solely for the revised, Warsaw version of  Jeux vénitiens) and plays variants of nine different motifs – could its entire cantilena have some coincidental link with birdsong?  Or was a greater part or all of it an unrevealed inspiration for the composer?

This is a fascinating proposal, because all of these nine motifs also appear – again in variation, but this time superimposed – in the seven-voice woodwind texture in section A of the first movement.  Could this texture be a bird chorus?  It is surely no accident that the motif which Lutosławski picks out is the sole survivor (it’s the opening motif of the first flute part in this Warsaw version) from the discarded Venice version of section A, where it appears as the third motif in the second flute.

Bird chorus?  I am surely not the only listener to have heard echoes of Ravel’s ‘Dawn Chorus’ from Daphnis et Chloé – and even perhaps of the fantastical sylvan opening of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto (1916) – in the opening of Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto (1988).

This woodwind texture is also presaged in the first movement of his Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63) at Figs 85-89.  Listen elsewhere in this movement, to the elusive woodwind texture (again!) between Figs 35-84, and the aural equivalent of starlings flocking at dusk springs to mind.  During this section, the chorus sings of ‘Ombres de mondes infimes, ombres d’ombres, cendres d’ailes‘ (‘Shadows of infinitesimal worlds, shadows of shadows, ashes of wings’).

Such avian speculations are not as idle or as inappropriate as they might seem.  Lutosławski’s first observation in 2. is: “I do not use the sounds of nature consciously in my musical work but they must exert a subconscious influence because, when looking through the finished score, I have in the past come upon traces of them in the themes of some of my pieces”.

Which pieces might these be?  Mi-parti (1976)? Would we be looking exclusively for woodwind textures?  Not if Lutosławski’s observation about Novelette is taken into account.  So how about the String Quartet (1964)?  Or Paroles tissées (1965)?   And what of Partita (1984), Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1989-90), both composed after Lutosławski’s responses to Varga’s questions?

”Birds are sometimes genuine artists commanding respect.  Near Warsaw, around three o’clock one summer night, I heard one which possessed a breathtaking facility of variation.”

Was this Lutosławski’s epiphanic moment, akin to Szymanowski’s evocation of ‘a nightingale singing spontaneously in the fragrant May nights’?

%d bloggers like this: