• Poles in Presteigne

UnknownThe 2014 Presteigne Festival in mid-Wales (21-26 August) has designed a special focus on Polish music.  This includes a new commission and premieres as well as sampling the music of composers such as Bacewicz, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki.  There is a particular emphasis on the music of Andrzej Panufnik, on the centenary of his birth.  The full schedule may be found at: https://www.presteignefestival.com/PDFs/PF2014_brochure_for_web.pdf.

Here is an alphabetical-by-composer list of the Polish repertoire plus details of relevant talks and discussions
(** World premiere, * UK premiere):

Grażyna Bacewicz
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)
• Two Etudes for piano (1956)

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki
Two Sacred Songs for baritone and piano (1971)
• String Quartet no.1 ‘Already It Is Dusk’ (1988)

Witold Lutosławski
Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano (1954)
• Grave for cello and piano (1981)
• Partita for violin and piano (1984)

Paweł Łukaszewski
• Piano Trio (2008)
• Requiem** (2014, Festival commission)

Andrzej Panufnik
Miniature Etudes (Circle of Fifths), Book II, for piano (1947)
Landscape for string orchestra (1962/65)
Song to the Virgin Mary for choir (1964/69)
• Sinfonia Concertante for flute, harp and strings (1973)
• Love Song 
for mezzo-soprano and piano (1976)
• String Quartet no.3 ‘Wycinanki’ (1990)

Krzysztof Penderecki
• Prelude for solo clarinet (1987)
• Quartet for clarinet and string trio (1993)
• Serenade for string orchestra (1997)

Maciej Zieliński
• Lutosławski in memoriam for oboe and piano (1999)
Trio for MB for clarinet, violin and piano (2004)
Concello* (2013)

Talks and Discussions

• Warsaw Variations (award-winning Fallingtree Production, first broadcast on BBC R4 in 2012, with contributions by Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska, Camilla Panufnik and Adrian Thomas), followed by a discussion with Camilla and Roxanna Panufnik, radio producer Alan Hall, chaired by David Wordsworth
• Pre-concert event: Roxanna Panufnik, with Stephen Johnson
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Thomas Hyde
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Adrian Thomas
• Talk: Three Generations of Polish Composers (Adrian Thomas)
• Pre-concert event: Maciej Zieliński, with Adrian Thomas

• Górecki: Symphony 4**

Last month I briefly interrupted my walk in France to return to London for the long-awaited premiere of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony (2006).  I’d seen the score last year and wrote the concert programme notes before I left for France in January.  I was able to sit in on the first two days of rehearsals at Henry Wood Hall, with the London PO under Andrey Boreyko.  It seemed to me that Górecki’s son Mikołaj had done a superb job realising his father’s express and unspoken wishes in completing the orchestration of the work.  I had a couple of very interesting conversations with the conductor, during which I pointed out some of the composer references that were in the score but which became fully apparent only during rehearsal.  Yet it was impossible to form a rounded view of the work until the night of the premiere.

Philharmonic Orchaestra - videoThe audience response was fascinating.  There was no tittering (as there had been at rehearsal) at the slightly strange appearance of the glockenspiel after the hammering orchestral introduction (the scoring was Górecki’s). There was total concentration throughout the symphony’s 40 minutes.  And the reception at the end was enthusiastic: whoops, whistles and a standing ovation.  I was particularly thrilled for Górecki’s daughter Anna, who had brought her family and friends with her from Katowice for the occasion (Górecki’s widow, Jadwiga, and his son Mikołaj, who deserved an ovation of his own, were unfortunately not able to come).  I’ve not yet had a chance to read the critics’ responses, but I gather that they too have been very positive.  Here’s a link to the audio:


I must admit that I hadn’t been sure how it would hang together.  Certainly, the ‘Tansman’ theme – extrapolated from the letters of his full name – acts as a connecting thread, but Górecki’s habit of cross-cutting between movements often blurs the boundaries.  I needn’t have worried, and why should I?  The strongly etched expressive contrasts carry their own weight and structures, none more so than in the ‘Trio’ section of the third movement where the attention is closely focussed on a small chamber ensemble.  This substantial, yet minimised passage is the heart of the symphony and was especially telling on the night.

Where I still remain puzzled relates to the five bars towards the end of the Finale when Górecki inserts a darkly resonant reference to Siegfried’s Theme from Wagner’s Ring.  As I explain in the footnote afterthoughts to my programme notes (see • (2014) Tansman, Stravinsky, Górecki), this theme does contain references to other ideas in the symphony, but they are subliminal rather than overt.  The Wagner reference is given such prominence, albeit briefly, that it evidently had great significance for Górecki.  Yet its function within the symphony is enigmatic, to this listener at least.

What remains with me from that night is the sheer Góreckian character of the piece.  There are many familiar features as well as the unexpected ones.  The forthrightness, the almost bloody-minded obstinacy, the ability to switch expressive mode dramatically, the tenderness and sense of intimacy.  And that’s not to mention the sense of humour, tongue-in-cheek, daring the listener not to be po-faced.

It was terrific that The Guardian took up the suggestion to stream the video of the premiere over the following week. But where, one might ask, was BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM?

As I resumed my walk in France, the ‘Tansman’ theme kept revolving in my head, becoming my equivalent of a sea shanty, bolstering my walking rhythm as I marched onwards.  A strange aftermath, I thought, but one which encapsulated the persistent strength of Górecki’s music.

© 2014 Adrian Thomas

• Penderecki Festival, 17-23 November 2013

KP brochure 11:2013:1I have been remiss in not uploading details of the major Polish celebration of Krzysztof Penderecki’s 80th birthday, which falls on this coming Saturday, 23 November.  A week-long festival is taking place in Warsaw and boasts a star-studded line-up of soloists and conductors.  It encompasses his orchestral, choral and chamber music from over 50 years and is a well-chosen survey that demonstrates his unique contribution to the music of our times, ranging from the Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), through Strophes (1959), the (in)famous Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima (1960) and Dimensions of Time and Silence (1961) and on to the style-changing First Violin Concerto (1976).  The most recent works are the Double Concerto for violin and viola (2012) and Missa brevis (2012).  There are four of the symphonies: no.2 ‘Christmas’ (1980), no. 4 ‘Adagio’ (1989), no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996) and no.8 ‘Songs of Transience’ (2005/2007).  Choral music includes Credo (1998) and Kaddish (2009).  There is a good deal of chamber music, including the three string quartets (1960, 1968, 2008), plus two works by other composers, Aulis Sallinen and Paul Patterson.  Here’s the brochure.

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• BBC R3 ‘Polska!’: 19 November 1993

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 20.26.52Twenty years ago today I was in Warsaw preparing to present my first ever live concert, and I could hardly have chosen a more publicised event.  I was at Studio S1 at Polish Radio, broadcasting to BBC Radio 3 for the opening concert of Polska!, the most extensive celebration of any nation’s culture mounted by a single BBC channel.  For 18 days, from 19 November to 6 December 1993, Radio 3 broadcast over 120 separate programmes involving producers, writers, performers and broadcasters not only from the musical world but many others too: poetry, fiction, drama, art, cabaret, history, cuisine, politics.

In late 1992, I was working as Head of Music at Radio 3.  I was wondering how the station might celebrate the 60th birthdays, at the end of the following year, of Krzysztof Penderecki (23 November) and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (6 December) as well as mark the 80th birthday of Witold Lutosławski at the start of the 1993.  (Little did we know that Lutosławski had already been diagnosed with cancer as Polska! began and that he would die in February 1994.)  I went to discuss the idea of a festival with the Controller of Radio 3, Nicholas Kenyon, and we quickly realised that we had the resources to organise something really special, involving not only all the BBC orchestras and the BBC Singers but the other departments which contributed to the rich variety of Radio 3’s programming.  If I remember correctly, it was Nicholas Kenyon who came up with the title and he was unreservedly enthusiastic and encouraging.  And so Polska! was born.


Over the next 18 days, I will be posting occasionally about Polska!, its live and recorded music repertoire, its non-musical programmes, the press coverage in the UK and in Poland, and including as many direct images of press reviews etc. as possible.

Although I had left the channel at the end of June 1993, I remained deeply involved in the planning and programming of Polska! and was slated to do some of the presentation, both in Poland and the UK.  Hence my ‘continuity’ presence in Warsaw on 19 November.  A flavour of the musical breadth of the festival may be gathered from that evening’s five-hour opener, ‘Poland Now’ (a second blockbuster came towards the end of the festival).

Homma 1993

The opening evening’s main feature was the live broadcast from Polish Radio 2.  The first half was devoted to chamber music (I was intent on including the then-neglected Zarębski Piano Quintet, which today has a deservedly higher profile), while the second consisted of contemporary vocal repertoire (including Paweł Szymański’s recent Miserere, a commission from Polish Radio).

Polska! Programme 19.11.93

In the interval, for ‘A Musician’s Lot’, I talked with Szymański and two other Polish composers – Rafał Augustyn and Zygmunt Krauze –  as well as to the pianist Paweł Kowalski, to Monika Strugała, one of the organisers of the choral festival Wratislavia Cantans, to Elżbieta Szczepańska, Head of Promotion at the music publisher PWM, and to Andrzej Rakowski, a professor at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw and the author of a recent report on music education in Poland.

In the 45′ profile of Polish political life – still a compelling issue four years after the ‘Round Table’ conference of 1989 had restored a level of democracy to the country – Piotr Kowalczuk was joined by Krzysztof Bobiński (Financial Times), the writer and lawyer Wiktor Osiatyński and Andrzej Wróblewski (Polityka), among others.

A second recent Polish Radio commission followed – Stanisław Krupowicz’s Fin-de-siècle, introduced by the composer and performed by WOSPR (Polish Radio Great SO), conducted by Takao Ukigaya.  For ‘A Composer’s Lot’, I was joined again by Augustyn, Krauze and Szymański, by three other composers, Krupowicz, Hanna Kulenty and Marta Ptaszyńska, and by Grzegorz Michalski from Polish Radio 2 and Elżbieta Szczepańska from PWM.

We were then able to draw on that year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival when Lutosławski had conducted a complete programme of his own music with the Warsaw PO (it turned out to be his last appearance on the podium in Poland). He talked with me about the Fourth Symphony to introduce the broadcast.  Palester’s Adagio for Strings (1954) was performed by Sinfonia Varsovia under Jan Krenz.

The evening had begun with a specially recorded performance by Piers Lane of Chopin’s Etudes op.10 (virtually all of Chopin’s music was played during Polska! and Lane bookended the festival on 6 December with the Etudes op.25).  It ended with Szymanowski’s Myths and, like every subsequent evening of the festival, the last notes were left to one or more of Szymanowski’s mazurkas.

• WL100/69: Livre, **18 November 1968

The now-neglected jewel in the crown of Lutosławski’s orchestral music was premiered on this day in 1968, by the Hagen City Orchestra, conducted by Berthold Lehmann, to whom it is dedicated.  Had Lutosławski had his way (as Nicholas Reyland has revealed), he would have changed the title from Livre pour orchestre to Symphony no.3, which undoubtedly would have placed it quite differently within his oeuvre and raised its external profile, especially today. But Lutosławski’s change of heart came too late – the publicity was already out in Hagen.

The performance and recording history of Livre is odd.  Speak to anyone who knew Lutosławski’s music during his lifetime and they are more than likely to place Livre in the top five of his orchestral pieces, if not at the pinnacle.  Yet, there have been only seven commercial recordings to date (another – the first for over 15 years – is due shortly in the Opera Omnia series from the Wrocław Philharmonic).  This compares unfavourably with the 18 accorded his next piece, the Cello Concerto.  Bizarrely, the otherwise superlative Chandos series by the BBCSO under Edward Gardner ignored Livre, which is a shame, not least because Lutosławski performed it with the BBC SO on three occasions (1975, 1982, 1983 – BBC Proms).  Lutosławski conducted Livre at least four more times in the UK (not including programme repeats), with the Philharmonia Orchestra (1981, 1989), with the Royal Academy of Music SO (1984) and with the Hallé Orchestra (1986).

This centenary year, Livre has continued to languish in the shadows when compared to the number of performances of his other major orchestral works.  His publisher, Chester Music, itemises just two performances, which is nothing short of scandalous: 30 January, Warsaw PO/Michał Dworzyński, and 17 November (yesterday), Duisberger Philharmoniker/Rüdiger Bohn.  Mind you, Chester’s list of recordings is incomplete, listing just three.  Here is the full list (giving the original record label), as far as I can ascertain.  Only the recordings by Lutosławski, Herbig and Wit seem to be available currently on digital formats.

• National PO, Warsaw/Jan Krenz (Polskie Nagrania, 1969)
• National PO, Warsaw/Witold Rowicki (Polskie Nagrania, 1976)
• WOSPR (now NOSPR)/Witold Lutosławski (EMI, 1978)
• Berlin PO/Günter Herbig (Eterna, 1979)
• Eastman Philharmonia/David Effron (Mercury, 1981)
• WOSPR (now NOSPR)/Jan Krenz (Adès, 1988)
• PRNSO/Antoni Wit (Naxos, 1998)


1454688_661788100528035_2044002059_nHere is an audio recording of Livre, digitised by my friend Justin Geplaveid (who also provided the performance details), from a concert given on 16 August 1972 in Munich as part of the Olympic Games or on the following day in Augsburg.  The players were the UNESCO Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, and included among the violins was one Ervine Arditty [sic]….

1452253_661788107194701_1578121087_nThe original LP recording, conducted by Witold Rowicki, has some interesting orchestral balances.


By far the most satisfactory YouTube offering is a video of Herbig conducting the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra in Madrid on 11 November 2011.  It is available on Justin Geplaveid’s YouTube site (and one other: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfeDBNyZLPU).  Geplaveid’s stream also has some fascinating archival videos from the ‘Warsaw Autumn’.


Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 08.47.06A few weeks ago, I put up some isolated sketch pages for Mi-parti that I’d come across in Lutosławski’s house in 2002.  From that same folder “ŚCIĄGACZKI” (Crib Sheets), here are four more sketches that had not been sent on to the Lutosławski archive at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basle.  I hope that they are there now!  I have not looked at the Livre sketches in the Stiftung, so cannot say how these four abandoned sheets relate to the greater mass of material in Basle.

These four sheets relate to the first two chapitres.  The first three relate to the second chapitre, starting at fig. 207.

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The top one presents a rhythmic ‘crib’ for the eleven bars from fig.207 to fig.209 (it’s enlarged below).  The notes beamed underneath present the rhythmic pattern of the piano (bb.1-4) and brass entries (bb.5-6, trumpets and trombones).  The notes with upward stems have a more complicated relationship to the score and do not always correlate to Lutosławski’s final thoughts.  On the first system below (equivalent to the six bars of fig.207), the upper stems concern the outline rhythm in the strings (no glissandi or sustained durational values are indicated).  There are discrepancies in a few places, especially in bb.3-6, where some of the triplet quavers and semiquaver entries diverge from the score.  On the lower system (the five bars of fig.208), the lower rhythm reverts to the piano while the upper notes pick out the brass entries (horns and trombones).

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The middle sketch (they weren’t photographed in any thought-out order back in 2002!) relates to this same passage. It is a pitch reduction for the instrumental ensemble, but there are minor rhythmic variations for some of the entries and missing pitches (cf. b.6 in particular).  Bars 7-11 (the five bars of fig.208) give the rhythmic pattern for the piano, as in the example above, plus the four pinpointing rhythms and pitches on the trombones.

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The lowest of these three sketches relates just to the six bars of fig.207.  It is a pitch and rhythmic reduction of all the instruments involved – piano, strings trumpets and trombones.

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The last of the four sheets presents more of a conundrum.

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Evidently, the bottom two systems are a skeletal version of the top two, but initially I could not relate these ten bars to any part of the first chapitre.  Where were these ascending semiquavers, these descending quavers?  In the end, it was the pause sign in bar 10 that gave me clue.  In the score, there are only two pause signs in the first chapitre: in b.2 and in the bar before fig.109.  The ten bars of this sketch match the ten bars immediately before fig.109, from the third bar of fig.108.  It is the passage for brass (trumpets, horns and trombones) that leads to the clatter of tom-toms, xylophone and gran cassa that initiates the ‘codetta’ of the first chapitre.  

The phrasal cadences are very similar, identical in some places (notably in the last six bars).  The direction of movement also matches.  The differences with the score suggest that the sketch is an early rhythmic attempt at this passage.  What may be Lutosławski’s shorthand here (but even for him such a shorthand is stretching the point) equates the upper stave in each pair to the phrases for trumpets and horns I & II.  The lower stave refers to the descending phrases for horns III & IV and the trombones.  But whereas this sketch has clearly defined and short-lived rhythmic movement in both staves, the fully metred section of the score stretches out the lines heterophonically, with the trombones adding glissandi between notes for good measure.  As a result, there is no pause between phrases as the two ensembles overlap, creating a more fluid texture.  I must admit to being a little mystified by the long horizontal lines between the two staves, so if anyone has an idea of their significance please say so.

• 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.

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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.

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P.P.S.  Natty lapels!

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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).

• Górecki: Refren, **27 October 1965

Before I first went to Poland, my fellow student Jim Samson brought back from Warsaw an LP of music by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  It blew our socks off.  Released a couple of years earlier, Polskie Nagrania ‘Muza’ XL 0391 (reissued over 25 years later on Olympia OCD 385 as ‘The Essential Górecki’) contained music the like of which neither of us had heard before.  There was the brief, Webernian Epitafium (1958), the explosive Scontri (Collisions, 1960), the incantatory Genesis II: Canti strumentali (1962) and the comparatively restrained Refren (Refrain, 1965). Thrilling though the first three pieces were, it was the last work that made the most profound impression.  Here is that recording of 1967, by the the Great Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio (WOSPR) conducted by Jan Krenz.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 11.58.47Over the summer of 2013, information emerged about the commissioning and premiere of Refren (which took place in Geneva on this date 48 years ago, Wednesday 27 October 1965, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Pierre Colombo – it had been commissioned for the Centenary of the International Telecommunications Union, which was and still is based in Geneva).  This little story unfolded after I was contacted in early June by the Head of the Library and Archives service of the ITU, Kristine Clara.  She had come across a photograph in the October 1965 issue of the ITU’s Communication Journal and could find no further trail of the ITU’s connection with Refren.  “Could I help?”.

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This must be one of the strangest photographs connected with a new score.  No sign of the composer, none of the conductor or orchestral musicians.  Instead, there are three now-forgotten figures from the worlds of politics and the unions looking at Górecki’s manuscript (although it looks more like one of the orchestral parts than the full score).  It is possible that Górecki had been invited, but I know that he was in Poland on the day that this photograph was taken and that he was ill at home on the day of the premiere six weeks later.  Kristine Clara also wondered where the score was – it was not in the ITU archives.  As far as I am aware, it went back to Poland, to the composer and to his publisher PWM, who brought it out in 1967.  As to the commission, my guess is that it was engineered by the Polish government and its Ministry of Culture.  It was a very important moment in Górecki’s life: his first foreign commission and premiere.

One piece of information that I could now furnish concerned the precise dates of Refren‘s composition.  The dates that Górecki had given were May-June 1965.  Having recently looked at his diaries, I was able to say that he started work on the piece on 26 April and finished it on 30 June.

As our email conversation progressed, Kristine Clara unearthed other information, this time about the premiere.  The Swiss Radio listings for 27 October indicate that Refren was broadcast live.

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She also came across the catalogue card for the Swiss Radio tape of the premiere, which indicated that not only was it broadcast live but, contrary to the BBC’s practice at the time, was also recorded, enabling it to be rebroadcast on New Year’s day 1966.

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I have not yet been able to determine if this tape still exists.  It would be fascinating to hear it, not least to verify the unexpected comment – with exclamation mark – written on the card: ‘Attention: rumeurs dans le public!’ (Warning: audience noise!).

Kristine Clara also unearthed several relevant items from the Journal de Genève – ‘de notre envoyé spécial’.  This turns out to be Franz Walter, a music critic and broadcaster best known today for having interviewed the pianist Dinu Lipatti less than three months before his death in 1950 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqftMxn1PrI).  Walter had been at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival a few weeks before the premiere of Refren; I may come back at a later date to his two reviews of the festival in Journal de Genève (18 and 27 October).  More pertinent here is his review of the Suisse Romande concert on 27 October, which appeared in Journal de Genève the following day (it is the only review of the premiere of which I am aware).  I will pass over Walter’s enthusiastic response to the performance of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto by the young Claire Bernard.  His response to Refren is revealing.  His touchstone here was the performance he had heard in Warsaw on 23 September of Górecki’s Elementi for violin, viola and cello (1962), in a performance by Ensemble Instrumental Musiques Nouvelles de Bruxelles.

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Pierre Colombo, who had shaped the concerto’s accompaniment with great care – after a Mozart symphony which I could not hear [maybe Walter was returning to the hall having just introduced the concert on air] – then presented the world premiere of a work by the Pole Henryk Górecki.  The Warsaw Festival had just recently aired a string trio by this composer, a trio in which the players were induced to utter all the most incongruous and horrifying sounds that one can draw from a string instrument, yielding also to a “bruitist” mode that was very much in evidence at this recent festival.  The point of such a work could only be to get on the nerves of the listener.  The work which Pierre Colombo presented to us, with large orchestral forces, pursued in short the same goal, though by different means.  Long chordal aggregates, tirelessly repeated and punctuated by brief… how shall I put it… gusts of wind from the brass, frantic barking from these same brass, splashes from the strings, explosions from the timpani, such is the material which furnishes Refrains [sic].

The nervous effect was produced.  In the event, it found expression in laughter.  But our public is not yet used to this music.  Elsewhere people listen with great seriousness (and for my part with profound boredom).  F.W.

There are some inconsistent aspects of Walter’s account, especially in the short second paragraph, but it is clear that he found Górecki’s new piece insupportable and gives the clue to the ‘audience noise’ mentioned on the Swiss Radio catalogue card.  I wonder how widespread this laughter was.  One has to marvel, though, at Walter’s response.  He had heard much more rebarbative music in Warsaw a few weeks earlier, and Górecki’s Refren is not that far removed in aesthetic from Messiaen’s Les offrandes oubliées, composed 35 years earlier.  It marks, as we now know, the turning point from the overt dynamism of the preceding decade to the largely contemplative mode of his subsequent music.  But to contemporary ears (or at least Walter’s) it sounded as bad as the earlier pieces.

• WQXR Q2: A new Polish marathon

The New York classical music station WQXR Q2 is about to launch another focus on Polish music.  In January last year, I reported on its intensive, week-long ‘Muzyka Nowa: A Celebration of Contemporary Polish Music’.  On that occasion, the results were mixed, as I wrote at the time: Polish Music ‘Muzyka Nowa’, WQXR ★★★✩✩.  This year, the ‘Celebrating Poland’ focus seems more selective and is split up over a longer period.


There are three 24-hour marathons: this coming weekend (Friday 25 October), six days later (Thursday 31 October) and on Tuesday 12 November.  The first date includes a ‘live performance stream’ of music by Penderecki and there is a final event on Friday 13 December, this time a live relay of music by Lutosławski.

Friday 25 October
The first marathon promises an examination of ‘the strength and diversity of contemporary classical music from Poland’.  I certainly hope that the programmers broaden the range beyond familiar names and play more music by composers now in their 20s, 30s and 40s than the few examples that were included last year.  It will be very interesting to see how much music written in the last ten years is included to illustrate what is really happening in contemporary Polish music.  The programme of the Penderecki live relay – Cadenza for viola (1984), String Quartet no.3 (2008), Capriccio for cello (1968), Clarinet Quartet (1993) and Sextet (2000) – gives slight cause for hope in this regard.

Thursday 31 October
Polish music will form part of what is billed as a ‘Halloween Scarathon’.  Guess which pieces/composers…

Tuesday 12 November
This is the most promising of WQXR Q2’s offerings.  It will examine ‘the full spectrum of and story behind Lutosławski’s contributions to 20th-century classical music’.  Even more assuringly, it will include seven one-hour episodes curated by Steven Stucky, so real authority and insight will be brought to the proceedings.  Esa-Pekka Salonen will also make an appearance.

Friday 13 December
Steven Stucky resurfaces as a composer in the second live relay, from Symphony Space with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.  The programme consists of Lutosławski’s Sacher Variation for cello (1975), Bukoliki in the arrangement cello for viola and cello (1952/62) and the String Quartet (1964).  Stucky’s contribution consists of Dialoghi for solo cello (2006) and Nell’ombra, nella luce for string quartet (1999-2000).

You can catch these online broadcasts by accessing any page of WQXR and clicking on the Q2 Music tab at the top (the play/pause tab is to the left).  Schedules and playlists can be accessed by selecting the relevant tabs on the next bar below.  No specific timings were available when this post was uploaded, but as NY time is 5/6 hours behind UK/European time WQXR Q2’s evening events will be in the small hours this side of the Atlantic.

• WL100/61: Symphonic Variations

75 years ago today, Lutosławski put the finishing touches to his Symphonic Variations, his first surviving orchestral work.  I wrote about the premiere in an earlier post (WL100/43: Variations, **17 June 1939).  Since then, the Symphonic Variations featured in the Lutosławski strand of the 2013 BBC Proms, with same forces – the BBC SO under Edward Gardner – which give such a scintillating performance on Chandos CHSA 5098 (2012).  Here’s a YouTube upload of the Polish Radio broadcast of the Proms performance on 7 August … plus Lutosławski’s own, third-person comment (undated):

This is the work with which the author (then 26) made his debut in 1939 at a musical festival in Kraków.  The style of the work is, maybe, far from being definitively crystallised and yet on the basis of the Symphonic Variations one might speak of the artistic maturity of its then young author, principally thanks to the richly developed orchestral palette as well as the compact and balanced structure.

Są utworem, którym autor (wówczas dwudziestosześcioletni) zadebiutował w 1939 roku na festiwalu muzycznym w Krakowie.  Styl utworu jest, być może, daleki od ostatecznego skrystalizowania i jeśli na podstawie Wariacji symfonicznych można by mimo to mówic o dojrzałości artystycznej ich młodego wówczas autora, to przede wszystkim dzięki bogato rozwiniętej palecie orkiestrowej oraz zwartej i zrównoważonej architekturze.


Today is also the anniversary of the partial premiere of the Second Symphony, whose second movement ‘Direct’ was performed on 15 October 1966, in Hamburg, with the Sinfonie Orchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks conducted by Pierre Boulez.  For Lutosławski, Boulez’s conducting on this occasion was not entirely satisfactory (WL100/31: Notebook, 9 April 1969), but I have never fully understood Boulez’s subsequent lack of interest in Lutosławski’s music.

• WL100/60: Cello Concerto, **14 October 1970

On this day in 1970, Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto was premiered in London’s Royal Festival Hall by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Edward Downes.  The work was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society (the first post-war commission to a foreign composer) with funds from the Gulbenkian Foundation.  The work was repeated on the following nights in Bournemouth and Exeter.

The first half of the programme consisted of Balakirev’s symphonic poem Tamara and Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, followed in the second half by Borodin’s Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. Lutosławski wrote in the RPS’s copy of the programme: ‘with my warmest thanks for this unforgettable experience’. In a letter to his Danish publisher, he wrote: ‘Rostropovich is unique and played it as if it were his own work’.

Homma 1993 4

Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto is now the most recorded post-war cello concerto after the two by Shostakovich.  At the latest count, there have been 16 commercial recordings (11 of them since Lutosławski’s death), with at least two more in the pipeline.  There is also more than a handful of recent concert performances available on YouTube and other platforms.  In this centenary year, it looks as if the Cello Concerto will be his most frequently performed work.  It is a remarkable compliment to Lutosławski’s extraordinary music.

Here are the links to the current uploads of complete professional performances:

• Felix Fan/RTVE SO/Adrian Leaper (2002)
• Nicolas Altstaedt/Finnish Radio SO/Dmitri Slobodeniuk (2007)
• Silver Ainomäe/Finnish Radio SO/Dmitri Slobodeniuk (2007)
• Oren Shevlin/WDR SO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste (2011)
• Alexander Baillie/Boston PO/Benjamin Zander (2012)
• Kian Soltani/Helsinki PO/John Storgårds (2013; link broken by mid-December 2013)
• Paul Watkins/BBC SO/Thomas Adès (2013)

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