• WL100/37: Trois poèmes, **9 May 1963

50 years ago today – 9 May 1963 – Lutosławski conducted in the first performance of Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63).  It was his first foreign commission and premiere (albeit behind the Iron Curtain) and it was the first time he had appeared on the concert platform to conduct his own music (the work requires two conductors, one for the choir, the other for the orchestra).  He was not a young man – he had turned 50 in January that year – so this breakthrough was late in coming.  It proved to be significant, as major commissions from Western Europe and performances abroad soon materialised.

Over the next few years, Trois poèmes was performed in Warsaw (1963), Venice and Paris (1964), Prague and Heidelberg (1965), Buffalo, Boston, Copenhagen and Munich (1966), Rome, Katowice and Copenhagen (1968) and Uppsala, Amsterdam, Nottingham and Wrocław (1969).  It was first recorded at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 22 September 1963 by the Great SO of Polish Radio (WOSPR) and the Kraków Radio Choir, conducted by Jan Krenz (orchestra) and Lutosławski (choir).  It won the UNESCO Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs (1964) and was published in 1965 by PWM (strangely, it’s never been separately published outside Poland).  Below is a photo of the cover of my well-worn copy, dating back to when I organised and was one of the two conductors of the UK premiere (Nottingham, 25 June 1969).

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 14.22.40

The world premiere took place at the Zagreb Biennale, with the Zagreb Radio Choir conducted by Slavko Zlatić and the Zagreb Radio Orchestra by Lutosławski.  Here’s a photo from his time in Zagreb (like the raincoat!):


And here he is, speaking briefly about the piece (appropriately enough, in French), with a closing shot of the choir under Slavko Zlatić, who had commissioned it for his choir (ignore the bizarre overlay of music from the coda of the Third Symphony, written twenty years later!):

At the bottom of this post are three videos, one for each of the three movements of Trois poèmes.  You will see that the visuals for these postings contain photos from Lutosławski’s sketches for the piece.  These come from an enthralling essay by Martina Homma, the most knowledgeable of all experts on the Lutosławski sketches.  It was originally published to accompany an exhibition of the sketches for Trois poèmes, mounted in Warsaw on 27 September 1996, to mark the inauguration of the newly-named Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio.  Here’s a link to the online version, published in Polish Music Journal vol.3 no.2 (Winter 2000).

• WL100/20: Dance Preludes, **15.02.55

Here are a couple of previously unrevealed facts about this popular piece for clarinet and piano.  The premiere of Lutosławski’s five Dance Preludes took place on 15 February 1955, although one of the set (unidentified) had already been played at a Polish Composers’ Union concert on 24 April 1954.

• In May 2002, I was doing some research in Poland when I came across some interesting information about the background of Dance Preludes which widens the chronology of its composition.  Here’s a sample:

Lutosławski evidently wrote a single Preludium taneczne in 1953.  In a letter to him dated 5 December 1953, his publisher wrote:

‘… we ask a kind favour of you: either agree to the publication of your one “Dance Prelude for clarinet and piano”, or write to us by the N. Year as to how things are with your plans for another two preludes – we would be very pleased with that.’
‘… zwracamy się do Ciebie z gorącą prośbą: Albo zgódź się na wydanie Twojego jednego “Preludium tanecznego na klarnet et fortepian”, albo napisz nam do N. Roku, tak, jak to jest w Twoich zamierzeniach jeszcze dwa preludia, z czego bardzo cieszylibyśmy się.’

Lutosławski replied by sending just the one prelude on 31 January 1954; this was almost certainly the one played in April 1954.  It eventually became the last in the set.  I have found no further correspondence about preludes in the plural until after the premiere in 1955.

• When exploring the musical and bibliographical contents of his house in September 2002 (with permission of the family), I discovered a folder marked ‘Mat. ludowe’ (Folk Mat[erials].), tucked away in a cupboard in the attic room. Among a wealth of MS examples in Lutosławski’s handwriting, there were several headed ‘Preludia tan.’ (Dan. Preludes), with tunes copied from another source.  Here’s the tune at the top of the list (it’s not been seen before; photograph taken in poor light on site), and it provided him with the initial theme for the first of the Dance Preludes.

Wl Dance Preludes:I folk tune

The insertion of differently-metred bars is characteristic of many Polish folksongs.  The connection between the source and the prelude is clear (the tempo is greatly increased), but the straightforward yet imaginative way in which Lutosławski makes a paragraph out of a (relatively) simple tune through extension, repetition and a varied underpinning is a stroke of genius.

Wl PT:1a

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