• WL100/39: Polar Music Prize, 18 May 1993

In Stockholm twenty years ago today, Lutosławski received the Polar Music Prize (1 million Swedish kronor).  The other laureate in 1993 was Dizzy Gillespie (Wynton Marsalis accepted the award on Gillespie’s behalf).

The citation (with an interesting selection of named works) was read by the Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström and the award was presented by King Carl Gustav XVI.

The Polish composer and conductor Witold Lutosławski is awarded The Polar Music Prize, 1993.  The Award Committee’s motivation is as follows:

In Witold Lutosławski, the Committee’s choice has fallen upon one of the pioneers of contemporary European art music.  Starting with the trail-blazing orchestral composition Jeux vénitiens in 1961, he has contributed, through a large number of significant works, such as Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63), his String Quartet (1964) and his Third Symphony (1986 [sic]), towards a renewal of the contemporary orchestral vocabulary which, through its consistency and its artistic sincerity, has made his music an indispensable part of the central present-day orchestral and chamber music repertoire.

As a pathfinder and spiritual leader of his fellow countrymen in times of severe intellectual repression, he helped, through his uncompromising stance and his moral courage, to keep Polish music open for a long time to international contacts of every kind, and in this way played an outstanding part in creating for Eastern European music interests an air-hole of vital importance.

His personal combination of great artist, eminent organiser, campaigner for liberty and national conscience has earned Witold Lutosławski a high-ranking position in the cultural history of 20th century Europe.

Here is Lutosławski’s brief response, written in English:

The great British writer Joseph Conrad, who – by the way – was a Pole, wrote in the preface to his novel The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ of ‘the magic suggestiveness of music, which is the art of arts’.  But we all know how low is the percentage of people for whom the so-called serious music is necessary, in spite of its being ‘the art of arts’.  In the light of this, the decision of the founder of the Polar Music Prize to create such an award for so-called serious composers deserves the highest appreciation.

The fact that I have been chosen to be awarded this prize makes me proud and happy.  It is also an encouragement for my possible future work.  I beg the founder of the Polar Music Prize and the members of its Committee to accept this expression of my most profound gratitude.

Lutosławski’s phrase about ‘my possible future work” is especially poignant, as he completed no further compositions.  His reference to Conrad is one of several that he made over the years.  His most frequent point of reference was, as here, to the Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897).  This Preface, which is equally applicable to Conrad’s other writings as an artistic manifesto, provided Lutosławski with various points of reference.  He didn’t always agree with Conrad, distancing himself from the sentiment of the opening paragraph later that year (in a talk given when he received the Kyoto Prize in October 1993):

The great writer Joseph Conrad says even that the duty of the artist is to do justice to the visible world.  I am definitely against such a view.  I think the visible world, the world in which we live, has no difficulty in expressing itself without our help.  We are not predestined to express the real world in the art.  The ideal world, the world of our dreams, of our wishes, of our vision of perfection is the domain of the arts.

This stance would by no means meet with universal approval today.  But Lutosławski’s own life experience undoubtedly led to his views on the connections or otherwise between life and creativity.  He had already made the same point and reference in the statement that he prepared for the public relay on 26 August 1984 in Gdańsk, during Martial Law, of a recording of his Third Symphony, which had yet to be performed in Poland.

Lutosławski was more in tune with Conrad’s second (single-sentence) and third paragraphs (the complete Preface is reproduced at the very end of this post).

The paragraph to which Lutosławski referred in Stockholm comes in the middle of the Preface.  It is primarily about fiction and how its ideal realisation may be achieved only within the context of other, less literal art forms:

Fiction — if it at all aspires to be art — appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal, to be effective, must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music — which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting, never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour; and the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

Lutosławski had referred to the second sentence in this paragraph as far back as 1955, in an essay on Sibelius.  And this was at a time when, as far as he was concerned, folk-based pieces under strict artistic surveillance by the State were what lay compositionally before him.

The reference to ‘magic’ occurs first in an article for Polityka (2 January, 1971), where Lutosławski used the phrase ‘magic insight’ (‘czarodziejskiej wnikliwości’).  Five months later, on 2 June 1971, when he received an Hon. DMus. from the Cleveland Institute of Music, he used the phrase ‘magic suggestiveness’, as in Conrad’s Preface.  And it is this same phrase that Lutosławski recalled at the end of his life, both in Stockholm and in Kyoto.  Evidently, the Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ – and this central paragraph in particular – held a significant place in Lutosławski’s credo for most of his creative life.

………..

Conrad’s Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.  And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.  It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life, what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential – their one illuminating and convincing quality – the very truth of their existence.  The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal.  Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts – whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living.  They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism – but always to our credulity.  And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies; with the attainment of our ambitions; with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal.  His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities – like the vulnerable body within the steel armour.  His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring – and sooner forgotten.  Yet its effect endures for ever.  The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories.  But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom: to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, more permanently enduring.  He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation – and to the subtle but invincible, conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity – the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

It is only some such train of thought, or rather of feeling, that can in a measure explain the aim of the attempt, made in the tale which follows, to present an unrestful episode in the obscure lives of a few individuals out of all the disregarded multitude of the bewildered, the simple and the voiceless.  For, if there is any part of truth in the belief confessed above, it becomes evident that there is not a place of splendour or a dark corner of the earth that does not deserve, if only a passing glance of wonder and pity.  The motive, then, may be held to justify the matter of the work; but this preface, which is simply an avowal of endeavour, cannot end here – for the avowal is not yet complete.

Fiction – if it at all aspires to be art – appeals to temperament.  And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time.  Such an appeal, to be effective, must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion.  All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions.  It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music – which is the art of arts.  And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting, never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour; and the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose.  And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who, in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: – My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.  That – and no more, and it is everything.  If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

To snatch in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time, a sapping phase of life is only the beginning of the task.  The task approached in tenderness and faith is to hold up unquestioningly, without choice and without fear, the rescued fragment before all eyes and in the light of a sincere mood.  It is to show its vibration, its colour, its form; and through its movement, its form, and its colour, reveal the substance of its truth – disclose its inspiring secret: the stress and passion within the core of each convincing moment.  In a single-minded attempt of that kind, if one be deserving and fortunate, one may perchance attain to such clearness of sincerity that at last the presented vision of regret or pity, of terror or mirth, shall awaken in the hearts of the beholders that feeling of unavoidable solidarity; of the solidarity in mysterious origin, in toil, in joy, in hope, in uncertain fate, which binds men to each other and all mankind to the visible world.

It is evident that he who, rightly or wrongly, holds by the convictions expressed above cannot be faithful to any one of the temporary formulas of his craft.  The enduring part of them – the truth which each only imperfectly veils – should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial sentimentalism (which, like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of); all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him – even on the very threshold of the temple – to the stammerings of his conscience and to the outspoken consciousness of the difficulties of his work.  In that uneasy solitude the supreme cry of Art for Art, even, loses the exciting ring of its apparent immorality.  It sounds far off. It has ceased to be a cry, and is heard only as a whisper, often incomprehensible, but at times, and faintly, encouraging.

Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at.  We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again.  It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions.  If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure.  We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength, and perhaps he had not the knowledge.  We forgive, go on our way – and forget.

And so it is with the workman of art.  Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim – the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult – obscured by mists.  It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature.  It is not less great, but only more difficult.

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile – such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve.  But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished.  And when it is accomplished – behold! – all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile – and the return to an eternal rest.

• 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!):

6308

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).

• WL100/33: Zanussi documentary (complete)

Krzysztof Zanussi’s 1991 documentary on Lutosławski has just appeared on YouTube, complete.  I wrote almost three months ago about two excerpts that became available there in mid-January (WL100/13) and I’ve reproduced that post’s opening paragraphs below.

“On 19 January 1991, BBC 2 showed a one-hour documentary on Lutosławski.  It was made by the distinguished Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi.  Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (1990) utilises excerpts from a BBC Omnibus documentary Warsaw Autumn (1978)filmed by Dennis Marks in 1977, as starting points.  Zanussi steers Lutosławski through key moments of his life, interspersed with the composer conducting rehearsals or special recordings of excerpts of his music.

The results are mixed.  At times, the premise is realised archly, as at the beginning, when the interview set-up seems rather self-conscious.  At other times, Zanussi’s probing produces some interesting responses.  Lutosławski recollection of his father is rather touching, for example, and his recollection of life in the 1980s (during Solidarity and then under Martial Law) fascinating.  As always, he can be alternately open and guarded.

The interiors were filmed either in his downstairs sitting area (it’s open-plan) or in his first floor, L-shaped study (see my earlier post Lutosławski’s Carpet).  The major musical extracts are from Musique funèbrePreludes and FugueChain 2 (with Krzysztof Jakowicz) and the Third Symphony.”

 

• WL100/28: Jazz Conversations (Lutosphere)

Having heard Agata Zubel, Andrzej Bauer and Cezary Duchnowski in conversation with Lutosławski’s alter ego ‘Derwid’ at the end of the Philharmonia’s Woven Words festival last month (Zubel Zings!), I’ve revisited an earlier set of ‘conversations with Lutosławski’.  These took place in the project Lutosphere, when Bauer teamed up with the pianist Leszek Możdżer and the DJ M.Bunio.S to explore Lutosławski’s concert music.  Among the pieces which they reference are the Intrada and Passacaglia from the Concerto for Orchestra (1954) and the Cello Concerto (1970). As I’ve written before, there’s quite a tradition of Polish jazz musicians reworking the music of major Polish composers (Chopin, Szymanowski), but this is the first time that the composer’s own voice has been included in the process!

There are currently a handful of uploads on YouTube, some with live video footage.  Here are five (two of them are short extracts), dating from 2008-10.

OFF festival, Mysłowice (8.08.2008)

 

Polish Radio (pre 6.11.2008, with partly English-language intro by Możdżer)

 

(pre 17.05.2009)

 

Kraków Philharmonic (31.10.2009)

 

Theatre on the 6th Floor, Warsaw (26.08.2010)

 

• RSQ +1

Following its acclaimed CD of the Górecki quartets for Hyperion in 2011, the Royal String Quartet is riding high with its new Hyperion release of the quartets by Penderecki and Lutosławski.  Since its inception 15 years ago, when its members were students at the (then) Academy of Music in Warsaw, its concerts and recordings have received worldwide praise.  The RSQ has had a particularly fruitful career in the UK.  In 2004-06 it was chosen as one of the participants in BBC Radio 3’s renowned New Generation Artists scheme, and since 2012 it has been Quartet in Residence at The Queen’s University of Belfast, where I worked for the first 23 years of my own career.  I want to draw your attention, however, to the other music-making that the RSQ carries out in its native Poland which may not be so familiar to listeners elsewhere.

First and foremost are the RSQ’s ‘Kwartesencja’ festivals that it has mounted in Warsaw every year bar one since 2004.  These are designed not only to feature the RSQ but also to explore a huge range of collaborative possibilities with one or more other musicians.  Its two concerts from last year alone are excellent pointers to the versatility and imagination that the RSQ brings to its programming.

Kwartesencja 2012

I wish that I had been at the two concerts on 7 and 8 December 2012 (the programmes for this and previous Kwartesencja festivals are still online, but only in Polish).  Fortunately, the RSQ is media-savvy and excerpts from the 2012 events and follow-up recordings are now available on YouTube.

The first +1 was the actress Stanisława Celińska, well-known in Poland on stage and screen.  She performed ‘Songs about Warsaw’ with the RSQ, in arrangements by Bartek Wąsik (piano).  The concert on 7 December 2012 was a huge success and the project was encored on 4-5 January 2013.  It’s being repeated tomorrow night (19 March) in Wrocław.  Several of the songs have since appeared on YouTube and the collection has been issued on the CD Nowa Warszawa (New Warsaw).

These songs are but the most recent in a long Polish tradition of part-sung, part-declaimed lyrics with a mix of melancholic and nostalgic texts (my favourite in this regard is still the magical collaboration between Ewa Demarczyk and Zygmunt Konieczny in the 1960s).  Whether Nowa Warszawa has wider appeal outside Poland – Polish lyrics might be the sticking point – remains to be seen, but I hope it does.  Here’s the video of  ‘Warszawa’ from Kwartesencja 2012.  (It was originally recorded by the Polish ’80s band, T[eenage]. Love, whose own version is quite a contrast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCfDEusHaDw.)

 

Here’s a track from the Nowa Warszawa CD: Stanisław Sojka/Soyka’s ‘Tango Warszawa’:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8WeRk4wDt8

herdzinThe second +1, on 8 December 2012, was the young Polish jazz violinist, Adam Baldych.  In a move which might come across as sacrilegious, the RSQ and Baldych created a far-reaching improvisation on Lutosławski’s String Quartet.  Such an approach to their musical heritage is not entirely unknown among Polish musicians. Chopin has been the subject of attention from the Jagodziński Trio and Leszek Możdżer.  And the RSQ previously worked with the Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Herdzin and his quartet, in Herdzin’s Fantasy on Themes from Grażyna Bacewicz’s Fourth String Quartet (CD issued in 2008, right).

See and hear for yourself what Baldych and the RSQ made of the Lutosławski quartet.  In this studio recording for Polish TV Kultura, there are some odd things going on in the background (the changing number of people sitting around the table in the shadows), plus two editing blips (at 12’31” and 16’02”), which make it hard to determine what the full performance was like.  Nevertheless, it makes an intriguing counterpart to the RSQ’s riveting performance of Lutosławski’s original quartet on its new Hyperion CD.

 

• WL100/13: In Conversation with Zanussi

On 19 January 1991, BBC 2 showed a one-hour documentary on Lutosławski.  It was made by the distinguished Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi.  Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (1990) utilises excerpts from a BBC Omnibus documentary Warsaw Autumn (1978)filmed by Dennis Marks in 1977, as starting points.  Zanussi steers Lutosławski through key moments of his life, interspersed with the composer conducting rehearsals or special recordings of excerpts of his music.

The results are mixed.  At times, the premise is realised archly, as at the beginning, when the interview set-up seems rather self-conscious.  At other times, Zanussi’s probing produces some interesting responses.  Lutosławski recollection of his father is rather touching, for example, and his recollection of life in the 1980s (during Solidarity and then under Martial Law) fascinating.  As always, he can be alternately open and guarded.

The interiors were filmed either in his downstairs sitting area (it’s open-plan) or in his first floor, L-shaped study (see my earlier post Lutosławski’s Carpet).  The major musical extracts are from Musique FunèbrePreludes and FugueChain 2 (with Krzysztof Jakowicz) and the Third Symphony.  Two excerpts from Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (amounting to the second and fourth quarters of the documentary) were uploaded to YouTube yesterday, so here are the links with a little commentary to each.

Excerpt 1

This section is concerned firstly with the post-war decade and socialist realism.  Habitually, Lutosławski was extremely guarded about this period, as he is here, especially in the excerpt from the Omnibus film.  The three-day conference to which Lutosławski refers took place in western Poland, at a place called Łagów, in August 1949.  (Less than half of the members of the Polish Composers’ Union attended, rather than the ‘all’ that Lutosławski mentions.)  Secondly (c. 7’45” in), the film shows Lutosławski accompanying a group of young children singing one of his children’s songs, Rzeczka (River, 1947).  The final section (c. 11’20” in) moves the questioning of the relationship between the music and social-political contexts to the 1980s.  It shows a fragment of Lutosławski’s speech on the first day of the Congress of Polish Culture in Warsaw on 12 December 1981.  Overnight, Poland found itself under Martial Law.

 

Excerpt 2

This section concludes the documentary with a brief discussion of the return to democracy in the late 1980s and then focuses on the Third Symphony.  There are two musical passages here, from figs 84 to 89 and from fig. 93 (Coda), in what appears to be a specially recorded session with Lutosławski conducting the Great Polish Radio SO (WOSPR) in Katowice.

 

• Lutosławski: A Christmas Carol

Poland has a wonderfully rich heritage of carols.  In 1946, as the country was recovering from the devastation of World War II, Lutosławski collected together a set of Dwadzieście kolęd (Twenty Carols) for voice and piano; in 1984-89, he arranged them for soprano, female choir and chamber orchestra.

Exactly 22 years ago today (14 December 1990), in Aberdeen in Scotland, Lutosławski conducted the premiere of this second version, with Susan Hamilton, the Scottish Philharmonic Singers and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Here’s a recording of the first carol in the set, ‘Anioł pasterzom mowił’ (The Angel Said to the Shepherds).  The text is 11th-century, the music from the Śpiewnik kościelny (Church Hymnbook, 1838-53) compiled by Michał Marcin Mioduszewski.  On this recording, only verses 1 and 3 are sung.  The melody has an interesting construction of eleven bars (Lutosławski repeats the last seven).

 

IMG_7124 copy

• Poles launch ‘100/100 Lutosławski’

18619_437344239663934_545288166_nLutosławski year was officially launched in Warsaw yesterday under the banner ‘100/100 Lutosławski’.  A new website has been published (in Polish/English), but precise details of events are yet to be fully revealed.  I outlined the details of the Philharmonia’s splendid Woven Words website, launched in October, in an earlier post.  Here, I’ll outline what has so far emerged from Polish sources.

Websites

• http://lutoslawski.culture.pl/web/lutoslawskien  The ‘100/100 Lutosławski’ website, hosted by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, is a companion to the one launched to mark the 75th anniversary of Szymanowski‘s death earlier this year. It currently has a three SoundCloud clips (Concerto for Orchestra, Symphonies 3 and 4), though not all the clips and the accompanying notes are credited.  There’s a short video discussion between Steven Stucky and Esa-Pekka Salonen as well as videos shared with the Woven Words website.  Its Calendar of events has still to be unveiled, and its list of Resources consists at the moment only of a short bibliography that has got as far as the letter ‘R’ (so no Stucky yet…).  No doubt the whole website will become more fully populated in the coming days and weeks.
• http://www.lutoslawski.org.pl/en/lutoslawski2013/info  This is the home of the Witold Lutosławski Society, which has existed since the late 1990s.  Like ‘100/100 Lutosławski’, it has both a Polish and an English site.  It promises details shortly.  By the way, for anyone with a short orchestral piece close to hand, the WLS is hosting a composition competition with a deadline of 25 January 2013, the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  The competition’s regulations may be accessed here.

Performances

The Lutosławski components of the Warsaw Philharmonic’s forthcoming programmes have been published for some time and may be found by scrolling the Warsaw Philharmonic’s concert schedule.  Its celebrations begin on 11 January 2013.  Until the ‘100/100 Lutosławski’ Calendar is uploaded, you can find details of quite a few concerts worldwide at https://www.facebook.com/LutoslawskiCentennialCelebration, under ‘About’.

Recordings

It seems to me that it has been non-Polish ensembles and recording companies who have been taking the lead in this area of activity, notably the BBC SO under Edward Gardner for Chandos (4 CDs since 2010, a fifth on its way). Next month, Sony re-releases the Los Angeles PO/Salonen recordings of Symphonies 2-4 plus their newly-recorded version of the First Symphony.  The Polish Accord label started its Lutosławski Opera Omnia series in 2008, but there has been no further release since the third CD in 2010.  I am not privy to Polish recordings planned for release in 2013.  I am, however, very excited by the two ventures outlined below.

UnknownAs part of the official launch yesterday in the Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio and Television, the Polish National Audiovisual Institute (NInA) issued a press release (in Polish) containing the following information:

• A unique collection of recordings will be made available on the nina.gov.pl portal in the second half of 2013. All of Lutosławski’s compositions will be uploaded in at least one performance.  (As the 80th birthdays of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (d. 2010) and Krzysztof Penderecki also fall in 2013, their music will be similarly covered by NInA next year.)  This online collection – drawn from Polish Radio archives – will be developed further in due course.  Its accompanying texts, by the late Polish Radio broadcaster and musicologist Andrzej Chłopecki, will be available in both Polish and English.

• NInA will also issue a six-disc set called ‘Lutosławski/świat’ (Lutosławski/World) – 5 CDs and a DVD – in the second half of 2013.  The vast majority of these recordings, from Polish Radio and WFDF (Documentary and Feature Film Studio), are being released for the first time.  They include archive recordings conducted by Lutosławski, and the booklet notes, many by young musicologists, promise fresh perspectives.  The project editor is Adam Suprynowicz.

What is especially interesting in the Polish context is the promise that Lutosławski’s complete output will be represented, including those works (socialist-realist pieces, film music and popular songs) which, as the press release says, ‘he himself sometimes wanted to forget’.  This promises to be a fascinating document, one which sets Lutosławski’s rich legacy of pieces and recordings in the broadest possible context.

• Ż-z-z

How many composers do you know whose names begin with Z?  Zappa, Zarlino, Zelenka, Zemlinsky, Zender, Zimmermann, Ziporyn, Zorn?  There are more than you think, especially in Poland.  Contemporary composers there include Artur Zagajewski, Patryk Zakrocki, Krzysztof Zarębski, Anna Zawadzka-Gołosz, Barbara Zawadzka, Lidia Zielińska, Maciej Zieliński, Agata Zubel and even a double Z: Wojciech Ziemowit Zych.  There are yet more when you go back to before 1900.  I’ve recently been spending a very enjoyable time in the company of three of them: Żeleński, Zarębski and Zarzycki.

In a couple of weeks’ time, Hyperion will be releasing a CD of nineteenth-century Polish chamber music with piano, played by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet.  The CD has two substantial pieces from the Polish Z list: the Piano Quintet by Juliusz Zarębski (1854-85) and the Piano Quartet by Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921).  Look out for it.  And at the weekend I was finishing off some work on Żeleński and Aleksander Zarzycki (1834-95) for a forthcoming CD of their piano concertos, again on Hyperion, with Jonathan Plowright and the BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz.  That’s due for release in 2013.

I’ve written on Zarębski before and have admired Żeleński’s Piano Quartet for a number years.  But the period between the death of Chopin in 1849 and the establishment of a professional orchestra – the Warsaw Philharmonic – in 1901 remains a dark age in Polish music.  That’s mainly because very few pieces survived in the repertoire into the 20th century.  Paderewski has been well served, others less so.  Today, much of the music remains unprinted, unperformed and unrecorded.  There have been isolated modern premieres in Poland since 2000, but virtually nothing substantial on CD, though the Polish label Acte Préalable is a notable exception.  It’s taken a foreign company – Hyperion – to come to the rescue (from partly later repertoire it has already recorded works by Melcer and Stojowski as part of its Romantic Piano Concerto series).

Zarębski’s Piano Quintet (1885) is a masterpiece.  At long last, non-Polish performers and companies are beginning to sit up and take note.  In addition to the forthcoming Hyperion CD, a DVD of a performance with Martha Argerich has been released this year.  That concert took place in the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw on 17 August 2011 as part of the festival Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and His Europe).  The recording is published by the Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina on NIFCDVD-002.  Here’s an audio of the Scherzo from that performance.

 

Żeleński’s Piano Quartet op.61 (undated) is one of his better-known pieces, alongside his ‘characteristic overture’ W Tatrach op.27 (In the Tatras, 1868-70).  Another recording, by Joanna Ławrynowicz and members of the Four Strings Quartet, was issued on Acte Préalable earlier this year.  Prior to that, there was a great Olympia CD with the Polish Piano Quartet, which coupled the Żeleński with another, even more joyous piano quartet by Zygmunt Noskowski. Żeleński’s Piano Concerto op.60 dates from later in his life (according to a recent source, from 1903).  Holding the fort before the CD releases of both the Piano Concerto (next year) and the Piano Quartet (next month), here’s the first movement of the latter, from the OLympia recording.

 

Of these three Zs, Zarzycki is by far the least known.  But the forthcoming Hyperion CD of works for piano and orchestra gives an opportunity to redress the situation, not only with his Piano Concerto but also his Grande Polonaise, both dating from 1859-60 when he was studying in Paris.  He gave the premieres himself.  Up until now, Zarzycki’s been known for his small-scale chamber pieces.  One of these, the Mazurka in G for violin and piano, has caught the attention over the years of distinguished violinists, including David Oistrakh.  I don’t know when this was filmed, but Oistrakh certainly makes the case for the piece.

 

• Lutosławski Centenary 2013: Philharmonia

We are still over two months from the actual centenary of the birth of Witold Lutosławski (25 January 2013), but things are already hotting up.  I, for one, am busy preparing copy for Belgium, Germany and the UK, and this morning I’m doing a telephone interview for the in-house magazine of the Witold Lutosławski PO in Wrocław.

But by far the most intensive preparations outside Poland – so far – have been taking place in London for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s three-concert series at the South Bank Centre in January and March next year.  The soloists are Krystian Zimerman, Truls Mørk, Jennifer Koh and Matthias Goerne.  There are also three associated chamber recitals and one orchestral concert performed by students from the Royal College of Music.  Most of the concerts place Lutosławski’s music alongside repertoire by other composers: Chopin, Szymanowski, Roussel, Ligeti and (principally) Ravel and Debussy.

And that’s not all: the Philharmonia is taking parts of its Lutosławski programme – called ‘Woven Words’ after his piece Paroles tissées (1965) – to nine other cities between February and September 2013: Tokyo, Warsaw, Modena, Oviedo, Madrid, Dresden, Vienna, Ljubljana and Berlin.  Full details of the programme and schedule may be found at http://woven-words.co.uk, but here’s a list of the pieces by Lutosławski that are being performed in London by the Philharmonia and the Royal College of Music.

Philharmonia  30 January: Musique funèbre and Piano Concerto.  7 March: Cello Concerto and Concerto for Orchestra.  21 March: Symphony no.4, Les Espaces du sommeil and Chain 2.
RCM  4 February: String Quartet.  6 February: Jeux vénitiens and Symphony no.3.  27 February: Two Studies and Bucolics.  6 March: Mini Overture, Fanfare for CUBE, Epitaph, Subito, Grave and Dance Preludes.

The Philharmonia doesn’t do things by halves.  There was a press launch in  London in late October (unfortunately while I was in Warsaw), fronted by the two men whose idea this celebration has been: the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who knew Lutosławski well and has long championed his music,  and the composer Steven Stucky, the author of the eloquent Lutosławski and His Music (1981).  The Philharmonia’s website http://woven-words.co.uk is a substantial achievement in itself, with a gallery of archival photographs assembled, special films made and essays written for the occasion.

Films

Salonen and Stucky travelled to Poland in the summer of 2012.  The results may be seen in five contextually stimulating films in which they chart Lutosławski’s life and work, with archive stills and footage as well as a wealth of location shots (I liked the appearance of Blikle’s famous café in ‘World War II’!).  Some of Lutosławski’s rarely seen manuscripts are discussed (especially in ‘Stalinist Years’) and there are excerpts from the music (the main footage being of the Concerto for Orchestra).  Archive footage of the composer is also incorporated.  The widow of Władysław Szpilman (The Pianist) appears in the third film, while  Charles Bodman Rae (first two films) and Zbigniew Skowron (fourth film) also make telling contributions.

• Early Life
• World War II
• Stalinist Years
• Maturity
• In Conversation

Essays

The Philharmonia has commissioned five essays, which I understand will also appear in the programme book for the series (Steven Stucky’s insightful notes for the orchestral programmes are also presented in advance on the website).

Steven Stucky, ‘Remembering Lutosławski’
Charles Bodman Rae, ‘Lutosławski and the Scars of Wars’
Adrian Thomas, ‘Lutosławski- Parallel Lives of a Captive Muse’
Nicholas Reyland, ‘Essences and Essentials: Lutosławski’s Musical Stories’
Zbigniew Skowron, ‘Lutosławski’s Aesthetics and Their Sources’

My own essay is also available on this site here.

%d bloggers like this: