• Lutosławski’s ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj’

On my visit to the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice last week – and what a terrific institution it is, both in terms of staff and students and of its buildings, old and new – I took advantage of its library to check out a volume that furnished Witold Lutosławski with melodies for his Dance Preludes.  From transcriptions that I found in a folder of folk materials in his house in 2002, I knew that he had relied for the melodies of the first two preludes on the work of Łucjan Kamieński.  It was but a small step to guess that they came from Kamieński’s Pieśni Ludu Pomorskiego, I: Pieśni z Kaszub południowych (Pomeranian Folk Songs, I: Songs from Southern Kaszuby, 1936).

Sure enough, the melodies – one in the first prelude from Borsk, two connected tunes in the second prelude from Rybaki – were there, alongside the other eleven tunes that he’d selected but not used.  Lutosławski had transposed most of the melodies and sometimes modified them rhythmically.  I was hoping that the material for the other three preludes would be in the bulk of the volume that he had not apparently transcribed.  Frustratingly, they were not there, so the search for their sources goes on.

I was tickled by the text of the refrain of the melody for the first prelude, which was also the first tune in Kamieński’s volume.  Now I can no longer listen to Lutosławski’s version without mentally muttering the immortal words: ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj, didlum, didlumdaj!’.

Borsk 1

• WL100/44: Paroles tissées, **20 June 1965

Lutosławski probably met Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for the first time in 1961, when they came to perform at the 5th ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Their programme included three of Berg’s Seven Early Songs (‘Nacht’, ‘Im Zimmer’ and ‘Die Nachtigall’), Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo and Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, Poulenc’s Tel jour, telle nuit and Tippett’s Boyhood’s End.  This photo from their Warsaw visit was taken by Andrzej Zborski.


A commission from Aldeburgh soon followed, but Lutosławski missed the deadline for the 1963 Festival.  Instead, Britten conducted the first concert performance of Lutosławski’s Dance Preludes in the version for clarinet and chamber orchestra (with Gervase de Peyer and the English CO).   Lutosławski later recalled that Britten hadn’t realised how difficult this version was because of the polymetric divisions between soloist and orchestra.  He apparently had an attack of nerves during the performance and stopped for a moment in order to find out where he was in the score.

Lutosławski eventually produced the score of Paroles tissées in time for the 1965 Aldeburgh Festival, and he conducted the piece there on 20 June, with its dedicatee Peter Pears and the Philomusica of London.  It is quite likely that Lutosławski stayed on in the UK for a few more days to hear Colin Davis conduct the Concerto for Orchestra on 25 June, with the London SO at the Royal Festival Hall.  This was possibly the work’s first UK concert performance, though it had been recorded for the BBC in 1958.

Here’s a video of Pears and Lutosławski reprising their partnership ten years later, this time with the Chamber Ensemble of the Warsaw National Philharmonic, on 25 September 1975, during the 19th ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Check out Lutosławski’s natty get-up!

• 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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