• WL100/56: Los Angeles (1985)

First posted on 2 September 2011.

Two years ago today, there appeared on YouTube four uploads that together formed a 33’ documentary film on Witold Lutosławski.  I was alerted to the uploads last year and thought it might be useful to repost them, with a brief commentary and selected timelines for anyone unfamiliar with the music.

Open Rehearsals with Witold Lutosławski records the composer’s visit to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, 21-29 January 1985, during which time he celebrated his 72nd birthday (25 January), although that event is not mentioned in the film.  For some reason, the uploads have been dated 1984.  The film was made by the Polish documentary and feature director, Paweł Kuczyński (left), and it appears to have been his first film (he uploaded it himself).  Further details on Kuczyński may be found on his website <http://www.directing.com/index.html> and blog <http://deafearsmadness.blogspot.com>.

The occasion for the visit of Lutosławski and his wife Danuta was the official opening on 23 January of what was then known as the Polish Music Reference Center (PMRC) and is now known as the Polish Music Center (PMC).  The PMRC had been the brainchild and passion of a Polish-American couple, Stefan and Wanda Wilk, whom I had the privilege and joy to get to know during a year’s research leave I had at the University of California, San Diego, in 1983-84.  I spent many happy days in their company (and that of their dog) at their home in Los Angeles (the domestic interior, garden and dog are seen in the film) and it was thanks to their enthusiasm that I wrote a small monograph Grażyna Bacewicz: Chamber and Orchestral Music that was published by PMRC in 1985.

Wanda Wilk was the practical and tenacious driving force behind the PMRC project and had the bold idea at an early stage of asking Polish composers if they would be willing to donate manuscript scores to the library.  Penderecki declined, but Lutosławski could see the huge potential of the Center and made an astonishing offer.  He was prepared to donate not one but five music manuscripts.  And these included some of his most significant scores from the preceding 20 years.  It’s worth highlighting them here, because in the film all that is shown is a large black portfolio holding the manuscripts:

• Paroles tissées (1965)
• Preludes and Fugue (1972)
• Mi-parti (1976)
• Novelette (1979)
• Mini-Overture (1982)

No donation since has matched Lutosławski’s generosity.

Lutosławski had just flown in from St Paul, Minnesota, where he’d attended the world premiere on 18 January of Partita for violin and piano (1984), given by Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug.  An important element of his visit to Los Angeles was spending several days observing and conducting rehearsals of his music by students and staff at the School of Music at USC, as well as looking over student scores, giving interviews and attending concerts of his music.  He also conducted the West Coast premiere of Chain 1 (1983).  Kronos Quartet played the String Quartet (1964) and the British composer John Casken contributed a talk on Lutosławski.  This was evidently a major Lutosławski residency and one to be treasured by those fortunate enough to have been present.  Its success led 12 years later to a similar profiling of his younger compatriot, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (‘Górecki Autumn’, 1-5 October, 1997).

Kuczyński intercuts and overlays film of Lutosławski at different rehearsals with the composer speaking about his musical aesthetics.  If you are familiar with how Lutosławski discussed music in printed interviews you will find many typical tropes here, but they are no less interesting for actually seeing him speak about music and its contexts.  There are occasional surprises, too.  It would be fascinating to see the footage that was not included in the film.

It is particularly interesting to witness Lutosławski rehearsing with students, primarily on Mi-parti (which the students were preparing for a concert a few weeks later) and on Chain 1.  There is also a delightful vignette of him conducting a student choir on the word ‘Fouille‘ from the second movement of Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1963).  The works heard in the film, in order of first appearance, are:

Part I: Mi-partiTrois poèmes
Part II: Trois poèmesGrave for cello and piano (1981), Chain 1, String Quartet
Part III: Mi-partiChain 1, String Quartet, Melodie Ludowe/1 (1945), Paganini Variations for two pianos (1941)
Part IV: Chain 1Mi-parti.

In the following commentaries, I’ve posted the four YouTube sections of the film as well as their urls if you want to have them in a separate window while reading the commentary.  My observations are not comprehensive and the timings are approximate, but I hope that they add something to your enjoyment of Kuczyński’s valuable film.

Part I            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVlq6zihyjg    9’27”

0’00”    [over] Mi-parti (3 before Fig.41)
Witold and Danuta Lutosławscy arrive at Los Angeles airport.  On the walk out, Danuta is centre front row, with Wanda Wilk on the right.  Witold is in the second row, with Stefan Wilk on the right.
1’00”    First rehearsal with students on Mi-parti
[intercut with]
1’30”    John Casken
4’56”    Ceremonial donation of scores to PMRC
6’16”    Wanda Wilk on Lutosławski
6’39”    [home interview] Lutosławski on the Wilks; he later comments that life is still very difficult in Poland (he was speaking barely three years after martial law had been imposed in December 1981) and refers to ‘the Festival’, meaning the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music.
7’39”    Open interview
8’16”    Rehearsing ‘Fouille’, from Trois poèmes
8’47”    on audiences

Part II           http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTUUt9NzTLM    7’21”

0’00”    on audiences and listeners
0’35”    Meeting with student composers including a somewhat unexpected and frank statement on Berg: “I’m always very impressed by some works of Alban Berg in spite of the very fact that I hate his sound language … his works had a tremendous impact on me”.
1’10”    Rehearsing Trois poèmes/II
1’30”    [garden interview] on themes, literary programmes: “Music is music for me.  It’s just the free expression of human soul by means of acoustical phenomena”.
2’08”    Rehearsal of Grave
3’55”    Lutosławski suggestion to the cellist: “If you make the fortes attacking, aggressive, and the pianos without tension, like that – ‘pierced balloon’!” (laughs).
4’42”    Rehearsal of Chain 1
5’16”    [garden interview] on ‘key ideas’ and form in composing
[intercut with]
6’07”    Kronos playing through the String Quartet.  At that point – 26 years ago already! – Joan Jeanrenaud was the cellist in Kronos.

Part III         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzRVtKYO0vU    9’12”

0’00”    Kronos playing through the String Quartet
0’53”    [open inteview] “Constant revolution – I think it’s over.”
1’25”    Rehearsal of Mi-parti
1’58”    Rehearsal of Chain 1
2’41”    Lutosławski playing bb. 9-15 of ‘Ach, mój Jasieńko’, the first of Melodie ludowe, at the Wilks’s piano during photo shoot.
3’10”    Mi-parti
3’45”    [open interview] “I think there is a strong need of substance in music.”
3’55”    Kronos playing the ‘Funèbre’ section of the String Quartet.  Lutosławski looks particularly focused.
4’35”    visual recap of handing-over ceremony
5’21”    on the circumstances of the survival in 1944 of the score of the Paganini Variations, talking to the pianists Jean Barr and Armen Guzelimian; he does not mention his piano-duo partner, the composer Andrzej Panufnik, by name (their relationship was frosty after Panufnik left Poland in 1954 – I witnessed this personal distance first-hand at a rehearsal in Dublin in 1979).
6’02”    Edited play-through of Paganini Variations (Theme, Vars 1, 9 and start of 10)
6’58”    Seminar on his music: “Some irrational moments should be in music.”
7’25”    [home interview]: on chance, but not in the way “my personal friend John Cage represents” and on rhythm.
8’51”    Mi-parti

Part IV          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOB3gvB6bcA    7’07”

0’00”    Rehearsal of Mi-parti
[intercut with]
[home interview] on the limits of chance procedures
1’34”    Seminar on his music: about Chain 1, Fig. 47, percussion: “a little as if it were a person, a character in a play, you know, interrupting something, saying, “Shut up!” “.
2’18”    Rehearsal of Chain 1
2’38”    Seminar on his music
2’59”    [garden interview] on not teaching, on focussing on his own techniques
[over and leading into]
3’50”    Meeting with student composers; a rare recorded example of Lutosławski giving compositional advice!
4’50”    [garden interview] on creative integrity [over visuals of rehearsal for Chain 1]
5’52”    End of Mi-parti rehearsal

• Recalling Górecki: Two Radio Tributes

The other day, I came across these two short tributes on the Polish Radio website thenews.pl.  Although they were broadcast a year ago, they are still available.  Just follow the indicated mp3 link on each page.

The first is by David Harrington, the leader of Kronos Quartet.  Harrington was instrumental in commissioning Górecki’s three string quartets (1988, 1991 and 1995/2005) and he and Górecki formed a close professional and personal friendship.  On the day of Górecki’s death (12 November 2010), Kronos happened to be in Poland to give  a concert that evening in Wrocław.  In tribute, they played an arrangement of ‘Z Torunia ja parobecek’ (I am a Farmhand from Toruń), the fourth of Górecki’s Five Kurpian Songs (1999).  Harrington spoke the following day with Michał Kubicki.


The second interview is one that I also recorded with Michał Kubicki that day.


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