• WL100/78: Jeux vénitiens pitch designs

Among loose manuscript paper in Lutosawski’s study in September 2002 were three rather special sheets relating to Jeux vénitiens (1960-61).  They are not preparatory material but rather a post-compositional aide-mémoire.  And the fact that they are written on English and not Polish manuscript paper confirms this.  Perhaps they were drawn out as preparation for a lecture to composition students.

On these three sheets Lutosławski has outlined the harmonic trajectory of the four movements of Jeux vénitiens. You will hardly find a more succinct summary of his pitch designs for this key work.

Sheet 1


This contains material for the first and second movements.  The harmonic framework of the first movement is well-known.  He gives here the pitch structures for the components that are introduced successively in sections A, E and G; there is nothing for C as that is for (unpitched) timpani.  He then gives the harmonic progressions underlying sections B D F and H.

The second movement is less straightforward.  First, Lutosławski ignores the opening 29 bars, starting his notation at the moment when the strings stop playing and pursuing it to the end of b.36, just before the strings re-enter.  Secondly, he jumps to the next non-string section, bb.55-68.  What is especially revealing here is that the changing chords are not fully represented in the score.  Instead, they serve as wells from which Lutosławski draws his droplets of sound in woodwind, brass, xylophone, vibraphone and harp.  Although this movement is often regarded as the most conventional of the four, this was a technique that he used on many occasions as it maintained the notion of twelve-note harmony while giving the texture air and a sense of intangibility.  The rest of the movement is absent from this summary.

Under six of the chords between b.59 and b.67 are some capital letters.  These were Lutosławski’s private code.  He thought of certain types of chord, with characteristic intervallic constructions, as reminding him of some of his favourite twentieth-century composers.  Elsewhere, for example, ‘P’ refers to Panufnik and ‘Ro’ to Roussel.  Here there are D, R and S.  I leave you to divine which composers are represented by these initials.

Sheet 2


Sheet 2 is devoted entirely to the third movement of Jeux vénitiens.  This was composed after the premiere of the other three movements in Venice (24 April 1961); the revised work was premiered in Warsaw later that year (16 September).  The concept of this new movement is to take the motivic cells from the woodwind in component A of the first movement, where they are treated harmonically, and unravel them gradually as a melodic line for solo flute. This line is absent from Sheet 2.

Instead, Lutosławski follows the two interlocking orchestral strands: (i) the developing continuum in  woodwind, harp and piano (A to W) and (ii), where ‘strings’ is written above the third system, the string chords that punctuate the sustained texture between letters D and W.  As can be seen in each of these strands, Lutosławski contracts and expands them, using the changing vertical space as an integral expressive device.  The string chords, for example, unfold outwards from the dense twelve-note clusters of L-P, but they reach their fully opened position not at the end of the movement but as the first chord of the fourth movement, as indicated here.

Sheet 3


As with the material given for the second movement, this third sheet is also selective in what it contains from the fourth movement.  The top line (bb.6-14) intriguingly gives a linear presentation of what in the score seems to be more of a shifting harmonic sequence in the wind.  Pitch-rotational techniques seem to be in operation.  There is no reference to the sfpp accent that first appears in b.10.  The second system does something similar for the string passage that begins in b.38 and goes as far as the introduction of the first objet sonore (‘a’) of the nine that will lead cumulatively to the movement’s climax.  For some reason Lutosławski has not included the pitch material for the piano for ‘e’.

He then jumps to the climactic chord at letter G, followed by the contracting harmonic span (celesta, harp and piano) that leads to letter J at the end of b.145.  The unlabelled, four-stave chord that concludes this sheet refers to the passages leading to and away from letter M.  Reading up from the bottom: cellos and basses, vibraphone and brass, celesta and piano, and violin and viola harmonics.  The harp cluster and dying embers of the flutes are not included.

There are several other posts on this site concerning Jeux vénitiens.  To find them, simply type ‘Jeux’ or ‘Jeux vénitiens’ into the blank (search) box in the header on the top right of any page and press ‘GO’.

• 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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 15.23.03

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).

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 15.21.20

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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 15.20.41

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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 15.22.02

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

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 16.08.20

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.

• WL100/63: Mi-parti, **22 October 1976

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 08.47.06

One of the strangest aspects of this centenary year, and indeed of the performance and recording history since Lutosławski’s death almost twenty years ago, is the neglect of some works which during his lifetime were held in high regard.  The most notorious injustice relates to Livre pour orchestre, which I will return to in a later post.  Another example is Mi-parti, which Lutosławski wrote in 1975-76 and whose premiere he conducted with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam 37 years ago today.

During his lifetime, Lutosławski was the person who conducted Mi-parti most frequently.  His domination of its performance history is also true of many of his other orchestral and concertante works, which made for composer-authentic concert experiences but in the long run delayed much of his music’s entry into the repertoire of a broad range of career conductors.

As to professional concert performances over the past ten years, there have been only seven (excluding immediate repeat concerts), including just three in 2013, the third and most recent being by the Berlin Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim.  There have been five commercial recordings:

• WOSPR (NOSPR)/Lutosławski (EMI, rec. 1976; LP, reissued several times on CD)
• Prague Radio SO/Jacek Kasprzyk (Supraphon, rec. 1980; LP only)
• BBC PO/Yan Pascal Tortelier (Chandos, rec. 1993; CD)
• WOSPR (NOSPR)/Antoni Wit (Naxos, rec. 1997; CD)
• Warsaw National PO/Antoni Wit (CD Accord, rec. 2002; CD).

Chandos, with its magnificent 5-CD set of Lutosławski’s music, has inexplicably left out both works.  At least the Opera Omnia CD series by the Wrocław PO under Jacek Kaspszyk and Benjamin Shwartz will release both pieces in the near future.  On YouTube, Mi-parti has the thinnest of presences, with Lutosławski’s own recording accompanied by photographic artwork by the uploader: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laFCR96RPO4.

I would be very interested to hear what readers have to say about Mi-parti.  For me, it has a magical first section (although Lutosławski sometimes expressed doubts about it) whose essential idea he seems to have had in mind when composing the first section of the Fourth Symphony sixteen years later.  The second section is one of his most pulsating, the climax interrupted by trumpets (echoes of the Cello Concerto).  The coda is especially haunting. Perhaps the trouble is that it isn’t a ‘symphony’ so, like Livre, it is being left on the sidelines in the age of convenience programming.


When I was researching in Lutosławski’s house in 2002, I came across many fascinating items: marked-up books, his conducting scores, a folder of folk-tune materials and a particular folder headed “ŚCIĄGACZKI” (Crib Sheets). Inside were separate pieces of MS paper connected with his work on LivreLes espaces du sommeilMi-parti and the Fourth Symphony.  Here are the two relating to Mi-parti.  They come from the second, fast section (apologies for the slightly fuzzy images).

The first is a ‘short-score’ reduction for the first eight bars of fig. 28.  The two lines represent the trumpets and trombones, whose individual purchase on the melodic line is fully worked out in the score (07’59”-08’09” on the accompanying YouTube video).

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 08.41.56

The second is more sketchy.  Indeed, it consists only of a (sometimes biforcated) rhythmic line.  It tracks the score from fig. 29 (i.e., two bars after the first ‘crib sheet’ stops short) as far as the third bar of fig. 35.  Although at times the link between sketch and score may seem tenuous, the sketch is consistent with the final product even if Lutosławski does use notational shorthand at times and darts from one instrumental group to another.  Effectively, this ‘crib sheet’ presents the main rhythmic template, an aide-mémoire as he worked the idea up into this extrovert, hocketing passage that leads shortly afterwards to the work’s climax (08’12”-09’09” on the accompanying YouTube video).

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 08.41.36

• WL100/8: Musique funèbre, 10 January 1958

On this day in 1958, Lutosławski put the finishing touches to a score on which he had been working for four years.  In 1998, I wrote a brief commentary on the opening pages of the autograph short score, for a publication about pieces whose manuscripts had been deposited in the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel.*

I have always called the piece Funeral Music – except in this little article, where I followed the title that Lutosławski inscribed on his short score: Musique funèbre.  There’s also the Polish version, Muzyka żałobna, which has been common parlance in Poland since the beginning (Lutosławski used it freely).  According to Stanisław Będkowski (A Bio-Biography, 2001), who interviewed the composer in 1988, Lutosławski preferred Mourning Music as the English translation.  This last version has never caught on, even though it is a more accurate translation of the Polish and French alternatives than Funeral Music.  Stucky (Lutosławski and his Music, 1981) and Będkowski stick to the Polish. Rae (The Music of Lutosławski, 1994) prefers the French, as does Skowron (taking Stucky, me and others along with him in his edited Lutosławski Studies, 2001).  My linguistic laziness is shared only by Varga (Lutosławski Profile, 1976) and Nikolska (Conversations with Witold Lutosławski, 1994), each having been translated into English (from Hungarian and Russian, respectively).  CD companies also seem to prefer Funeral Music over the alternatives.  I think I’d better mend my ways and return to the French.

WL Funeral Music article:1

WL Funeral Music article:2

WL Funeral Music article:3


Like many writers, I see shortcomings in my past efforts.  This little piece is no exception.  Most particularly, I should have either ignored or dismissed Tarnawska-Kaczorowska’s initial flight of fancy for want of real evidence.  Danuta Gwizdalanka and Krzysztof Meyer (Lutosławski. Droga do dojrzałości, 2003) are more grounded and forthright. Among other rightly dismissive observations (mainly about Tarnawska-Kaczorowska’s attempt at numerological symbolism, which at least I could see straight away were rubbish), they revealed that the Prologue with the F natural – B natural motif was written in the first half of 1955 (over a year before the Hungarian revolution) and that the working title of the piece in 1957 (after the revolution) was the much simpler Etiuda na orkiestrę smyczkową [Study for string orchestra] – Pro memoria Béla Bartók.  

* Settling New Scores. Music Manuscripts from the Paul Sacher Foundation, ed. Felix Meyer (Mainz: Schott, 1998)

• Lutosławski and Jeux vénitiens

This is a story in three parts: (i) the 2011 ‘Warsaw Autumn’, which opens tonight; (ii) the significance of Jeux vénitiens (1960-61) for Witold Lutosławski and developing terminology for chance procedures; (iii) my meeting with the composer about the score and sketches after the 1981 ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Today; 50 years ago; 30 years ago.

The 2011 ‘Warsaw Autumn’

The 54th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music begins today.  It is a most remarkable phenomenon, unique in its longevity and perpetual re-invention.  It began in 1956, at the cusp of monumental political, societal and cultural changes not only in Poland but in some of the other satellite countries of the then Soviet Union (USSR) in Eastern Europe.  It has been the proving ground and showcase for generations of Polish composers and has provided a priceless opportunity for Polish audiences to hear the latest developments in new music from abroad as well as dipping into historical moments in post-war music.

This year’s programme is as inventive as ever.  Historical contexts are offered by performances of Górecki’s firebrand orchestral work Scontri (1960), to commemorate his death last November (Scontri opens the festival this evening), of Nono’s A-Ronne and Penderecki’s radio programme The Brigade of Death on Sunday (18.09), 17 parts of Stockhausen’s Klang next Thursday (22.09) and Nono’s Il canto sospeso in the closing concert a week tomorrow (24.09.11).  There is a strong thread of music theatre and documentary works on current topics (child soldiers in Africa, the sale of Eastern European women for prostitution in the West), with pieces by Phil Niblock, Heiner Goebbels, Justé Janulyté, Perttu Haapanen, Lotta Wennäkoski, Hannes Seidl and Daniel Kötter, and Carola Bauckholt leading the way.  There’s even ‘a street oratorio with orchestra and Warsaw residents’ choir, a sort of composed rally, a polyphony of citizens that feel ignored by social discourse’.  No-one can accuse the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ of resting on its laurels.

A brand-new and enchanting development is ‘Little WA’ (Little Warsaw Autumn), a programme of new music aiming to appeal to children 5-12 years old.  By the look of it, this is no hand-me-down nor dumb-me-down outreach.  As always with the ‘Warsaw Autumn’, the musical experience will be direct and stimulating, uncompromising in all the good senses of the word.

The 1961 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ 

This is all by way of introduction to a special anniversary that also falls today.  On 16 September, exactly fifty years ago today, a premiere took place in the opening concert of the 5th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ that was to mark a signal turning-point in the work not only of its composer but also, I would argue, in Polish music.  I’m not thinking of another work premiered six days later at the 1961 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ – Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960-61) – more monumental though its impact has been.  My focus is on Lutosławski’s Jeux vénitiens (also 1960-61).

This premiere of Jeux vénitiens was not as simple as that.  It was, in fact, its second premiere, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.  In brief, this short (13’) chamber orchestra piece had been commissioned by the dynamic and somewhat maverick Polish conductor Andrzej Markowski for performance at the Venice Biennale on 24 April 1961.  That performance went ahead, but evidently the piece was not to Lutosławski’s satisfaction, and between May and August 1961 he revised significant parts of it (notably the first and last movements) and added an extra (third) movement.  The ‘Warsaw’ version was, to all intents and purposes, a new piece.  (If you are interested in reading about the differences between the ‘Venice’ and ‘Warsaw’ versions, I can refer you to a book chapter that I wrote ten years ago for OUP’s Lutosławski Studies, even though the book’s cost price today – in the region of £136-£144 – is beyond exorbitant).

The significance of the finished Jeux vénitiens for Lutosławski was enormous.  He was trialling new techniques and modes of expression as part of the seething musical cauldron that was Polish music in 1958-62.  Composers 20 years his junior were pushing boundaries even further in their new pieces, Górecki’s Scontri and Penderecki’s Threnody first among them.  I’m in no doubt that Lutosławski thought it necessary to join this experimental stream, and Jeux vénitiens and, to a more moderate extent, its successor Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63) fulfilled this need.

Lutosławski’s terminologies of chance (1960-68)

Lutosławski’s experiments lay less in his harmonic language, which he had been developing over several years prior to Jeux vénitiens, than in his loosening of moment-to-moment rhythmic ties and the concomitant rethinking of motivic material (I cover this in detail in the chapter mentioned above).  To describe this rhythmic loosening, Lutosławski searched for terms that would encapsulate his take on chance procedures that would make clear the difference with the compositional methods and aesthetics of other composers, especially John Cage.  (It had been a chance hearing of Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra that ‘was a stimulus, a spark to ignite the powder keg in me’.)  Key to this search were two terms: objet sonore and the adjective ‘aleatory’.

In his recently published Zapiski (Notebook of Ideas), Lutosławski noted:

23 September 1960: ‘Instead of ‘melody’ and ‘harmony’ there is a new element (perhaps not completely new in its essence, but new in use) – objet sonore – sound object’.

It is almost certain that Lutosławski’s adoption of this term, invented by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer, was caused either by meeting Schaeffer when he came to the 3rd ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and presented a programme of musique concrète on 17 September 1959 and/or by hearing Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets during the 4th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ two days before making this notebook entry.

Lutosławski’s use of ‘aleatory’ is more extensive and varied.  In 1965 he articulated his opposition to a more widespread, Cagean use of chance (‘absolute aleatorism’) or the use of chance in determining musical structure (‘aleatorism of form’).  But in 1960 he was just at the start of his process of formulation.

Initially, he preferred writing about rhythm and objets than about chance:

19 October 1960: ‘Thus two rhythmic flows in a piece: 1. local rhythm ‘small’ (mały) – inside the object; 2. general rhythm ‘large’ (duży) – i.e. the rhythm of a succession of objects’.

It was not until 14 months had passed, and three months after the premiere of Jeux vénitiens, that Lutosławski first used the word ‘alea’:

20 December 1961: ‘Lecture on mus[ical] character, [… there then follows a series of subject headings] … alea …’.

Lutosławski first mentioned aleatorism by name only as he was drafting a series of lectures to be delivered during a forthcoming residency at the Berkshire Music Centre in Tanglewood, Mass. in the summer of 1962.  Under the heading ‘Attention: alea’, he wrote:

15 March 1962: ‘Terms: ‘small aleatorism’ (mały aleatoryzm) – concerning detail, ad libitum in performance itself, approximate treatment of rhythm, the methods of A etc. [‘A’ probably refers to the revised, ‘Warsaw’ version of the first movement of Jeux vénitiens]; ‘large aleatorism’ (duży aleatoryzm) – chance as the base for constructing forms, the alternation of sections, even of whole movements (Boulez’s III Sonata, Klavierstück XI, etc.)’.

Lutosławski seems to have first used his preferred term ‘limited aleatorism’ in 1963 when giving an interview about Trois poèmes:

What is this technique?  It is hardly, however, ‘classic’ aleatorism (‘klasyczny’ aleatoryzm) [this seems to be Lutosławski’s precursive definition for ‘absolute’], because the separate parameters of the piece are not completely abandoned to chance but rather are more or less defined.  This technique might be called ‘approximate’ (aproksymatywna).  The term ‘limited aleatorism’ (aleatoryzm ograniczony) might define it more accurately.

Four years later, writing about the imminent premiere of the complete Second Symphony (9 June 1967), Lutosławski broadened the vocabulary: ‘the technique called in general usage ‘controlled’ (kontrolowany)or ‘limited’ (ograniczony) aleatorism’.  This has led some translators and commentators to use ‘controlled’ to represent both Polish adjectives, which is unfortunate as there are subtle differences in meaning.  I suspect that kontrolowany came from ‘general usage’ rather than from Lutosławski himself.

One final observation on ‘aleatory’.  In Stockholm in 1965, he coined the term ‘aleatory counterpoint’, which neatly encapsulates the motivic marriage between rhythmic patterns and harmonic movement in his music.  Yet, once again, Lutosławski confused the terminological issue in 1969, when discussing Livre pour orchestre (1968).  He suggested that an alternative term to ‘aleatory counterpoint’ might be ‘controlled aleatorism’.

Lutosławski’s developing commentary on this signal new aspect of his technique that emerged in the two versions of Jeux vénitiens is witness to his creative vision in the 1960s.  It is also a confirmation of the validity and success of his experimental trials in Jeux vénitiens.  Its publication in 1962 by both the Polish PWM and the German company Moeck ensured that its raw energy and experimentalism achieved a wide audience of composers, performers and analysts.

The 1981 ‘Warsaw Autumn’

One of those analysts was me.  I had written about Lutosławski’s technical and expressive armoury during my Masters degree and had been particularly fascinated by Jeux vénitiens.  I had noticed two things that seemed unusual.  The first, and more significant, was the extraction of superimposed motifs from the ‘A’ section of the first movement (the revised version, though I did not know that at the time) to provide juxtaposed material for the flute cantilena in the third movement (new to the revised version).  Less important, but instrumental in the story that follows, was my realisation, in analysing the motifs and harmony of the first movement’s ‘A’ section, that there were misprints in the published score.  In other words, some pitches did not belong to the constant 12-note harmony of the background chord.

In September 1981, I went to the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ for the fourth time.  I was also going there to witness the extraordinary happenings in Poland, led by the Solidarity and Rural Solidarity trades unions.  It was a time of unbelievably activism, passion, belief in the future combined with fear of government and of the big bear to the East (remembering Prague 1968, only 13 years before).  And the fear was justified: martial law was declared three months later, on 13 December.  It was also a time when the authorities put pressure on every citizen by thwarting basic supplies: I remember walking into one huge new supermarket in which every shelf was bare and only blackened fish were on sale.  They were horrific conditions, although the ordinary Pole still managed somehow to find ways to buy bread, fruit and veg (it was harvest time) and, if lucky, some meat brought in from the countryside.

The 25th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ went on, however.  New Polish pieces included Lutosławski’s Grave (1981), Wojciech Kilar’s outrageously cinematic Exodus (1981), complete with audience ‘baa-baa’ at the end, and tributes to Kazimierz Serocki and Tadeusz Baird who had died that year.  Younger composers came to the fore: I recall the vivid impression of Ryszard Szeremeta’s Advocatus diaboli (1980-81) and feeling that Paweł Buczyński’s Music of Falling Leaves (1980) captured in its title and music the underlying sadness of that Polish autumn.  Xenakis made a triumphant visit with his Ais (1980) being a highpoint of the festival, while Penderecki’s most recent blockbuster, his Te Deum (1980), played to an over-packed St John’s Cathedral.  A lighter diversion was provided by a 15-year-old piece by my old teacher in Kraków, Bogusław Schäffer.  His gift for musical theatre was demonstrated by the hilarious Quartet for Four Actors (1966).

Meeting Lutosławski (October 1981)

During an interval in one of the concerts I approached Lutosławski with a request to talk to him about Jeux vénitiens.  I said that I was writing an article (‘Jeux vénitiens: Lutosławski at the Crossroads’, Contact, 24 (Spring, 1982), 4-7, since largely subsumed into my chapter of 2001).  I had found some misprints.  His interest was piqued.  We arranged that I would visit him one evening after the festival.  It turned out to be the night before I was due to return to the UK and on to Belfast for the start of the new academic year.

I’d been advised that Lutosławski liked his single-malt Scotch whisky, so armed with a bottle I turned up at the modernist cubed house that he and his wife owned in north Warsaw.  He ushered me into his downstairs living room, which had a large L-shaped sofa with a coffee table nestling in its crook.  I gave him the whisky – which seemed to please him enormously – and he opened up a large nearby chest on the parquet floor and placed it inside among what looked to me like dozens of other bottles.  We sat down on the two sides of the sofa, he to my left.  “So, what’s this about misprints?”, he asked.

I took out my score and pointed to section ‘A’ of the first movement: fl.I, motif 3, A natural [should be B natural?]; fl.II, motif 1, A flat [should be B natural or F sharp?]; fl.II, motif 4, A flat again; cl.I, motif 8, A natural [should be B natural or F sharp?].  Four errors in the score.  He was puzzled.  “Wait a minute.  I must go and get the sketches”.  I held my breath.  This was more than I could have hoped for.

When he returned, I saw that each of the four movements had its own envelope.  He got out the sketches for the first movement.  He leafed through them.  “This isn’t of interest, this isn’t of interest, this isn’t of interest.”  Even at right angles I could tell that these were gold dust: rhythmic sketches, harmonic possibilities, strange drawings which looked like circuit diagrams.  Of course they were of interest – to me!

From somewhere, I don’t know where, I plucked up the courage to ask a question.  “I’m unfortunately flying out of Warsaw before dawn tomorrow morning.  Could I study these sketches overnight before I go?   My friends could return them to you tomorrow.”  I’ll never forget Lutosławski’s reply: “Of course you can.  Why don’t you take them with you to England, copy what you wish and post them back to me when you’ve finished looking at them.”  I was dumbstruck, but not for long.  “I can’t do that,” I said, “They’re too precious.  If I may take them to where I’m staying, I’ll study them overnight and then they can be returned safely into your hands.”  Lutosławski agreed.  “Do you want to look at all of them?”  I knew that I didn’t have enough time to do that, so I reluctantly asked if I could take the envelopes for just the first and third movements (how I wish now that I’d also taken the fourth!).  As a parting gift for one of my MA students who was studying his music, Lutosławski gave me a clutch of miniature scores of his music.  Six years later, that student would be able to thank Lutosławski in person when he played in a concert of his music to celebrate the conferment of an honorary DMus on Lutosławski by Queen’s University.

I think that I have never carried such a treasured package on trams across Warsaw than I did that autumn night in 1981.  I reached my friends’ flat about 23.00 hrs and immediately set about studying and copying onto my own MS paper the relevant sketches so that I could study them at leisure when back in the UK.  This was before digital cameras, so no shortcuts there.  And, because the Polish state regarded photocopiers as agents of dissension, there were no services available on that front either.  So there was nothing to be done except spend the next seven hours furiously writing by hand (I had to do the same again, over ten years later, with some Górecki materials).  I left Warsaw the following morning, exhausted, with a cramped right hand, but marvelling at Lutosławski’s generosity and my good fortune.

There is something about sketches of early and ‘transitional’ works that reveals more about their creator’s thought processes than perhaps other pieces do.  It’s not a watertight observation, as I know from studying the sketches of his Cello Concerto (1969-70).  But, in the case of Jeux vénitiens, I was privileged to be the first to see his mathematical tables (whose rationales have still not been revealed), his ‘circuit diagrams’ of the pitch designs of sections B, D, E and F in the first movement, designs which are intricate, purposeful, but barely audible without the prior knowledge that these preparations revealed.  Above all, these sketches demonstrated, if demonstration were needed, that Lutosławski worked methodically, precisely, though without dating his many separate sheets.  Chronology therefore had to be a matter of intelligent conjecture.

This was a special moment in my life with Polish music.  There would be many others, including a second visit to Lutosławski’s house 21 years later, of which perhaps more at a future date.  But this moment, in those heady yet bleak days of autumn 1981, twenty years after the full premiere of Jeux vénitiens and thirty years ago from now, has remained the most memorable.

%d bloggers like this: