• ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Chronicle 2014

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 15.46.52The days are long gone when the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Sound Chronicle contained only Polish repertoire.  The seven CDs of recordings from last year’s 57th festival have just been delivered by my postie and I can’t wait to delve into them, not least because of their mix of Polish and non-Polish pieces.  The boxed set is not available commercially but is made available to libraries, broadcasters and researchers on request to the Polish Music Information Centre.

Among the 2014 highlights are a blistering account of Serocki’s Pianophonie, intriguing sounds from Blecharz (although the work’s visual impact is missing), and a group of young composers from Kraków.  There are a few Polish absences from the festival programme, such as Hanna Kulenty’s Van… for piano four hands (2014)** and Andrzej Kwieciński’s Concerto. Re maggiore for harpsichord and orchestra (new version, 2013)**.  Here is the list of contents (Polish repertoire in bold).

CD1
Kazimierz Serocki: Pianophonie for piano, orchestra and electronic sound transformation (1978)  28’38”  with new computerised sound synthesis
• Jonathan Harvey: Body Mandala  14’33”
Marcin Stańczyk: Sighs for chamber orchestra (2008/2010-12)*  15’05”
• Simon Steen-Andersen: Ouvertures  17’06”

CD2
Jakub Sarwas:  Crépuscule du soir mystique for soprano and ensemble (2000-14)**  12’49”
Wojtek Blecharz: [one][year][later] for countertenor, flute, erhu, pipa, guzheng, yang qin and percussion (2014)**  23’30”
• Zygmunt Krauze: Rivière souterraine 2 for orchestra and electronics (2013)  19’09”
• Tansy Davies: Spiral House  22’49”

CD3
• Artur Zagajewski: brut for cello and ensemble (2014)  14’23”
• Philippe Leroux: Le cri de la pierre  8’44”
• Benjamin de la Fuente: Frôle  14’51”
• Ernesto Molinari & Theo Nabicht: 29,4 : 174,61  7’54”
• Leopold Hurt: Gatter  15’51”
• Raphaël Cendo: Action Painting  14’09”

CD4
• Wenchen Qin: Listen to the Valleys  11’31”
• Wenjing Guo: Late Spring  5’37”
• Guohui Ye: 964•Heterophony  9’49”
• Tato Taborda: Estratos  18’44”
• Canela Palacios: La permanencia  10’46”
• Cergio Prudencio: Cantos ofertorios  21’03”

CD5
• Mr Pebblestone in the World of Sounds**  22’05”  part of ‘Little Warsaw Autumn’: 12 minatures on earth, water, fire and air by twelve composers from the Kraków Academy of Music: Natalia Wojnakowska, Szymon Stanisław Strzelec, Renāte Stivriņa, Błażej Wincenty Kozłowski, Nadim Husni, Piotr Peszat, Piotr Roemer, Monika Szpyrka, Franciszek Araszkiewicz, Paulina Łuciuk, Martyna Kosecka and Kamil Kruk
• Cezary Duchnowski: Parallels for piano, MIDI keyboard, percussion and cello (2014)**  9’11”
• Wojciech Zimowit Zych: Roundflow/Throughflow/Outflow for eight spatially amplified cellos (2014)**  9’16”
• Szymon Stanisław Strzelec: The Hâsbeiya Fountain for spatially arranged ensemble (2012-13)  11’19”
Piotr Roemer: Re-Sublimations for strings and percussion (2012)  11’04”
Piotr Peszat: Interiør in Strandgarde for orchestra (2014)*  9’06”
Kamil Kruk: Parhelion for orchestra (2014)  3’52”

CD6
• Yuval Avital: REKA  72’23”

CD7
• Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska: Allegro ma non troppo for vocal ensemble (2014)  3’51”
• Artur Żuchowski: Onion for a cappella choir (2014)  2’24”
• Kalina Świątnicka: Il rumore del silenzio for tape (2014)  7’20”
• Michał Dobrzyński: Elegy no.2. A Dialogue? for violin and live electronics (2007)  4’34”
• Tymoteusz Witczak: Signal/Noise for unspecified ensemble (graphic score, 2014)  4’05”
• Nikolet Burzyńska: Solarisss for tape (2014)  4’30”
• Marcin Piotr Łopacki: Folio no.2 for any solo string instrument (graphic score, 2006)  3’56”
• Andrzej Karałow: Shipyard Chant for bass clarinet and tape (2014)  3’53”
• Jarosław Drozd: X=Y for unspecified ensemble (graphic score, 2014)  6’30”

• WL100/62: Notebook, 19 October 1960

Lutosławski on objet sonore

Lutosławski’s affinity with French music and literature is well-known.  But the connection with the pioneer of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, has largely slipped by unnoticed.  In truth, it is not Schaeffer’s tape music as such that caught Lutosławski’s attention but his discourse on the objet sonore.  Lutosławski referenced Schaeffer’s term in talks that he prepared for the Zagreb Biennale (1961) and the Tanglewood Summer School (1962), but his musing on the implications of objet sonore began earlier, in 1960, in his Notebook of Ideas (Zapiski).

There is no evidence that Lutosławski had read Schaeffer’s book À la recherche d’une musique concrète (1952). Almost certainly, he came across the term objet sonore from both fellow Polish composers and Schaeffer himself. Schaeffer came to the third ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival to introduce a programme of musique concrète (17 September 1959) that included a number of pieces, including his own Étude aux objets (1959).  It is more than likely that Lutosławski attended this concert (ground-breaking in the Polish context) and met Schaeffer during his visit.

Pierre Schaeffer

Just over a year later, on 21 September 1960, the fourth ‘Warsaw Autumn’ presented a lecture by Józef Patkowski, the head of the Experimental Studio at Polish Radio.  During his talk, Patkowski referred to Schaeffer and played Étude aux objets again.  Was it pure coincidence that just two days later Lutosławski made the first of two entries in his Notebook that elaborated on the idea of the objet sonore as it related to his own thinking?  Four weeks later, on 19 October, he returned to this theme.

Although Lutosławski subsequently stressed the prominence of chance procedures in his musical development in the early 1960s, he did not make any entries in his Notebook on alea and aleatorism for another year (the first appears on 20 December 1961).  In other words, it was Schaeffer’s visit in 1959 and the idea of the objet sonore that first drew his attention.  It was six months later that Lutosławski heard Patkowski introduce a recording of John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra in his ‘Musical Horizons’ programme on Polish Radio (16 March 1960) – the event which Lutosławski subsequently credited as being the critical juncture in his compositional thinking.  Yet we must no overlook Schaeffer in these developments.  In combination, both Schaeffer and Cage gave Lutosławski conceptual support just at the moment when Jeux vénitiens (1960-61) was being conceived.

It seems that rhythm (in the broadest sense, as a division of time in which the action of a musical work takes place) is the hardest element of musical material to destroy.  The idea of the ‘eternity’ of this element is tempting.  Instead of ‘melody, ‘harmony’, there appears a new element (perhaps not entirely new in its essence, but new in application) – objet sonore – the sound object.

Wydaje się, że rytmika (w najszerszym pojęciu – jako podział czasu, w którym rozgrywa się akcja utworu muzycznego) jest najtrudniejszym do zniszczenia elementem tworzywa muzycznego.  Kusi myśl o “wieczności” tego elementu.  Na miejsce “melodyki”, “harmoniki”, zjawia się nowy element (być może niezupełnie nowy w swej istocie, ale nowe w zastosowaniu) – objet sonore – przedmiot dźwiękowy.

Witold Lutosławski, 23 September 1960 [my translation]

In connection with technique based on ‘objects’:
Object = a collection of sounds, between which there is a closer connection than between each of these s[ou]nds and sounds belonging to another object.  This closer connection ensures, above all, connectivity in time.  But it can also be similarity of timbre, rhythm, attack, harm[onic] profile, choice of intervals etc..
Hence 2 rhythmic currents in a piece:
1) local rhythm, ‘small’ – interior of an object
2) general rhythm, ‘large’ – i.e., the rhythm of a sequence of objects.

W związku z techniką opartą na “przedmiotach”:
Przedmiot = zbior dźwięków, między którymi istnieje ściślejszy związek niż między każdym z tych dźw., a dźwiękami należącymi do innego przedmiotu.  Ten ściślejszy związek zapewnia przede wszystkim łączność w czasie.  Ale również może to być podobieństwo barwy, rytmiki, ataku, profilu harm., doboru interwali itd.
Stąd 2 nurty rytmiczne w utworze:
1) rytm lokalny, “mały” – wewnątrz przedmiotu
2) rytm ogólny, “duży” – czyli rytm następstwa przedmiotów.

Witold Lutosławski, 19 October 1960 [my translation]

• 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.

283ae1dcee_1190407134photo

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!

• Remembering Andrzej Chłopecki

It came as a shock to hear on Sunday that Andrzej Chłopecki, the Polish writer on contemporary music, had died that day, aged 62.  He was a singular man with multiple attributes.  He was keenly perceptive, wise, staunch, quirky, witty, impish, and never afraid to speak out whenever he came across the shallow or the hollow.  He got into very hot water with the Establishment when he dared to criticise Penderecki’s Piano Concerto after its Polish premiere at the end of the 2002 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  I admired him hugely for being a real critic.  Above all, he was the most warm-hearted of colleagues and friends.

Others in Poland knew him much better than I did (he published almost exclusively in Polish, although his penetrating CD notes were translated into other languages for non-Polish labels).  And they can verify his enormous contribution to Polish musical life over the past 40 years and more.  He was for many years a key member of the Repertoire Committee of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and at the time of his death was the Artistic Director of the biennial ‘Musica Polonica Nova’ festival in Wrocław.

He was a brilliant broadcaster, acute in his thinking and challenging in his debates.  My abiding personal memory is of when we jointly presented the live opening concert of BBC Radio 3’s Polska! festival on 19 November 1993, from the Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio in Warsaw.  He, however, was in a balcony on the opposite side of the hall, with a clear view of the artists’ entrance (which I could not see) below my balcony seat.  We were supposed to have a shared script and timing.  But Andrzej decided that he had more to say, with the result that I, with no experience of live concert presentation, ended up scrabbling to describe the interior of the hall (in English, across the EBU network) while he continued to improvise on the merits of the programme to Polish listeners, barely one eye on the players waiting below me.  I had no idea how long this was going to last.  Later on, there was a party at someone’s flat (it may even have been his) and, as the photo indicates, there were no hard feelings, though perhaps my expression indicates something along the lines of “You cheeky …!” and his of “Never mind, that’s what you get with me!”.  The cheeky fingers above Andrzej’s head belong to the composer Paweł Szymański.

Andrzej came from the generation whose composers succeeded Górecki, Kilar and Penderecki and brought new blood into Polish music in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Among them was not only Szymański, but also Rafał Augustyn, Eugeniusz Knapik, Stanisław Krupowicz, Andrzej Krzanowski and Aleksander Lasoń.  They came of age during the anti-communist protests of the 1970s and the rise and fall of Solidarity at the turn of the decade.  They were activists through music, and Andrzej paid for this by losing his job at Polish Radio between 1981 and 1991.  Their position has been vindicated by history.

I trawled through my photograph albums today and found a second photo, taken two years later in 1995, at a party held to mark the 25th anniversary (…) of my first visit to Warsaw and the ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Quite why I’m holding a shotgun – and pointing it at him – is a mystery, but the ever-convivial Andrzej is obligingly filling my glass.  Behind me is Krupowicz, to his right Szymański, and behind/between them my longest-standing Polish friend, Michał Kubicki.  We had a good evening, and no-one got shot.

Andrzej would have wanted those who knew him to have a good wake in his memory.  Like all his friends and colleagues, I’m devastated that he has gone.  A crumb of comfort – which may turn out to be not that small – is that a week before he died he completed a book about Lutosławski which will be published in time to mark his centenary next year.  Thank you Andrzej for everything.

• 5 Archival Polish Music Videos

Five videos of Polish music have newly been made available online.  They date from 1968-75 and are all of performances at the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw during the annual ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  There are two pieces by Lutosławski and one each by Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.  Not only can we now witness Peter Pears, Wanda Wiłkomirska and Karl-Erik Welin in action but we can also experience Lutosławski conducting his own music as well as appreciate that inspirational and tireless champion of new music, Andrzej Markowski (1924-86).  Many Polish composers owed him a huge debt of gratitude, including Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.

In chronological order of recording, these five videos are:

• Krzysztof Penderecki: Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1967).  Wanda Wiłkomirska, National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1968 (opening concert).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLYY6Knc77w
• Kazimierz Serocki: Fantasia elegiaca for organ and orchestra (1972).  Karl-Erik Welin, Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks, Frankfurt, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 28 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
Very little of Serocki’s music post-1956 is available in audio formats, let alone video, so this upload is welcome.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4NuCcpakbU
• Witold Lutosławski: Preludes and Fugue for thirteen solo strings(1972).  Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 30 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
A minor frustration here: this was the first half of the concert which closed the 1973 festival.  In the second half, Lutosławski conducted Heinrich Schiff in the much-postponed Polish premiere of the Cello Concerto.  How I would love to see a video of that!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo1pdDEeLaM
• Tadeusz Baird: Elegeia (1973).  National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1974 (opening concert).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPKxpv8gBZs
• Witold Lutosławski: Paroles tissées (1965).  Peter Pears, Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 25 September 1975.
Peter Pears had been the dedicatee and first performer of this song cycle at the Aldeburgh Festival ten years earlier, on 20 June 1965This was not its Polish premiere, but it was the only time that Pears sang it there.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czUDDNjwo_Q

• Polish Music ‘Muzyka Nowa’, WQXR ★★★☆☆

If you tune into New York’s WQXR Q2 this week, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a week-long celebration of Chinese music, ‘The Year of the Dragon’.  Bringing new music to its audiences is WQXR Q2’s mission.  It’s been ‘on air’ since October 2009 and is a listener-supported online streaming service devoted to music by living composers. The nature of its audience’s musical preferences may be gleaned from its 2011 ‘New-Music Countdown’, where listeners voted for their favourite music written since 1900.  22 of the top 50 pieces were by living composers, most of them American: Adams (5 works), Adès, Andriessen, Carter, Corigliano, Dennehy, Duckworth, Glass, Golijov (2), Gordon, Lang, Lindberg, Pärt (2), Reich (2) and Riley.

The only Polish composer in the top 50, unsurprisingly, was Górecki, whose Third Symphony came in fifth.

On 20 December last year, Q2 announced a new week-long venture: Muzyka Nowa. A Celebration of Contemporary Polish Music’ (16-22 January 2012).  Well, I was all ears at this news and last week I spent more waking hours listening via iTunes than I had first intended.  This was partly because the streaming audio experience was new to me and I was curious to see how it worked in practice.  I was particularly fascinated to find out how Q2 would tackle such a big theme editorially, given the dearth of Polish names in their end-of-year poll.  The results, as you’ll see, were mixed.

It is perhaps worth comparing a few statistics with the New York Juilliard School’s 27th Focus! festival – Polish Modern: New Directions in Polish Music since 1945′ – which took place exactly a year ago (22-28 January 2011). Juilliard’s Polish Modern festival presented 39 works by 36 composers (one piece per composer, with the exception of Lutosławski, who had the final concert to himself).  It had six concerts, with some 8 hours of music.  Q2’s Muzyka Nowa, by my count, had 107 (post-1945) works by 38 (Polish-born and Polish-trained) composers.  These were spread over six and a half days, including two 24-hour all-Polish marathons (actually, they were just over 21 hours). Where Polish Modern was concentrated, Muzyka Nowa tended towards the diffuse.

Streaming

At least half of each weekday’s playlist at Q2 is unhosted.  That means no announcers and no ‘on air’ indication of what is being played (you have to look ‘on screen’).  There are two main hosted programmes, each repeated twelve hours later: an hour-long slot for music involving keyboard – ‘Hammered!’ – with a short introduction to the day’s repertoire at the top; and a four-hour programme with more conventional introductions and back announcements to each piece.  This means that the online playlists are crucial for anyone wanting to find out what is ‘on air’.  These were fairly easy to access (they give composer and performer details, plus the source).  There were several times in this Polish week, however, when the playlists gave only the title, not the composer. So we had Subito (Lutosławski), Stabat Mater (Szymanowski), En blanc et noir (Augustyn, not Debussy) and String Quartet no.6 (Bacewicz? Meyer? no – Lasoń).  The major drawback is that there is generally no advance notice of programme details.  This makes structured listening impossible.  For some listeners, that may be perfect, the ideal ‘innocent ear’ environment.  But for anyone who likes to plan some or all of their listening, it can be immensely frustrating.  It doesn’t do, either, to expect a programme to begin or end at the allotted hour.

The appearance of Szymanowski was anachronistic, given the basic idea behind Muzyka Nowa.  In fact, his contribution was quite slight, with Métopes (1915), the Mazurkas op.50 (1925) and Stabat Mater (1926) being the only major pieces.  But at least they were written within the past 100 years.  Karłowicz’s 1902 Violin Concerto (3 complete airings plus two of the three movements on another occasion) was a puzzling inclusion, while the appearance of Chopin’s Polonaise in F sharp minor (1841) on this ‘Living Music. Living Composers’ station was altogether bizarre.  And even the presenter was surprised by the inclusion, during Wednesday’s all-Polish marathon, of the Tenth Piano Sonata by a Russian composer: “Scriabin, of all people”, he muttered.

A further sign of editorial fluidity was the way in which programme titles changed as the week progressed.  ‘Jakub Ciupiński Hosts’ became ‘The Holy [‘Holy’?] Trinity of Contemporary Polish Music’ and ‘Poland’s Next Wave’, while the four-hour hosted programme ‘Polish Composers: 20th Century Masters to the Next Generation’ became the exaggerated ‘Titans of Polish Music: Past, Present and Future’.  Outside the two marathon days, this particular slot, like the unhosted segments, generally devoted 50%-60% of its play time to Polish repertoire.

Presentation

To be brutally honest, little was added to listener enjoyment or knowledge by the hosted programmes, with the exception of the two slots specially hosted by Jakub Ciupiński.  Ciupiński is a young Polish composer now living in New York and he brought an insight to his chosen repertoire that was a model of enthusiasm and concision.  He should do more broadcasting.  The shame was that Q2 seemed not to have used his ability as a native speaker to do something about other presenters’ pronunciation of Polish names.

Almost twenty years since Górecki became a household name, it was extraordinary to hear ‘Goorekki’ rather than ‘Gooretski’.  Nowa inexplicably became ‘Nuova’, Piotr became ‘Peetor’.  The consonant ‘z’ frequently became invisible/inaudible.  Bruzdowicz was first said correctly (hooray!), then immediately ‘corrected’ to ‘Brudowicz’.  For Andrzej we heard ‘Andrezh’.  And yet, seconds later, the ‘J’ of Jacek miraculously was not a ‘Zh’ but the correct ‘Y’. Such manglings were all too common.  Unhosted segments suddenly seemed more attractive.

The quality of the commentaries also left something to be desired.  The real low-point was the introduction to Penderecki’s Polish Requiem during the first marathon on Wednesday.  Having described it as “big, beautiful, crazy, awesome” – a less appropriate, more vacuous series of adjectives is hard to imagine – the presenter concluded with “he sort of wrote it piecemeal … he sort of expanded it … at the basic level it’s just a setting of the requiem … Antoni Wit is the conductor of the whole shebang”.

Repertoire

The range of post-1945 music included in Muzyka Nowa was fairly impressive (a full repertoire list is given at the end of this post).  It highlighted, as Q2 put it, the ‘Titans’ or the ‘Holy Trinity’ – Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki – and included composers born in every decade from the 1900s to the 1980s, with the youngest composer, as far as I can tell, being the 24-year-old Jacek Sotomski.  There was a good variety of solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal and vocal-instrumental music, though no examples of opera, music theatre or jazz.  It also skirted a little around the experimental trends of the past 50 years (no Schaeffer, just one piece by Krauze).

There did not appear to be much in the way of editorial planning in terms of sub-groupings or sub-themes, and this left the sense of an opportunity missed.  After all, there is surely no automatic equation: ‘unhosted=unthemed’. Would it not have been possible to retitle and structure some of the random unhosted segments, just for this Polish week? Closest to such an idea was the programming of the six CD-available string quartets by Lasoń, but nowhere was this flagged up as a feature.  There were no complete symphonies by any of the ‘Holy Trinity’, no works written for the seminal chamber ensemble ‘Music Workshop’, no focus on any selected genre, generation or sub-period, such as sacred music, ‘Generation ’51’ or music post-1989.  But anyone who has programmed a festival will know that there is always too much choice, so hats off to Q2 at the very least  for bringing its listeners a decent if apparently random selection from the Polish table.

A word on sources.  Q2 is primarily a CD operation although it’s not afraid to use private recordings, some of them live, when it suits the programming and is of acceptable quality.  That’s all to the good.  I imagine that it is run on something of a shoestring, so is dependent on what is to hand, such as a copious supply of Naxos CDs.  It had also evidently been given a number of CDs made by the superb Silesian Quartet from Katowice.  On this occasion, importantly, it had access to live performances:

• Since the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival began in 1956, it has sought to promote the (mainly Polish) music that it has programmed by means of recordings, its ‘Sound Chronicles’.  These were issued initially on LPs, later on tape cassettes, and now on CDs.  Unfortunately, the Sound Chronicles have never been available commercially.  University libraries and major radio stations are the most likely places to hold these extensive and valuable recordings.  Q2 made most use of a selection of highlights from the first 50 years of the festival, compiled in 2007 by the Polish music critic Andrzej Chłopecki.  It’s a 10-CD box set, with single pieces by 70 composers, eight of which were included in Muzyka Nowa.  Recordings were also taken from the Sound Chronicles for the 2008 and 2009 festivals.
• Q2 trumpeted its broadcasting of excerpts from two other festivals.  The first of these was the 2011 UNSOUND festival in Kraków.  In the event, only one Polish piece was aired – (Michał) Jacaszek’s launch of music from his new album Glimmer – although it was very much worth it, as reviews for the album have already proved.  The second festival was last year’s Juilliard Focus! on Polish modern music, mentioned at the top of this post.  Sad to report, but only four of the 39 pieces from Polish Modern made it onto the Muzyka Nowa playlist.
• Top of the live performance contributions was Q2’s own recording of a concert last November, given to mark the first anniversary of Górecki’s death.  More on this towards the end of this post.

The outline of 107 works by 38 composers spread over almost 160 hours needs some elaboration.  At the heart of the WQXR Q2 operation is the principle of repeat programming.  This not only applies to the hosted segments, as outlined above, but to the rest of the schedule too.  So it’s not surprising to find that 2/3rds of the 107 pieces were repeated.  That’s fair enough.  But when the repetitions themselves were repeated, alarm bells started to sound and interest began to wane.  When the number of repeat airings increased further, the only conclusion that could be drawn was that insufficient editorial control had been exercised (did we really need five performances of Górecki’s Four Preludes or Lutosławski’s Piano Sonata, both early and unrepresentative works?).  34 pieces had three or more airings, with 13 of them heard four or more times:

• Joanna BruzdowiczWorld (4)
• Jakub CiupińskiMorning Tale (7: Lin, 3; Chow, 4)
• Henryk Górecki: Piano Concerto (2) = Harpsichord Concerto (4), Four Preludes (5)
• Wojciech Kilar: Chorale Prelude (5: Juilliard/Sachs, 4; NOSPR/Wit, 1)
• Eugeniusz KnapikCorale, interludio e aria (4)
• Andrzej Krzanowski: String Quartet no.3 (4)
• Witold Lutosławski: Piano Sonata (5)
• Andrzej Panufnik: Violin Concerto (4)
• Elżbieta Sikora: Canzona (4: Moscow CME/Thorel, 1; New Juilliard E/Sachs, 3)
• Stanisław SkrowaczewskiMusic at Night (4)
• Paweł Szymański: Two Studies (7: Grzybowski, 4; Esztényi, 3), Une suite de pièces de clavecin par Mr Szymański (7)

All in all, there were 131 repeat airings (not including partial repeats), compared with the basic repertoire of 107 compositions.  That made 238 broadcast items overall, at least by my reckoning (that’s equivalent to 34 a day, or one and a half pieces an hour).  There was no discernible rationale for which pieces were or were not repeated.  I for one welcome the additional exposure for Knapik, Krzanowski and Sikora (she fared particularly well).  If Q2 wanted to raise the profile of Bruzdowicz, however, they could have done better than to broadcast her song cycle World in a recording which harboured the most grotesque singing that I have ever heard.

Undoubtedly the most unbalanced programming was accorded to Szymański, whom I have admired for over 30 years and remain an ardent champion.  But even he would acknowledge that to air two of his keyboard compositions seven times apiece – and one of them with just one recording – was out of proportion.  It’s not even as if they are his most distinctive or distinguished works.

Just think what could have been done had the extent of the repetitions been cut back.  If those two keyboard works by Szymański, for example, had had just two airings each, instead of seven, that would have freed up 3 hrs 45′.  We might then have heard a wider range of Szymański works, like his Partita III, Partita IV, Lux Aeterna or Miserere.  All of these pieces, totalling just under an hour of music, are on the same CD from which Q2 drew the three airings of Szymański’s Two Studies which were played by its dedicatee, Szábolcs Esztényi.  How easy it would have been to include these four other works, and to what benefit of the repertoire.  Furthermore, their inclusion would still have left 2 hrs 45′ for other new repertoire.  The principle of this idea is self-evident.  This was a programming opportunity missed, and Muzyka Nowa was the poorer for it.

Absent Friends

It was even poorer for some serious omissions from its roster of composers.  Whether or not the relatively modest number of 38 composers was a deliberate decision is impossible to say, but seven other names among many were notable for their absence.  Firstly, though perhaps not most importantly, was Henryk Górecki’s son Mikołaj, who is also a composer and teaches in Texas.  Q2 had spoken to him and posted An Interview with Mikołaj Górecki online. They even got him to provide a playlist, commenting also that he “is plenty accomplished in his own right”.  But not a note of his music was heard.  Also absent was one of Poland’s most imaginative and internationally recognised composers, Marta Ptaszyńska, who has lived and taught in the United States for many years.  Where was she? Where also were Tadeusz Wielecki and Stanisław Krupowicz, contemporaries of Knapik, Lasoń and Szymański and equally important figures in Polish music since the late 1970s?  And where was Hanna Kulenty, surely one of the most talented and exploratory composers born in the 1960s?

The most astonishing hole in the repertoire was left by the total exclusion of Tadeusz Baird and Kazimierz Serocki. Baird and Serocki were the driving force behind the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival, on whose Sound Chronicles Q2 relied for the majority of its ‘live’ output.  Even if such historical significance is put to one side, is there anyone with any knowledge of Polish music who would deny that Baird and Serocki were composers of international significance, composers of striking individuality whose music stands up as well today as it did when they were alive?  All Q2 had to do, with minimum effort, was to take Chłopecki’s choice from the 1956-2005 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ boxed set – as it did for pieces by Augustyn, Bargielski, Grudzień, Knapik, Krauze, Meyer, Stachowski and Szymański – and broadcast Baird’s Play and Serocki’s Impromptu fantasque.  While Serocki is not well served by the CD catalogue, several CDs of Baird’s music are available and would have immensely enriched the mix of the week’s repertoire.

Górecki live

‘In memoriam Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’ was the flagship event for Muzyka Nowa.  It was a recording of a concert given at the New York bar/café (Le) Poisson Rouge, which has a full artistic programme of events embracing a wide musical spectrum.  On 8 November 2011, Q2 recorded two pieces: the Second String Quartet ‘Quasi una fantasia’, performed by the JACK Quartet, and Little Requiem, performed by Signal Ensemble.  The concert was preceded by an interview with Bob Hurwitz, the founder of Nonesuch Records and the man responsible for that recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony.  The transmission was scheduled for 19.00 local time (midnight UK time) last Thursday, 19 January.

Things could not have gone more disastrously wrong.  For unexplained reasons, the broadcast began 50 minutes early, the last 3′ of Quasi una fantasia were overlapped by the first 3′ of Little Requiem, and the pre-concert talk was broadcast at the end.  Fortunately, the rebroadcast during the second marathon, on Saturday, was all in order (although the ambient noise of the venue and the uneven miking did not help on either occasion).  Was this episode a consequence of misfortune or incompetence?  It certainly made me realise what a blessing it is in the UK to have responsible broadcasters.

Postscript

Despite my criticisms, I don’t want to leave the impression that this was by any means a failure, just that with a little more thought and programming tweaks it could have been excellent.  It was a bold venture and one which reaped many rewards, not least the unexpected juxtapositions of composers and pieces.  Q2’s principal aim – to bring a vibrant musical repertoire to the attention of a potentially new audience – was in good measure realised.

For this listener, there were some real highlights, among them:

• being reacquainted with music by Polish composers now in their 40s and early 50s, such as Jacek Grudzień’s Ad Naan (2002) with its dynamic use of electronic manipulation, and Agata Zubel’s Cascando (2007), in which she was the engaging vocal soloist.
• being introduced to the music of younger composers, still in their 20s or early 30s, such as Jacaszek’s electro-acoustic Glimmer (2011, already mentioned), Mateusz Ryczek’s NGC 4414 for two pianos and percussion (2008) and Krzysztof Wołek’s Elements for ensemble and live electronics (2009).
• and, best of all, hearing the extraordinary jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stańko improvising over Tomasz Sikorski’s tape piece Solitude of Sounds (1975) at the 2009 ‘Warsaw Autumn’.

…….

Q2 ‘Muzyka Nowa’ Repertoire, 16-22 January 2012

alphabetical by composer, with works in the order in which they first appeared
the (x) after a work indicates the number of times that the same recording was used

• Rafał AugustynEn blanc et noir
• Grażyna Bacewicz: Piano Sonata no.2 (2), Violin Concerto no.1, Partita for violin and piano (3), Piano Quintet no.2 (3), Overture, Concerto for String Orchestra (2), Capriccio, Violin Concerto no.3 (2), Piano Quintet no.1 (3), Sonata no.2 for Solo Violin
• Zbigniew BagińskiDanza generale
• Zbigniew BargielskiSlapstick (3)
• Wojciech BlecharzTorpor
• Wojciech BłażejczykSeica
• Marcin Bortnowski…looking into the heart of the light, the silence
• Joanna Bruzdowicz16 Pictures at an Exhibition of Salvador Dali (2), World (4)
• Jakub CiupińskiMorning Tale (7: Lin, 3; Chow, 4), Continuum/II (3), Street Prayer
• Henryk Górecki: Piano Concerto (2) = Harpsichord Concerto (4), Miserere, Four Preludes (5), Symphony no.2/II, String Quartet no.2 (2), Little Requiem (2), Piano Sonata (2), Szeroka woda, Symphony no.3, Symphony no.2, O Domina NostraGood Night
• Jacek GrudzieńAd Naan (3)
• (Michał) JacaszekGlimmer 
• Wojciech KilarOrawa (2), Kościelec 1909, Chorale Prelude (5: Juilliard/Sachs, 4; NOSPR/Wit, 1)
• Eugeniusz KnapikCorale, interludio e aria (4), String Quartet
• Krzysztof KnittelA Memoir of the Warsaw UprisingLipps (3), Harpsichord Concerto
• Jerzy KornowiczFrayed Figures
• Zygmunt KrauzeAus aller Welt stammende (2)
• Andrzej Krzanowski: String Quartet no.3 (4), Relief V
• Aleksander Lasoń: String Quartet no.6 (2), String Quartet no.2 (2), String Quartet no.3, String Quartet no.5 (3), String Quartet no.1 (2), String Quartet no.7
• Witold Lutosławski: Piano Concerto (2), String Quartet (2), Livre (2) Chantefleurs et Chantefables (3: Anderson, 2; Pasiecznik, 1), Piano Sonata (5), Symphony no.2 (2), Concerto for Orchestra (3), Subito, Variations on a Theme of Paganini (2), Sacher Variation (2), Overture for Strings (3), Symphony no.4, Symphony no.3
• Krzysztof MeyerFireballs (3)
• Paweł Mykietyn3 for 13 (2), Sonata for Cello (2)
• Aleksander NowakFiddler’s Green and White Savannahs Never More (2), Songs of Caress (3), Sonata ‘June-December’ (2)
• Andrzej Panufnik: Violin Concerto (4), Sinfonia Sacra (2), String Sextet (3), Sinfonia di sfere (3), String Quartet no.2 (2)
• Krzysztof PendereckiAnaklasis (2), Seven Gates of Jerusalem/I (2), Te Deum (2), Hymne an den heiligen Daniel (2), Polish Requiem (2),  Polish Requiem/Lacrimosa, Polish Requiem/Chaconne (2), St Luke Passion, Horn Concerto, Violin Concerto no.1, De natura sonoris no.2
• Grażyna Pstrokońska-NawratilEl Condor … ‘thinking of Vivaldi’ (Spring) (2)
• Mateusz RyczekNGC 4414 (3)
• Elżbieta Sikora: Suite (2), Le Chant de Salomon (3),  Concertino for ‘Blue’ Harp and Orchestra ‘South Shore’ (3), Three Lieder ‘Eine Rose als Stutze’, Canzona (4: Moscow CME/Thorel, 1; New Juilliard E/Sachs, 3)
• Tomasz SikorskiStrings in the Earth (2), Solitude of Sounds (2)
• Stanisław SkrowaczewskiMusic at Night (4)
• Jacek SotomskiEnneaszyna
• Marek Stachowski: Divertimento
• Witold Szalonek: Chaconne (2), Inside? – Outside?
• Paweł Szymański: Two Studies (7: Grzybowski, 4; Esztényi, 3), Une suite de pièces de clavecin par Mr Szymański (7), Singletrack (3), Gloria (3)
• Ewa TrębaczErrai
• Krzysztof WołekElements (2)
• Agata ZubelCascando (2)
• Wojciech Ziemowit Zych: Symphony no.1 (3), Bass Clarinet Concerto

• 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.

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