• WL100/37: Trois poèmes, **9 May 1963

50 years ago today – 9 May 1963 – Lutosławski conducted in the first performance of Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63).  It was his first foreign commission and premiere (albeit behind the Iron Curtain) and it was the first time he had appeared on the concert platform to conduct his own music (the work requires two conductors, one for the choir, the other for the orchestra).  He was not a young man – he had turned 50 in January that year – so this breakthrough was late in coming.  It proved to be significant, as major commissions from Western Europe and performances abroad soon materialised.

Over the next few years, Trois poèmes was performed in Warsaw (1963), Venice and Paris (1964), Prague and Heidelberg (1965), Buffalo, Boston, Copenhagen and Munich (1966), Rome, Katowice and Copenhagen (1968) and Uppsala, Amsterdam, Nottingham and Wrocław (1969).  It was first recorded at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 22 September 1963 by the Great SO of Polish Radio (WOSPR) and the Kraków Radio Choir, conducted by Jan Krenz (orchestra) and Lutosławski (choir).  It won the UNESCO Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs (1964) and was published in 1965 by PWM (strangely, it’s never been separately published outside Poland).  Below is a photo of the cover of my well-worn copy, dating back to when I organised and was one of the two conductors of the UK premiere (Nottingham, 25 June 1969).

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The world premiere took place at the Zagreb Biennale, with the Zagreb Radio Choir conducted by Slavko Zlatić and the Zagreb Radio Orchestra by Lutosławski.  Here’s a photo from his time in Zagreb (like the raincoat!):


And here he is, speaking briefly about the piece (appropriately enough, in French), with a closing shot of the choir under Slavko Zlatić, who had commissioned it for his choir (ignore the bizarre overlay of music from the coda of the Third Symphony, written twenty years later!):

At the bottom of this post are three videos, one for each of the three movements of Trois poèmes.  You will see that the visuals for these postings contain photos from Lutosławski’s sketches for the piece.  These come from an enthralling essay by Martina Homma, the most knowledgeable of all experts on the Lutosławski sketches.  It was originally published to accompany an exhibition of the sketches for Trois poèmes, mounted in Warsaw on 27 September 1996, to mark the inauguration of the newly-named Witold Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio.  Here’s a link to the online version, published in Polish Music Journal vol.3 no.2 (Winter 2000).

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