• WL100/64: Notebook, 24 October 1959

Lutosławski on independence and Webern

To accomplish anything reasonable, one has to be completely independent of life outside.  This is Webern’s case.   Here also lies the fundamental difference between Webern and the Webernists, who are stuck in endless confrontation, which is why none of them even attempts to focus on something more durable, consistent, long-term.  Engaging in constant dialogue with opinion is a kind of slavery.

Aby dojść do czegoś sensownego, trzeba być całkiem uniezależnionym od życia zewnętrznego.  To jest przypadek Weberna.  Tu jest też zasadnicza różnica między Webernem a webernistami, którzy są zdani na ciągle konfrontacje i dlatego żaden z nich nie próbuje nawet skupić się nad czymś bardziej trwałym, konsekwentnym, długodystansowym.  Zaangażowanie się w ustawiczny dialog z opinią jest rodzajem niewoli.

Witold Lutosławski, 24 October 1959 [my translation]

Four years later, Lutosławski wrote a short text on Webern at the request of the renowned Slovakian arts and science periodical Slovenské Pohľady, which wished to mark the 80th anniversary of Webern’s birth.  Titled ‘Webern a hudba dneška’, it was published in Polish a few years later.

Lutosławski on ‘Webern and the Music of Today’

‘The concise man makes one think, the verbose man bores’ – with these simple words Edouard Manet once expressed a truth which – contrary to what it might seem – has served only a few composers as a signpost.*  To these few, unlike his imitators, belongs first and foremost Anton Webern.  Among the many revelations made by this man, one has really made me think.  This is the discovery of a sound-world of microscopic proportions in which the shortest, instantaneous musical event can become the source of a strong experience.

Like the work of every great explorer, Webern’s output has gone through its good and bad periods.  The current one I would call ‘bad’ for Webern, because the wave of imitations – often inept, vulgar, distorting his ideas – has not yet subsided, and we are still driving ‘postwebernism’ away like a tiresome fly.  I believe, however, that – like Debussy from ‘Debussyism’ recently – the music of Webern will free itself from the besmirching and obnoxious effect of its imitators.  It will then shine in its true and pure brilliance.

“Człowiek zwięzły skłania do zastanowienia; gadatliwy nudzi…” – tymi prostymi słowami wyraził kiedyś Edouard Manet prawdę, która – wbrew temu, co mogłoby się wydawać – tylko niewielu twórcom służyła za drogowskaz.  Do tych niewielu, w odróżnieniu od swych naśladowców, należał przede wszystkim Anton Webern.  Wśród licznych odkryć, jakich dokonał ten człowiek, jedno zastanawia mnie szczególnie.  Jest to odkrycie świata dźwiękowego mikroskopijnych rozmiarów, w którym najkrótsze, migawkowe muzyczne zdarzenie może stać się źródłem silnego przeżycia.

Jak twórczość każdego wielkiego odkrywcy, tak i twórczość Weberna przeżywa swoje dobre i złe okresy.  Obecny okres nazwałbym dla Weberna ‘złym’, ponieważ fala naśladownictw – często nieudolnych, wulgarnych, wykoślawiających jego idee – jeszcze nie opadła, i wciąż jeszcze od ‘postwebernizmu’ oganiamy się jak od uprzykrzonej muchy.  Wierzę jednak, że – jak niedawno Debussy od ‘debussyzmu’ – wyzwoli się również i dzieło Weberna od zamazujących i obrzydzających je naśladownictw.  Zalśni on wtedy swym prawdziwym i czystym blaskiem.

Witold Lutosławski, ‘Webern a hudba dneška’,
Slovenské Pohľady 79 no.12 (1963), pp.92-93 [my translation]
reproduced, in Polish, in Stefan Jarociński,
Materiały do monografii (Kraków: PWM, 1967), p.42

* I don’t know where Lutosławski found this quote, but it originated in an article by Georges Jeanniot in La Grande Revue in 1907.  The full quotation, which could equally be Lutosławski’s credo, reads:

La concision en art est une nécessité et une élégance; l’homme concis fait réfléchir, l’homme verbeux ennuie; modifiez-vous toujours dans le sens de la concision.

• 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]

• WL100/30: Notebook, 7 April 1960

Lutosławski on Cage


The bottom of this pot, from which we all draw, is already visible.  The zealous ones (Cage) have already scraped it.  As for me – I’m not particularly hurrying towards that moment, to which our history of music is unavoidably heading, i.e. the absence of all music.

W tym garnku, z którego wszyscy czerpiemy, już widać dno.  Co gorliwsi (Cage) już się do niego doskrobali. Co do mnie – nie śpieszę się tak do tej chwili, do której zmierza nieuchronnie nasza historia muzyki, tj. do braku wszelkiej muzyki.

Witold Lutosławski, 7 April 1960 [my translation]

This reaction to Cage, and what he stood for, was indicative of Lutosławski’s essentially traditional frame of mind, even when he was trying to break free of the past in early 1960.  What is strange about this comment is that only three weeks earlier Cage had had a liberating effect on Lutosławski’s music.  It has been known for a long time that Lutosławski heard a performance of Cage’s Piano Concert (1958) on the radio in 1960.  This chance hearing was a bolt from the blue for Lutosławski’s subsequent development, but commentators have never pinpointed the date.

Unknown-1
The broadcast details are contained in Danuta Gwizdalanka’s commentary on the Lutosławski Guide to Warsaw app (Routes>Warsovian>Saskia [sic] Kępa, Zwycięzców 39>’From (controlled) accident to accident’):

This event took place on 16 March 1960 at 10.10 p.m., when Polish Radio 3 broadcast a programme featuring the music of John Cage as part of the series Music Horizons.

 
Here is but one of a number of Lutosławski’s more positive public responses to Cage’s liberating significance:

[…] I heard on the radio a short fragment of John Cage’s second Piano Concerto [i.e., Concert for Piano and Orchestra].  The use of the element of chance opened for me a way to use a lot of musical ideas, that were kept ‘in stock’ in my imagination without any way to use them.  It was not a direct influence of Cage’s music, but the impulse, which enabled me to use my own possibilities.  So I wrote to him that he was a spark thrown on a barrel of gunpowder inside me. 

(‘Sound Language’, unpublished and undated typescript in English, included in
Zbigniew Skowron, Lutosławski on Music, Lanham MD, 2007, p.99)

 

 

 

 

 

• WL100/29: Notebook, 6 April 1961

Lutosławski and Poor Alternatives


I often see in my finished works only wretched caricatures of what were once their first concepts.

Często widzę w moich zrealizowanych utworach tylko nędzne karykatury tego, czym były w swoim czasie ich pierwsze wyobrażenia.

Witold Lutosławski, 6 April 1961  [my translation]

This single-sentence entry in his notebook reflects Lutosławski’s dissatisfaction at the very moment when he was racing to complete Jeux vénitiens.  He had finished the first movement the previous day (5.04) and would complete the final movement the following day (7.04).  The premiere took place in Venice less than three weeks later (24.04), but he immediately withdrew this version for a major overhaul.  The revised piece was premiered in full on 16 September that year at the Warsaw Autumn festival.  For previous notebook entries and commentaries on Jeux vénitiens, see WL100/18 (12.02.61), WL100/24 (11.03.61) and WL100/27 (19.03.61).

A comment on vocabulary.  I wonder if previous versions understate the intensity of Lutosławski’s comment.  In Lutosławski on Music (Lanham MD, 2007), Zbigniew Skowron translates ‘nędzne’ as ‘poor’:

I often see in my finished works only poor caricatures of what their first conception was like.

So too does Joanna Holzman in Lutosławski. Homagium, an exhibition catalogue published by Galeria Kordegarda (Warsaw, 1996).  Her version, despite the unnecessary insertion of ‘very’, is nicely succinct:

I very often view my finished works as poor caricatures of the original concept.

I pondered for quite a while on ‘nędzne’, because a range of Polish-English dictionaries gives a range of much stronger translations as well, of which the following is a selection: abject, abysmal, beggarly, lousy, meagre, mean, measly, miserable, paltry, poor, sad, shabby, sordid, sorry, squalid, vile, worthless, wretched.  It seems to me that ‘poor’ is the mildest of these.  It is quite likely that Lutosławski was feeling particularly frustrated and under pressure, sandwiched between the two days when he completed the outer movements of  Jeux vénitiens, just in time for the parts to be copied and sent off for rehearsal (which must have been an interesting event, as it was the first time any performers had encountered Lutosławski’s aleatory procedures and notation).

Of the alternatives to ‘poor’ I sense that ‘lousy’ (although overly colloquial), ‘measly’, ‘miserable’, ‘sad’, ‘sorry’ and ‘wretched’ are equally if not more suitable for his mood at this particularly stressful moment.  Are there any other views out there?

• WL100/27: Notebook, 19 March 1961

Lutosławski and Rain

In order to justify classical rhythmic formulae, the argument has been used that this rhythm (i.e. ‘harmonic’, based on pulse) comes from nature: walking, the heartbeat.  Well, it is not correct to say that other rhythms have no counterpart in nature.  In fact, natural phenomena proceed for the most part in an irregular rhythm.  Example: the rhythm of the drops as rain begins to fall (pizz., in b.67 presto (II) from Jeux v.).

Dla uzasadnienia klasycznych formuł rytmicznych posługiwano się argumentem, że rytm ten (tzn. ‘harmoniczny’, oparty na pulsacji) pochodzi z natury: chodzenie, bicie serca.  Otóż nie jest słuszne twierdzenie, że inne rytmy nie mają odpowiedników w naturze.  Na pewno zjawiska natury przebiegają w swej większości w rytmie niepulsacyjnym.  Przykład: rytm kropel, gdy deszcz zaczyna padać (pizz., w t. 67 presto (II) z Jeux v.).

Witold Lutosławski, 19 March 1961  [my translation]

This is a rare example of Lutosławski linking extramusical observations to his music, aside from his several references to the theatre.  The passage in question (in the second movement of Jeux vénitiens, which he was writing at this very time and would complete nine days later) is interesting from a number of points of view.

For one thing, the string pizzicati are almost completely covered by a denser, more active texture in the woodwind, brass, pitched percussion and harp, so hardly of foreground interest.  For another, this is not the first but the third such passage in the movement: the first is led off by the bassoon at b.9 and the second (more briefly) by vibraphone at b.46, both against a background of scurrying muted strings played arco.  In each of these first two cases, the ‘irregular’ rhythms lead to fuller textures in the wind and pitched percussion, and it is the second of these that eventually runs in parallel with the string pizzicati cited by Lutosławski above.

This third and most developed passage extends from b.67 to b.82 and is given to the strings for the first time and marked pizzicato to make the point (the orchestration of these three sections is a good example of how Lutosławski thought of his music’s instrumentation in structural terms).  Bars 67-82 take the form of an increasingly dense rhythmic texture that is interrupted by the playing of cardboard tubes on the strings of the piano at b.83 (see WL100/24: Notebook, 11 March 1961 for details of this passage).  Given the dating of both this diary entry and of his work on the second movement, it looks highly possible that Lutosławski did have the irregular rhythm of a natural phenomenon like raindrops in mind when he composed not only bb.67-82 but also the two earlier passages to which this pizzicato section is the successor.  Incidentally, the movement is not headed Presto in the published score – it simply has the tempo indication of crotchet/quarter-note = 150.

Here’s a recording of the (unrevised) second movement from the premiere of the otherwise revised and completed version of Jeux vénitiens, given at the Warsaw Autumn on 16 September 1961, with the National Philharmonic conducted by Witold Rowicki.  The bassoon entry at b.9 is at 0’05”, while the vibraphone at b.46 is inaudible, as too is most of the string pizzicato starting at b.67 (0’46”).

WL JV:II bb.64-72

WL JV:II bb.73-81

• WL100/26: Notebook, 13 March 1961 (2)

Lutosławski on Electronic Music

It might be said that, in the works which I am now writing, the influences of electronic music are evident. Maybe.  One thing is clear to me, that electr. and concr. music realises, to a certain degree, timbral and rhythmic elements which from early on have imposed themselves on my imagination.

Mozna by mówić, że w utworach, które teraz piszę, widać wpływy muzyki elektronowej.  Być może.  Jedno jest dla mnie pewne, że muzyka elektr. i konkr. realizuje w pewnym stopniu elementy dźwiękowe i rytmiczne, które od dawna narzucają się mej wyobraźni.

Witold Lutosławski, 13 March 1961  [my translation]

Lutosławski, who was in the middle of composing Jeux vénitiens at the time, was not alone among his generation in the early 1960s in sensing parallels between his music and the new sound-worlds of electronic music and music concrète.  In 1960, the year of her Sixth String Quartet and a year before the orchestral Pensieri notturni, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69) made a similar observation: “I am struck by electronic music: it invents new sound colours and new rhythms”.

• WL100/25: Notebook, 13 March 1961 (1)

Lutosławski on Feeling in Music

For the thousandth time: music does not express any specific feelings, it only constitutes the formal framework into which, during its performance, each person pours their own emotions, whatever they are. Hence a v. simple explanation for the tears of the Gestapo listening to Mozart.

Po raz tysiączny: muzyka nie wyraża żadnych określonych uczuć, stanowi tylko ramy formalne, w które przy jej odtwarzaniu każdy wlewa swoje własne emocje, takie, na jakie go stać.  Stąd b. proste wytłumaczenie łez gestapowców słuchających Mozarta.

Witold Lutosławski, 13 March 1961  [my translation]

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