Lutosławski and Literature, Appendix 1

Lutosławski and Literature

Appendix 1
Lutosławski’s programme note

This was written for the Royal Philharmonic Society and the world premiere of his Cello Concerto (1969-70), given by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edward Downes, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 14 October 1970.


The composer sent the Society the following notes:

The letter to Mr. Rostropovich, in which I have shortly described the form of my Concerto, has been written rather in literary than in musical terms.  I have done it purposely in order to make certain musical situations in the score clearer and more suggestive.  But it does not imply any literary or extra-musical meaning of my work.  There is no such meaning in it, even if I speak of a ‘gay’ cello or ‘angry’ trumpets.  It is simply a little picturesque way of pointing out contrasting sections so that the interpreters could more easily find the right approach to them.

And here are some excerpts from the mentioned letter:

… it consists of four movements played attacca: Introduction, four Episodes, Cantilena and Finale.  Introduction: I understand the note D repeated at one-second intervals in an expressionless manner (indifferente) as a moment of complete relaxation, or even ‘absentmindedness’.  The performer abandons this state immediately when something else begins to happen in his part and will return to it several times in the course of the Introduction.  The passing on from the state of ‘absentmindedness’ to that of ‘concentration’ and the other way round is always abrupt.  Several threads begin in the Introduction, but they never develop.  You can see their character in the restraint dynamics and in such indications as ‘grazioso’‘un poco buffo ma con eleganza’ etc.  Naturally ‘marziale’ is to be understood figuratively.  It is indeed a very unreal march.  The last moment of ‘absentmindedness’ is slightly different from the previous ones.  Dynamic differences, grace-notes etc. occur.  It is as if the cello, forced to perform monotonous, boring repetitions, tried to diversify them and did it in a naive, silly way.  In this moment trumpets intervene to stop the cello and to shout out their ‘angry’ phrase.  After a five-second rest the cello begins the first Episode ‘inviting’ a few instruments to a dialogue, which subsequently develops into a more animated music.  Brasses put an end to it, as it was at the conclusion of the Introduction.  Other Episodes unfold in a similar manner.  Their character is always ‘grazioso’‘scherzando’ or the like.  Only the interventions of the brasses are ‘serious’.  Up to this moment the cello has still been ‘unconcerned’, ‘gay’ if not ‘childish’.  But just then comes the moment when it becomes ‘serious’ too and such it will remain nearly until the end of the piece.  The Cantilena begins and develops into a broad melodic line.  To put an end to it a few brasses are not enough.  This time the ‘angry’ intervention appears in the form of a large orchestral tutti and thus begins the Finale.  Comes a sort of challenge between the cello and the orchestra, after which the cello playing three very rapid sections is ‘attacked’ by different small groups of instruments.  Finally the orchestra ‘prevails’, attaining its climax after which the cello utters a ‘moaning’ phrase.  Here there could have been the end of the work.  But instead of a gloomy disappearing conclusion one might have expected, comes a short and fast Coda, whose ‘triumphant’ ending is as it were beyond the event which has just been accomplished.  On the other hand it recalls the beginning of the work or rather its bright atmosphere, which in the Coda regains finally its predominance. …

… The score is divided into conducted sections and ones to be played ad libitum.  The latter are not to be conducted except one beat to start playing or to pass on to the next section. …

… The quarter-tone passages in the solo part are so conceived and written that the separate notes could be heard and would not merge into glissandi. …

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