Witold Lutoslawski (1913 - 1994)
Orchestral Works Vol. 3
Variations on a Theme of Paganini
Les Espaces du sommeil
Witold Lutosfawski started regular study of the piano atthe age of six and the violin when he was thirteen. He did not become a concertviolinist, but he was a concert pianist. Witold Maliszewski, professor at theWarsaw Conservatory, who deeply influenced the young Lutostawski's musicalthought, gave him lessons in composition, after his future pupil had presentedhim with the Poem for piano, written at the age of fifteen. When he wasseventeen he wrote, under his teacher's supervision, his Dance of theChimera for piano, the first work of his to receive public performance. Aswith a series of other pieces, written since
1922, when Lutostawski was only nine, the twocompositions mentioned were destroyed in 1944 during the Warsaw rising. Theflames spared, however, the
Piano Sonata of 1934 and the two-piano Wariacjena temat Paganiniego (Variations on a Theme of Paganini) of 1941. Thepost-war years brought other works for piano, Melodie ludowe (FolkMelodies) in 1946 and Bukoliki (Bucolics) in 1952 and some pedagogicalpieces. The piano, the role of which in Lutostawski's chamber and orchestralworks was often important, only appeared as a solo instrument in the PianoConcerto of 1988, except for the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, a compositionfor piano and orchestra, after the two-piano Variations, one of the mostpopular works in the piano duo repertoire and one of the most frequently performedof Lutostawski's compositions.
In Warsaw under Nazi occupation, Lutostawski earned hisliving by playing the piano in cafes, from 1940 to 1944 with Andrzej Panufnik(1914-1991), one of the most famous Polish composers. The Lutostawski-Panufnikduo had a repertoire of nearly two hundred pieces, with arrangements ofclassical music from Bach to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, as well as, among otherworks, an elaboration by the composer of Debussy's L'Apres-midi d'un faune
and a transcription of Paganini's solo violin Caprice No.24 in A minor.
It was only the score of the Variations, out of the whole Lutostawski-Panufnikcollection, that was not destroyed during the uprising. Lutostawski returned tothis work in 1978, slightly enlarging it in an arrangement for piano andorchestra. The new version was first performed on 18th November 1979 in Miamiby Felicja Blumenthal and the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, under Brian Priestman.
The theme, marked Allegro capriccioso, and the twelvevariations that constitute the work are written with exceptional bravuravirtuosity. In a masterly way, one might say, he juggles with three elements,violin music, piano music and orchestral writing, allotting these inalternation or in counterpoint to the solo instrument and to particularsections of the orchestra. The principle of alternation of melodic and harmonicmaterial in the score for two instruments is enriched, in the orchestralversion, by instrumental colouring. The piano part has its origin in the bestmodels of virtuosity stemming from Liszt and Rachmaninov, enriched, always, bythe influence of Bartok and, to some extent, of Prokofiev. The orchestral partowes its brilliance to the fact that its neo-classical vitality is embellishedby elements of colour and articulation that come not only from the orchestra ofRavel but also from twentieth century scores that draw on folk traditions andthe sonorities of the modern orchestra. The harmonic system of the work restsnaturally on the original A minor theme, in relationship with chords that havevery little in common with major-minor tonality, becoming a sort of atonalvariation purely in sound. The mood of Vigore in the Tempo allegro
that dominates the score only changes in the sixth variation, marked pocolento, a lyrical cantilena, where one can observe a reference to thelyrical work of Karel Szymanowski, who wrote in 1918 variations on the sametheme of Paganini. This contrasting variation at the centre of the work and aminiature cadenza for the piano at the end of the last, twelfth variation, givethe impression, elsewhere hardly apparent, of a miniature piano concerto.
Apart from a setting of the Lacrimosa of theRequiem Mass, written as a student, there are only five works for voices andinstruments among the compositions of Lutoslawski, four of which were based ontexts by French surrealist poets of the twentieth century. Paroles tissees
(Woven Words) for tenor and Les Espaces du sommeil (The Spaces of Sleep)for baritone are included in the present recording. The three others are Chantefleurset Chantefables for soprano, Three Poems for chorus and orchestraand Five Songs for female voice, settings of poems by the Polish poet KazimieraIllakowicz.
In his comments on the suggestion that his music goes farbeyond the "texture of words" of Jean-Francois Chabrun, which servedhim as a basis, Lutoslawski referred to the famous remark of Debussy, thatmusic begins where the words finish. He added that he did not believe in anyway that music was able to transmit unequivocally any kind of extra-musicalcontent. For Lutoslawski the text was a source of inspiration and in no way thesubject of the musical work, which, paradoxically, is not inconsistent withanother statement of the composer, that the text had never been for him purelyan element of sound and that he had never reduced the content to a futileexcuse for composing. It should be added that with Lutoslawski, at the start ofthe development of a vocal-instrumental work, it was not a question of a textthat might stimulate him to set it to music but rather a general sketch of the composition,written without any relationship with any text. Lutoslawski sought for wordsfor a musical idea already sketched, which was realised and shaped by contactwith the words and the contents chosen. He was principally concerned withFrench poetry and had a particular feeling for this language: I likeparticularly French sung, above all because of its nasal sounds that givepleasure to my ear, a pleasure that is purely in sound. It is because of thesethat French songs sound different from poems sung in any other language,because of the large number of vowels, but above all nasal vowels. Similarlythe tonic accent on the last syllable determines a certain way of rhythmicwriting. It is not by chance nor through his preference for the surrealistswho, on the one hand, often give importance to the richness of sonorities inthe language and, on the other hand, avoid, as a matter of principle, anyconcrete and unequivocal meaning, but rather the poetic of the surrealists thatcorresponded best with Lutoslawski's ideas on composition and his artisticopinions.
Lutoslawski sought a poem for his idea of a work fortenor and orchestra. In the review Poesie 1947 he found the poem Quatretapisseries pour la chatelaine de Vergy (Four Tapestries for the Lady of Vergy).
I wanted a shorter title, Lutoslawski said, and... the writer suggested tome, answering my