Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)
Overture for Strings
Concerto for orchestra
Trois po?¿mes d'Henri Michaux
The present release contains two works from the periodduring which, as Lutoslawski himself said, he wrote as he could and not as hewould, and two others of the period when he already wrote as he wanted. He endedthis first period with a work that assured him a position as the most famousPolish composer of the first half of the 1950s, one that is among those of hismost frequently performed, the Concerto for orchestra. This marks theheight of his precocious achievement, still rooted strongly in neo-classicism,which owes a great deal to Bart6k. The Concerto was awarded the First ClassState Prize in 1955, when the doctrine of socialist realism was already nearingits end. The following year brought the inauguration of the first internationalfestival of contemporary music, the Warsaw Autumn, and this marked the momentwhen the shackles of communism on the arts became less oppressive and Polish musicwas able to open itself to new ideas from Western Europe and America. Nineyears later, in 1964, Lutoslawski wrote one of the most innovative of his works,the Trois poemes d'Henri Michaux, which won him the same prize After hisMuzyka zalobna (Funeral Music) and Gry weneckie (Venetian Games),these are the next stage in his development as a composer, which bears fruit inMi-parti, also included here. It is possible to hear certain traces ofLutoslawski's mature style in the Concerto for Orchestra, as in the Overturefor Strings, also to be found here.
Lutoslawski's chamber music offers an area of particularinterest, with a specially intriguing connection between this and thebeginnings of his symphonic work that is of major importance. This stems fromthe fact that Lutoslawski wrote only a modest amount of chamber music, althoughit would be difficult to appreciate his work without the String Quartet
and the Epitaph for oboe and piano, while this chamber music element isequally present in the symphonic scores that make up the essence of his work.
The Overture for Strings was written in 1949, dedicatedto Mirko Ocadlik and first performed in Prague on 9th November by the PragueRadio Symphony Orchestra under Grzegorz Fitelberg. It belongs to the body ofworks commissioned by Paul Sacher for the Basle Chamber Orchestra, togetherwith Bartok's Divertimento and Stravinsky's Concerto in D. Sincethe 1930s the string chamber orchestra had become one of the most popularensembles of the twentieth century, not exclusively but particularly connectedto the traditions of neo-classicism. If it is overshadowed by the FirstSymphony of 1947 and the Concerto for Orchestra of 1954, in someways the Overture is the most interesting of Lutoslawski's compositionsbefore the Funeral Music. Taking into account all its largely neo-classicalfeatures that relate it on the one hand to Albert Roussel and on the other to Bartok,the Overture in many ways suggests the course that his music was to takeafter the Funeral Music and Venetian Games, that is to say, themusic proper of Lutoslawski. It might be said that here the composer uses atechnique that would later be characteristic of his writing, the technique ofjoining and meshing together various elements and in their interchange. Thisshort, five-min0te composition is a sonata-allegro with the expositionreversed, but this in no way detracts from the wealth of technical details, skilfullydeployed, as if the composer wanted to create a super-complete symphonic aphorism,yet without turning his back on neo-classical tradition; super-complete sincethere are more necessary elements of the form than are needed; an aphorismsince these are all used with extreme economy, yet without the work giving theimpression of ascetic music. The whole rests on three thematic ideas, marked byexpressive motivic structures, and towards the end of the development a newtheme appears. The feeling of the integral nature of this structure is reinforcedby the repetition of the three themes in the recapitulation in reverse order tothat of the exposition, as well as the partial presentation of them contrapuntallyin the development. While forming a unity, the themes are decidedly different.
The first consists in filling out the spectrum of the twelve semitones bymotifs of four notes that come from two eight-note scales. The melodic designof these motifs suggests Bartok, while the way of presenting them brings Webernto mind, their form characteristic of Lutoslawski in the 1970s. The secondtheme, which also uses an eight-note scale, although implying the modal, can beconsidered as a first attempt at forming the harmonic system that was to findits place in the Funeral Music. It is only the third theme that, throughits motor energy, shows its neo-classical character. This additional idea,towards the end of the recapitulation, also deserves particular attention, theidea that suggests the absent slow movement, which, in a surprising way, givessome hint of the adagio episodes in Lutoslawski's compositions of the 1980s.
When we hear today the Overture for Strings, we can conclude that it isa direct predecessor to the Funeral Music and Venetian Games, worksof major importance among Lutoslawski's compositions. Written after thecompletion of the First Symphony in 1947 and before work on the Concertofor Orchestra had started, in the same year that socialist realism wasofficially proclaimed in Poland (1949), it does not have the characteristics offunctional music, present in the following works, particularly the Little Suite
(1950) and the Silrsian Triptych (1951).
Three important scores by Lutoslawski call to mind thenames of the three eminent Polish conductors who inspired these compositions. FuneralMusic (1958) owed its inspiration to Ian Krenz (b.1926), Venetian Games(1961) to Andrzej Markowski (1924-1986) and the Concerto for Orchestra
to Witold Rowicki (1914- 1989). It was he who proposed to Lutoslawski the compositionof a work for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra that he had founded in 1950.
This was the period when the doctrine of socialist realism, imposed also in Polandthrough the Stalinist Soviet dictator in the arts, Andrey Zhdanov, limitedcertain composers in their attempts to modernise their musical language and turnedothers towards paying political tribute in their music. Introduced in 1949 in Polandat the national conference of composers and music critics called together bythe Ministry of Culture at Lagow Lubuski, this doctrine became a real threat tocomposers. This was also the case with Lutoslawski, when his First Symphony
was described as "formalist", not fulfilling the aesthetic demands ofa communist society. The composer wanted, at first, to answer Witold Rowicki's commissionwith a relatively short piece, functional in character, a piece d'occasion, inwhich he would put forward no fundamental aesthetic aims. It turned out quitedifferently: the material dictated a developed, symphonic form, based on motifsfrom popular Polish music and constructed on a plan generally showing clearneo-classical features, The first performance of the Concel1