A fter 1961 Lutosławski worked largely independently of the fashions of the European avant-garde, refining and extending a compositional technique that produced, to use Bogusław Schäffer’s phrase, ‘stylistically the most independent works of modern European music’ ... Bohdan Pociej once described Lutosławski’s mature works in terms of four tendences: (1) the constant endeavour to achieve a ‘system’, to implement it, and to find one’s own personality [and social destiny] through it; (2) the harmonic, colouristic tendency—borne of a ‘Debussyan’ fascination with pure sound, grounded in a comprehensive [Cernerian] architecture of inter-related chords; (3) the poly-chronic tendency, reflected in a constant and intense inclination to organize ‘parallel plots’ and to split the composition into many interpenetrating levels and planes—to fill the musical space with multi-directional and multi-tiered motions; and (4) the dramatic tendency expressing itself in conflict, confrontation, struggle—in the various vicissitudes of form.”T he new recording of Lutosławski’s works for violin and piano, by Ariadne Daskalakis and Miri Yampolsky, has captured my imagination these past several days—and it may well capture yours as well.
Steven Stucky, p. 107.
- Recitative e arioso (1951)
- Partita (1984) [commissioned by Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and premiered by Pinchas Zucherman and Marc Neikrug in January 1985 in Minnesota]
- Subito (1992) [his final completed composition, before his death in 1994 at age 81; written for the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis]
[50-sec clip, Daskalakis & Yampolsky, Lutosławksi, ‘Recitative e arioso’, 1.6MB MP3]
[50-sec clip, Daskalakis & Yampolsky, Lutosławksi, ‘Partita’, 1.6MB MP3]
[50-sec clip, Daskalakis & Yampolsky, Lutosławksi, ‘Subito’, 1.6MB MP3]
L utosławski destabilizes the chromaticism in the violin part characteristic. Opposing this, the piano has vertically symmetrical chords and seems to offer respite and restore stability. Lutosławski’s early love of mathematics and the aesthetics of symmetrical are evident here—when the distances between adjacent tones in the chords are measured, one gets a numerical pattern of pitches that is invertible ... the same whether measured from the top to bottom or bottom to top.
T he developments and the transitions are beautiful, and their beauty and coherence leads us to imagine that there can be success and a happy conclusion, if only we can be sufficiently mindful and ‘good enough’. But the best and most diligent efforts can be for nought, and our grip on success can slip away. Passages that initially sound complete and self-contained turn out to be erodable or transitory ... stuff happens.
T he violin part struggles existentially. Life and its accumulated burdens take their toll, and the violin ends up (in ‘Subito’) chromatically down a half-step from where it started.
T he motoric chromaticism of the violin and the contrast provided by the piano are beautifully rendered in the Subito and the Partita.
H ear these three pieces together, one after the other on this disc. You will be impressed by Lutosławski’s skill in constructing relational algebraic expressions (Verhaltniss). Which part is the operator and which is the operand? Is the violin-piano matrix singular? Is the operation that they just played ‘commutative’?
T he size and prominence of a part are context-dependent and comparative qualities—you form an impression of them only in relation to other parts, or to the overall whole. Size and prominence are indeterminate—indefinite qualities that empower the performer/listener. They can increase or diminish without limit; there is interpretive latitude—so much latitude, in fact, that it may lead to PTSD-like anxiety, agoraphobia.
O ur judgment about the relation of parts arises both from the evidence that’s provided in a particular piece (or performance) and from custom. These make us used to specific proportions, such that wide deviations from them strike us as novel or exaggerated or contradictory. If we hear something that’s common or familiar, our expectations are already pre-conditioned and we tend to hear what we are expecting to hear. But if we hear something that’s unusual, or if a familiar pattern or relationship has a part that is relatively larger or smaller proportioned than what’s customary, then it awakens ideas about uncertainty and disparity.
A nd it’s not just the scope or extent or prominence of a part where we are awakened by relational contrasts. There can be semantic misrelations as well. Paradoxically little stimulation evokes impressions of despair, depression. Unexpectedly abundant stimulation evokes impressions of mania, agitation. The Recitative e arioso is dark, dark, dark. The year 1951 must have afforded Lutoslawski lots of dark moments to propel this piece—and Daskalakis plays as though she understands this from the inside-out. The bowing technic admits alternately of great energy [“This is how I was mistreated, and here is what I did to oppose them.”] and then of great vulnerability [“At last there was nothing more we could do, and we had to wait and see what the outcome would be.”]. The consonance of performance and writing is wonderful, an embodiment of good relations between the semantics of the composer and the gestures of the performers—Daskalakis and Yampolsky alike.
T he so-called ‘poly-agogics’ that Lutosławski uses are tastefully handled. Polyagogics are simultaneous accelerandos in one part and slight ritardandos in the other part. These microrhythms amount to a kind of polymeter—a transient complexity that confers extra tension on the piece. The Subito and the Partita have poly-agogic features, often associated with veiled or pensive, waiting, uncertain passages. I will need to get a copy of the score, to see how many of the poly-agogic rhythms are notated ones and how many of them are extemporized by Daskalakis and Yampolsky. Either way, their skill and faithfulness to what Lutosławski meant are to be commended—a fantastic Naxos CD.
A riadne is the new Dean of Strings for the Hochschule für Musik Cologne. She is also leader of the Berlin-based Ensemble Oriol and of the Manon Quartet.
- Ariadne Daskalakis website
- Daskalakis & Yampolsky. Lutoslawski: Complete Music for Violin and Piano. (Naxos, 2009.)
- Witold Lutosławski page at Wikipedia
- Witold Lutosławski page at Polish Music Center (USC)
- Attali J. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Univ Minnesota, 1985.
- Cobussen M. Deconstruction in Music.
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- Stucky S. Witold Lutosławski and His Music. Cambridge Univ, 2009 (reissue in paperback of 1981 biography).