Little Suite

  1. Fife
  2. Hurra Polka
  3. Song
  4. Dance
orchestration: chamber orchestra
year composed: 1950
about premiere
location: Warszawa
date: 1950
orchestra: Orkiestra Polskiego Radia
conductor: Jerzy Kołaczkowski
edition: PWM
orchestration: orchestra
  2(1 picc)222, 4331, timp, batt, archi
year composed: 1951
about premiere
location: Warszawa
date: 20 IV 1951
orchestra: Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia
conductor: Grzegorz Fitelberg
edition: PWM, Chester Music

In 1950 Witold Lutosłąwski accepted a commission by the musical director of the Polish Radio in Warsaw, Roman Jasiński, for a piece destined for the Orchestra of the Polish Radio, which specialized in popular and folkloristic repertoire. This is how the story of the Little Suite for chamber orchestra begins, a piece which was recorded later in the same year for the purposes of a radio broadcast by the Orchestra of the Polish Radio under Jerzy Kołaczkowski. In the following year the chamber version was orchestrated for symphonic performance, a guise under which it has subsequently functioned in concert practice. The piece received its premiere on April 20, 1951, in Warsaw, given by The Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio under Grzegorz Fitelberg.

The suite movements are: "Fife" (Allegretto), "Hurra Polka" (Vivace), "Song" (Andante), "Dance" (Allegro molto), and they use folk melodies from Machów in the Rzeszów voivodeship.

While the Symphony no. 1, which was completed in 1947, was very coldly received by the politico-cultural authorities and was judged to be a ‘formalistic' work according to the doctrine of social realism (following one of its first performances, the vice-minister of culture at the time was to say that the composer of such music should be thrown under a tramway - a remark which, in practice, made it impossible for an entire decade to further present the Symphony), the Little Suite became one of the most popular pieces of Polish music in the first half of the 1950s. Witold Lutosławski often recalled that his musical output from those years was of ‘substitute' character: on the one hand because continuing serious attempts at renewing the musical language and creating works with which he could be fully satisfied would condemn them to rejection due to the ever present cultural doctrine, and also because - and this aspect of the matter was markedly emphasized by composer - he was not yet ready to construct a new musical language for himself.

Hence, pieces such as the Little Suite and Silesian Triptych (both written in the same year) should not be interpreted as a sign of the composer's compromise regarding the aesthetic doctrine of social realism or some kind of aesthetic-technical ‘delay', but as the writing of functional music (without applying any pejorative valuation of the term), considerably based on folkloristic inspirations and indifferent to doctrine, which nevertheless accepted these works. While treating the issue in this manner, it is worth seeing in such pieces a variant of Gebrauchsmusik (cultivated intensively in the thirties and practiced in particular by Paul Hindemith), a variant that functioned in a wider context as one of the manifestations of Neoclassicism; it is also worth indicating the very abundant creative output of the group Les Six, whose program consisted of writing light, easy-to-listen-to, pleasant music devoid of any ambitions in the domain of invention. Music's primary goal, according to Satie and Cocteau, was to be mostly comfortable and functional, like a well-constructed piece of furniture.

The beginning of the 50s inscribes itself in the catalogue of Lutosławski's with a fair number of didactic pieces, written in particular for the piano, but also for children's voices. Thus, it is worth listening to the Little Suite in isolation from the Polish circumstances surrounding its creation, as to a stylization of folkloristic music of great imagination and technical virtuosity suited to the use of the piece, a stylization characteristic of the national currents in the European music of the first half of the twentieth century. In Lutosławski's creative output this piece also fills the role of a prelude or technical study to the compositional intentions of which the first ideas appeared in the very same year of 1950, and which came to be realized in 1954. We are referring here to the Concerto for Orchestra, a work that constitutes the summit of Polish music's Neoclassicism, based in great part on folkloristic inspirations.

An allusion to the title's ‘Fife' (Allegretto) in the first link of the cycle is made in the ‘dancing' part of the piccolo flute with the accompaniment of the snare drum. In the second movement of the suite, titled "Hurra Polka" (Vivace), the humorous use of triple meter in a stylization of a dance originally in duple meter imbues the piece with the spirit of a scherzo. The melody of the "Song" (third movement of the suite - Andante) is lead by constantly interchanging instruments, while the last movement - "Dance" (Allegro molto) - is a tri-partite piece in which the outer links present a stylization of a dance from the land of Rzeszów called ‘lasowiak', and its central link is based on a stylization of a lyrical Polish folksong in the tempo of Poco più largo.

ach / trans. mk