Sonata for Piano

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio non troppo
  3. Andante-Allegretto-Andantino
orchestration: piano
year composed: 1934
about premiere
location: Wilno
date: 1934
soloists: Witold Lutosławski
edition: PWM

The Piano Sonata serves as sole testimony to Lutosławski’s first completely successful compositional activities. He was fascinated by the sonic world of the impressionists, so different from the – as he called it – “abused tonality” popular at the time. And so he composed a work in which the quality of musical colour comes to the fore. We do not find here many symmetrically constructed themes with a rhythmic clarity and unequivocal tonal references. Instead, Lutosławski revels in the colours of the piano’s sounds, very gracefully shading the dynamics, dispersing the texture, and finding much pleasure in obscuring the rhythmic pulse.

Although the influence of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are to be clearly heard, the three-movement Sonata is strongly rooted in the past schemata of musical architecture.

Let us take for example the first movement – Allegro. It is an almost classically conducted sonata allegro form, whose tonal orbit is marked out by the b flat minor and D flat major chords. An accumulation of broken vertical sonorities, whose components create further layers of musical colour, anticipates the characteristic orchestral texture of Lutosławski’s later works. The middle movement – Adagio ma non troppo, harmonically weaved around the f minor chord, distinguishes itself first by clearly lead phrases. However, sonic formations of rhythmic clarity quickly give way to a shimmering texture, remembered from the initial movement. The greatest motivic (and agogic) variegation is probably found in the final movement. This movement is composed of three fragments, which again enhance the particular polyphony of musical colours.

They contrast with each other in material, yet remain unified in the tonal axis of the b flat minor and D flat major chords. Repeated fragments, skillfully subjected to transformations by the composer, simultaneously tie in to the first movement of the Sonata. The composition thus gains in homogeneity, which becomes a value present in Lutosławski’s future masterworks.

In one of the composition adept’s first works – which nonetheless demands ample technical dexterity and sensitivity to musical colour – the lack of references to the music of Fryderyk Chopin, an icon of European pianistics, makes us think. Perhaps the only testimony to the possible influence of the great Pole is the ability to display an immensely wide array of musical colours. However, even with this element Lutosławski seems to turn more toward the music of Karol Szymanowski.

Besides, what may have been symbolic was the fact that both composers met in 1935 in Riga, specifically at the occasion of Lutosławski’s performance of his Sonata at the Conservatory.

The work was heard for the first time in Warsaw in a premiere given by Witold Lutosławski. Although later the composer did not hide his critical stance toward the youthful piece, one cannot deny that the Sonata, which survived the wartime turmoil, constitutes a historical testimony to the consistent development of its creator.

dc / trans. mk