Three Postludes

orchestration: orchestra
  2(1 picc)33(1 ci)3 (1 cfg), 4331, batt(4), 2 ar, pf, archi (16-14-12-12-8)
dedicated to: (nr 1) Międzynarodowy Czerwony Krzyż
year composed: 1958-1963
about premiere
location: nr 1 Genewa / nr 1-3 Kraków
date: 1 IX 1963 / 8 X 1965
orchestra: Orchestra de la Suisse Romande / Orkiestra Filharmonii Krakowskiej
conductor: Ernest Ansermet / Henryk Czyż
edition: PWM, Chester Music

The three sections of this composition were created in the years 1958-1960. In reference to it, Lutosławski has said: "My original plan was to write a large symphonic cycle made up of a series of ‘concert pieces'. I interrupted the work on the cycle at the end of 1960 for the Venetian Games and soon realized that I would never take it up again". Sketches for the fourth planned piece in this cycle were used in the second movement of the Symphony no. 2. Lutosławski frequently expressed his dislike for his cycle of Three Postludes, introducing them only incidentally into his concert programs and in reality accepting in the triptych only the first one.

However, the Postludes constitute an important document of stylistic change in Lutosławski's creative output: it is here that he tests out the harmonic concepts unveiled in the Five Songs to the words of Kazimiera Iłłakowicz and in Funeral Music, simultaneously starting an adventure in the shaping of new orchestral textures, the final technical specification for which he will soon find in his authored technique of aleatoric counterpoint. The Postludes were created between the finalization of Lutosławski's work on the Funeral Music, which is - in the words of the composer - "the first and definitely not last" step in the direction of building his creative poetics, and Venetian Games, Trois poèmes d'Henri Michaux, as well as the String Quartet - all of which constitute those ‘next steps'.

In terms of form, the first Postlude is almost poster-like in its simplicity and directness of meaning: slowly introduced enigmatic motives built out of two or three chosen intervals are gradually concentrated until the golden-section climactic point, which is created with the orchestral tutti, only to embark on a return journey to chamber-like instrumental dialogues that create a capricious fabric of ethereal sonoristic residual images. At this point Lutosławski surely wondered whether to follow the path of timbral thinking, realizing a sonoristic concept, or the path of the constructivist, which avails itself of aleatoric tricks. This Postlude can be treated both as a postlude for Lutosławski's compositional journey to-date (this is also how he explained the title of the composition), and as a prelude to the future direction which he was adopting. In any case, subsequent works seem to indicate that it is more of a prelude than a postlude.

Why is this so? The answer is that the three pieces can be interpreted as a test in the technical and expressional possibilities that serve application in future compositions. Thus, the first Postlude is a prolegomenon to the building of form as a whole that leads to a climactic point, and to the ways in which it can be ‘extinguished'.

The problems posed in Postlude II regard the use of time, rhythm, and counterpoint. While operating with melodic bundles of the same profile, the composer desynchronizes them so as to subject the built harmonies to a ‘blurring', causing them to lose their verticality in favour of horizontality, as if in an effort to introduce some type of strictly notated heterophony. The composer probably judged such an exact notation of music that is ideally supposed to draw its life from asynchronous rhythm to not serve him technically or expressively. This segment obviously becomes a ‘failed' attempt at solving the problem of micro-rhythmics. Listening in turn to John Cage's Piano Concerto became for him a type of ‘eureka' moment, although he did not use such a term. To attain the goal he set out for himself, it sufficed to abandon the synchronous notation and introduce the technique of aleatoric counterpoint, when only a few weeks later he commenced work on the Venetian Games.

While the first Postlude can be treated as a conceptual study of the form as a whole, the third and longest Postlude introduces the problem of formal division into sections. Every episode and segment that partakes in this piece is announced by a fortissimo chord that very clearly divides the form. In the span of less than nine minutes, the aforementioned chord appears several dozen times, while temporally changing its interval structure and intensifying dynamically up to a triple forte, after which its final six expositions systematically limit its dynamics: fortissimo, forte, mezzoforte, mezzopiano, piano, pianissimo. In a large timespan within this piece, the successive repetitions of the chord are followed by four-second rests. At first, the chords dividing the form create order, but with time their intensity becomes progressively brutal, aggressive, and even destructive. Thus, there ensues the attempt to section the form with the use of rests, something that occurs also in the Symphony no. 2 and in the strategy of formal ‘dividers' applied in the String Quartet and the Symphony No. 3, as well as in the conflictual form known to us primarily from the Cello Concerto.

This is how the Postludes, while summing up in a significant manner Lutosławski's output to the time of their writing, also act as sketches of compositional solutions which would soon be applied in his future works. While the artistic form of the sketches did not find favour with the composer, they are still immensely important to the development of his musical language; moreover, the artist's lack of aesthetic satisfaction in regard to this triptych need not in any way result in the same lack on the part of the listener. Lutosławski the perfectionist knew that in his subsequent compositions he obtained goals closer to his intentions than those that characterize the Three Postludes.

ach / trans. mk