Symphony No. 2

  1. Hésitant
  2. Direct
orchestration: orchestra
  3(2 picc)3(1 ci)3(1 clb)3 (1 cfg),4331, timp, batt(3), cel, ar, pf(2), archi(
year composed: 1965-1967
awards: I Nagroda na Międzynarodowej Trybunie Kompozytorów UNESCO (1968)
about premiere
location: cz. 2 Hamburg / całość, Katowice
date: 15 X 1966 / 9 VI 1967
orchestra: Orkiestra Symfoniczna Norddeutscher Rundfunk /
Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia
conductor: Pierre Boulez / Witold Lutosławski
edition: PWM, Chester Music

Ten years have elapsed after his Symphony no. 1 (1941-47), when Lutosławski completed the Symphony no. 2, on which he worked in the years 1965-67. The composition was created following a commission by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg for the centenary concert of the radio series "Das neue Werk". First to be created was the second movement, "Direct", which received its premiere given in Hamburg on October 15, 1966, by the orchestra of the North German Broadcasting in Hamburg under the direction of Pierre Boulez, while the entire two-movement composition, "Hésitant - Direct", was conducted by the composer with the Great Symphonic Orchestra of the Polish Radio in Katowice on June 9, 1967. The following year the radio recording of this work received the first award at the Parisian Rostrum of Composers organized by the International Music Council of UNESCO. In an essay written for the Oklahoma University Press, the composer explained his relationship to the symphonic form:

"The term symphony, like the terms ‘sonata', ‘variations', and others, refers to the concept of closed form. Such a form owes its existence to the ability of the listener to remember the music and to integrate its individual sections in the act of listening, so that after hearing the composition (no matter how many times) he or she is able to perceive it as an idea that, like a painting or sculpture, exists outside the limits of time. But to reduce the idea of a closed form to a ‘timeless' existence would amount to simplification. When composing closed forms, we also take great advantage of the fact that music is a form of art that unfolds in time. Consequently, one of the reasons why we compose music is to evoke in the listener a series of specific reactions whose sequence and development in time is of essential importance to the final result, that is, to the perception of the composition as a whole."

An extraordinary realization was to embody the above remarks. In the Symphony no. 2, Lutosławski applies all the elements which created his compositional idiom in the span of the previous several years: 12-tone harmony, specific chordal composition, aleatoric counterpoint, strategy of bi-partite form, dialectic between an ad libitum and a battuta narrative, play with shimmering textures, the latter being sometimes treated in the manner of mobiles suspended in time. He offers in his Symphony everything he tested in Funeral Music, Venetian Games, the String Quartet, and the Three poems. The work is a witness to a metamorphosis of style and aesthetics achieved in his creative output after the composition of the Symphony no. 1.

The titles of both movements are a kind of analogy to the naming of movements in the String Quartet; the introductory movement is marked "Hésitant", i.e. ‘with hesitation', while the main movement is named "Direct". Yet the fact that the first movement acts as a mosaic-like invitation to pay attention, an enticement to become interested by something that appears but doesn't develop, is not tantamount to a sort of prelude to the main, ‘direct' movement, if only because their duration is almost equal. Although these markings are not applied by the composer in the written score, he spoke at various occasions about his use of formal units, not only in this composition. They concern interchanging episodes and refrains which differ from each other in instrumentation, texture, type of musical motion and choice of intervals in the mobiles, which are arranged as if alongside each other.

Seven episodes make up the first movement, and they are destined for different instrumental combinations. Glimmering and shimmering, the episodes are divided by short and slow refrains, played exclusively by instruments that do not participate in the performance of the episodes: the oboe, English horn, and bassoons. The last episode and last refrain become the most elaborate of all, leading to the beginning of the main movement - "Direct" - which presents a contrast in its introduction of a continuous type of narrative resulting in a climax. According to a principle often found in the symphonic and orchestral output of Lutosławski, a form leads to a single climax in the chief movement of the composition (in instances where he bases the work upon such a formal concept). Only in the second section of the Symphony are string instruments given a full voice (in the first movement they provide only a pizzicato cluster in the character of a ‘divider', or even as little as a ‘comma'). An interesting and notable detail in regard to the introduction of chain technique elements (present in many of Lutosławski's compositions and even in the Concerto for Orchestra, in addition to the so-called ‘titled' works of the eighties) is the fact that the final fragment of the first movement's refrain played by three bassoons occurs slightly later than the bassoons' beginning of the following movement.

The second movement seems to be uniform in nature, though generally speaking it is composed of five variously shaped phases, and of a ‘dialectic' of time stretching out in three varieties: 1) slow; 2) combined superimposition of fast and slow, as though the ‘chain‘ strategy marked itself out not horizontally, but vertically; and 3) fast. This movement's fourth phase exceptionally brings music notated uniquely in the traditional manner and conducted - in contrast to the remaining portions of the composition which are maintained in the technique of aleatoric counterpoint - and leads to a climax, again without conducting. As often happens in the dénouement of the final phase of Lutosławski's orchestral works, after an energetic coda the composition wanes in an ever quieter epilogue.

ach / trans. mk