Livre pour orchestre

orchestration: orchestra
  3(2picc)333(1cfg), 4331, timp, batt(3), cel, ar, pf, archi
dedicated to: Berthold Lehmann
year composed: 1968
about premiere
location: Hagen
date: 18 XI 1968
orchestra: Hagen Stadtisches Orchester
conductor: Berthold Lehmann
edition: PWM, Chester Music

Livre pour orchestre was composed in 1968, on commission from the city of Hagen (Germany). The piece was dedicated to Berhold Lehmann, a conductor and the city’s musical director, who in 1962 asked Lutosławski to accept the commission, and then conducted the Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra in the first performance of the work in Hagen on November 18, 1968.

If we were to make a list of the most outstanding of Lutosławski’s symphonic works and point out those among them that simply deserve to be called masterpieces, Livre would undoubtedly be one of them. A purist might perhaps suggest one little shortcoming of the composition: the inaccuracy of its title. And the piece’s late composer would definitely agree as, in spite of his intention to do so, he was unable to change the title in time; the first performance had already been publicly announced before the work was finished, and Lutosławski’s initial intention of composing several symphonic movements loosely gathered into a collection (livre, meaning “book”) did not come to fruition. Instead, he created a work that could more aptly be entitled Symphony (which would be his third) or Concerto for Orchestra (which would be his second). The character of the work is determined by the epic scale of its two-movement, highly integrated form, consisting of four sections and using the full arsenal of symphonism. As in Venetian Games (composed seven years earlier), the first three sections constitute the first, introductory movement, and the final, fourth section functions as the main movement. In this way Lutosławski adheres to the same scenario he had introduced and revealed in his marking of the movements of the String Quartet (Introductory Movement – Main Movement) and in the Second Symphony (Hésitant – Direct),

In Livre the principles of European symphonism, which date as far back as Haydn, are not only dealt with in a thoroughly modern way, but also fully accepted. They include not only an exceptionally substantial sound matter (notwithstanding all the “dilutions” of its consistency, a characteristic feature of Lutosławski’s music), but also a masterly control over the symphonic time-space continuum through timbre, texture and general musical shape. This control means that time is accelerated and slowed down, while space is widened and narrowed. In this piece the listener’s perceptions are almost constantly being juggled by elements which either surprise or confirm expectations. The blend of returning contrasts and trifling gestures, the varying degrees of expressive heightening or supression, quasi-impressionistic textures (so fanciful that they seem improvised), and the concentration of quite expressionistic nature all create an extraordinary aesthetic adventure, put together by the composer with the precision of a cold-blooded engineer. In this work, the composer masterfully juggles auditory perception, shifts in temperature and emotion, the contrast between fleeting fluctuations and energetic culminations, the hot and cool tones, and the heightening and suppression.

The whole work is a sequence of four Chapitres (Chapters), separated by three interludes. The first three Chapters are rather short, and separated by two interludes, which are identical in character, highly ornamented and with somewhat depersonalized textures and motifs. The third interlude, unlike the previous two, overlaps with the succeeding, fourth Chapter, which is the longest movement.

The first Chapter is dominated by the strings, from which the composer isolates solo parts (for four violins, two violas, cellos and double basses). The main type of narration here is a subtle distinction between the texture of playing glissando and using the quarter-tone scale (it is worth noting that in Lutosławski’s scores quartertones are used solely to add “colour” to a piece). The first movement introduces the work’s two main conflicts: between the glissando and percussive character, and between playing metrically (a battuta) and non-metrically (ad libitum), using the aleatoric counterpoint technique. The section of aleatoric play of the contrabassoon, the tuba, the piano and the double bass used for percussive performance, as well as the part of the xylophone with only approximate notation for both rhythm and pitch (dots without the stave, which is highly unusual in Lutosławski’s scores) form a type of additional interlude. At the same time it is also one of the first manifestations of the composer’s “chain technique” – the method of introducing early on some textures and phenomena which will be developed in later sections of the form.

After the glissando technique in the first movement, the second Chapter makes extensive use of pizzicato. In a truly masterful way, the score brings together seemingly random ideas, incorporating them into a dramatic narrative. Consequently, what previously seemed a trifling incident takes the foreground in the following Chapter: the previously mentioned glissando technique is no longer used to add colour to the haze of sound, but instead to build motif shapes; the quasi punctualistic splashes of the piano acquire rhythmical vigour; what seemed a momentary intervention dividing the work into segments, becomes the dominant feature of the piece. The composer – in attempting to “suppress” the expressive power inherent in this movement – gives it a quasi-scherzo character (anticipating the fact that there will be no room for scherzo accents in the following movement). This is how Lutosławski builds the foundation for the fourth, main Chapter, where all the previously started elements continue, leading to the climax of the whole work.

While the characteristic feature of the first three Chapters was their fragmented nature, starting but never completing musical ideas, the final Chapter is different in that its elements follow specific principles and are fully developed. There is an extraordinary, fascinating melody, coming not so much from the phrases with specific motifs, but from the shapes of sound textures. The melody pushes forward and is no longer broken by the counterpointing ideas which had previously interrupted the narrative flow. The sound matter seems to focus on the most important elements. The strings give an almost rhapsodic flourish, encrusted with flashes of percussion and enveloped by the entwined phrases of the wind instruments which create the timbre and build the sound landscape. Once more we are faced with the secret of Lutosławski’s aesthetics: the succession of rapidly changing textures creating a narrative of adagio symphonism – and thus an extraordinary journey involving a shift in the physical nature of the passing of time, which is only possible in music. This movement includes not only the Lutosławski that will soon fascinate us with the “intervention” of the brass in his Cello Concerto, but also the Lutosławski that will tease our perception with the “chain-like” technique in his Chains, Partita, Piano Concerto and his Fourth Symphony, and the Lutosławski who will astonish us with metaphysical mystery in his Interlude.

ach / trans. mk