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Epitaph

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orchestration: oboe and piano
dedicated to: "in memory of Alan Richardson"
year composed: 1979
about premiere
location: Londyn
date: 3 I 1980
soloists: Janet Craxton, Ian Brown
edition: Chester Music

In spite of Epitaph’s small scale of under six minutes, this composition for oboe and piano was for Witold Lutosławski extraordinarily significant. He had even said that it constituted a turning point on his path of creative explorations.

After 20 years of building an authored harmonic system whose basis was formed by permutations of chords composed of twelve tones, or "aggregates", Lutosławski felt nostalgic for a less expanded texture. A texture, in which the harmonic suffusion would give way to melodic linearity. He simultaneously recognized that the best field for such experiments would be small-scale compositions scored for a limited combination of instruments.

A commission by the oboist Janet Craxton, co-founder of the famed London Sinfonietta, who wanted to celebrate the memory of her late husband Alan Richardson, was the perfect occasion for Lutosławski to work on ‘thin textures’. Thus, we do not hear in Epitaph as much as one developed vertical sonority, while the part of the piano, which could very well bear the harmonic weight of the work, is rather limited. The whole is composed of a sequence of five refrains and episodes, which clearly refers to the form of a rondo. Slow refrains, well-set on the triadic base and strictly composed, undergo a gradual shortening. In juxtaposition with longer episodes, either subjected to a masterful transformation or shaped ad libitum, intensifies the impression of dramaturgical suspense.

The melodic line of the oboe stretches in the episodes on the succession of a semitone and a tritone. An interesting fact is that in the other compositions bearing the note “In memoriam”, i.e. Funeral Music and Grave, Lutosławski used the same succession of intervals, believing that it best conveys a mournful atmosphere.

This neat miniature was heard for the first time on January 3, 1980, in London’s Wigmore Hall. The premiere was given by Janet Craxton, with Ian Brown at the piano.

dc / trans. mk