Double Concerto

  1. Rapsodico
  2. Dolente
  3. Marciale e grotesco
orchestration: oboe, harp and chamber orchestra
  ob solo, ar sola, batt(2), archi (7-0-2-2-1)
dedicated to: Paul Sacher
year composed: 1979-1980
about premiere
location: Lucerna
date: 24 VIII 1980
orchestra: Collegium Musicum
conductor: Paul Sacher
soloists: Heinz Holliger, Ursula Holliger
edition: PWM, Chester Music

“Despite its atonal features, the third movement’s grotesquely banal rhythmic motif goes so much against my musical taste that I cannot listen to it without distress. It doesn’t convince me, it leaves a certain distaste, especially as it so brutally (without a moment for even the slightest reflection – attacca) destroys the impression created by the wonderful second movement,” wrote Tadeusz A. Zieliński in the biweekly “Ruch Muzyczny” after the piece’s first Polish performance.

The Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra was commissioned in the seventies by Paul Sacher, who had Heinz Holliger and his own chamber orchestra (the Zurich-based Collegium Musicum) in mind. On Holliger’s suggestion, the composer included a part for harp in the piece. The Concerto was finished in 1980, and its first performance took place on August 24th during the annual festival in Lucerne. The soloists were Heinz and Ursula Holliger, and the Collegium Musicum Zürich orchestra was conducted by Paul Sacher, to whom the score is dedicated. Almost a month later, on September 23rd, the same soloists performed the piece with the Polish Chamber Orchestra (conducted by the composer) at the Polish National Philharmonic during the Warsaw Autumn festival.

Of all Witold Lutosławski’s pieces, only the Double Concerto can be described as constituting a “critical moment” in his oeuvre. Originally intended as a radicalized continuation of the aleatoric technique, it is ultimately the first piece in which this element, so characteristic of Lutosławski’s “middle period”, while still intensely present, begins to be reduced in its functions. As a whole, it is very much a serial piece, the subsequent three parts of which present the twelve- and nine-tone series in different ways (e.g. by dividing the sounds among solo instruments), acquiring a flavour of melodic motif hitherto unknown in the composer’s work.

There is, however, another new element. Instead of the previously used structure of two-movement pieces with an introductory and main part, there appears an almost classical order of three parts, albeit marked by quite expressive directions: Rapsodico – Appassionato, Dolente, Marciale e grotesco. This little detail is significant, and quite characteristic of later pieces. Even though the composer never confessed to a lack of faith in his oft-expressed conviction about the asemantic nature of his music, his use of such expressive directions does seem to suggest that he has somewhat dispensed with this conviction.

Perhaps like no other piece in Lutosławski’s oeuvre, this work is pervaded by reminiscences from his previous scores (yet not intended as deliberate allusions or quotations), and is therefore a seemingly-complete continuation of them; however, it also shows a tinge of stylistic resignation. The “strangeness” of the composition can be most clearly heard in the third movement, which was originally intended as a kind of kaleidoscope of march styles – from the grotesque to the funeral march. In the end only the grotesque remained, the form of which suggests Lutosławski may have been attempting to revive neoclassical stylistics. In all probability this is what bothered Tadeusz A. Zieliński so much about the piece. When asked in a radio interview whether the third movement of the Concerto should be treated as some kind of play on neoclassical convention, Lutosławski said that it should not, adding that he could not agree with such an interpretation.

In exceptional cases, the composer allowed the oboe to be exchanged for the flute, yet he did not include this option in the score or in authorized publications of his work.

ach / trans. aw