Grave. Metamorphoses

orchestration: cello and piano
dedicated to: Stefan Jarociński in memoriam
year composed: 1981
about premiere
location: Warszawa
date: 22 IV 1981
soloists: Roman Jabłoński, Krystyna Borucińska
edition: PWM, Chester Music
orchestration: cello and orchestra
  vc solo, archi(4-3-3-2-1)
year composed: 1981
about premiere
location: Paryż
date: 26 VIII 1982
orchestra: Polska Orkiestra Kameralna
conductor: Jerzy Maksymiuk
soloists: Misha Maisky
edition: PWM, Chester Music

Grave, with the title note "Metamorphoses for Cello and Piano", was composed in 1981. The world premiere of the composition took place during an evening devoted to reminiscences about Stefan Jarociński (August 16, 1912 - May 8, 1980) organized on April 22, 1981, at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Lutosławki has said: "I wrote Grave or cello and piano to honour the memory of Stefan Jarociński. As is known, he devoted a great part of his activity to Debussy's music. So I considered it appropriate to use the first four notes from Pelléas et Mélisande at the beginning of my piece, the four notes becoming the point of departure for the melody in the cello part. The composition takes the form of metamorphoses, in the course of which - as in my Funeral Music - the rhythmic values undergo a gradual breakup, which creates the illusion of an ever faster tempo. Before the very end of the composition, the four notes from Pelléas return".

We are dealing here with a composition for cello solo with the dominant role of melody. The piano fulfills the role of the harmonic accompaniment in the first version. In the orchestral version the stringed nature of the solo instrument is amplified by the stringed nature of the ensemble, which on one hand exhibits a specific, non-conflictual and non-contrasting aura achieved through a homogenous sonority, while on the other hand completing the solo part with a sort of luminous pastel colour, with a timbral ‘shine' resulting from the used harmony. If there is a funebre tone in this composition, it is to be expected at the beginning and end of the work in a comforting guise of the quotation from Debussy. However, neither the cello, nor the accompaniment fall into sadness. In the series of metamorphoses constituting the composition, the elegiac nature is transformed into the motivic eloquence of the cello, with which the accompaniment chimes in through agreeable statements expressed as if in a ‘supplement'. Pensiveness - emotionality - consolation. Should we be detecting in this emotionality some type of embedded metaphor of intellectual brilliance which characterizes great minds?

The work begins with the ‘forest motive' from Debussy's drama: the four-note phrase d - a - g - a. In Grave, Debussy's quoted 4-note succession with the interval material of a major second and perfect fifth is completed by Lutosławski with a half-tone-and-tritone structure, so that the quotation does not appear as an object taken from outside, but is integrated with the unfolding of the entire composition. The intervals derived from the quotation become the basis of a 12-tone series, while the second arrangement of intervals introduced by Lutosławski (tritone and minor second) extends this material, creating the basis for a 24-tone series. The subtitle Metamorphoses possesses a very concrete significance: it recalls memories of Funeral Music's second movement. While it is true that the metamorphoses in Grave have a slightly different function - which in the former concerns the transformation of the series (also 24-tone in nature!), and here relates to rhythm - the affinity of both works is clear. In the subsequent, 12 dovetailing metamorphoses the rhythmic values are diminished (from a half note to a sixteenth note), creating the effect of acceleration (which is not achieved through the tempo of the rhythmic values, but their concentration in time), leading to the work's climax, which makes the expression of Grave approach that of the "Metamorphoses" from Funeral Music. The succession of metamorphoses in Grave is governed by the transposition of pitch material, which consistently moves up the circle of fifths.

References made in this work to Funeral Music constitute a significant expressional device, since both compositions were written in memoriam: the Funeral Music with the intention of commemorating the tenth anniversary of the death of Béla Bartók, who remained close to Lutosławski in the artistic sense, and Grave in the consequence of a departure of a friend - a musicologist. What becomes clear, however, is that the reference to the composition from 20 years before is not only surface-based. It is worth mentioning that Grave was created between the Epitaph for oboe and piano and the finalization of work on the Symphony no. 3. At this time the style of Lutosławski's music undergoes rather significant change. From among the characteristics of this change one can enumerate the creation of a new melodic shaping (in Grave it is possible to see the foreshadowing of the middle Largo from the Partita for violin and piano), the minimalization of aleatoric counterpoint (which is completely absent in the discussed composition), and the intensification of the elements of chain technique (although Chain I will be composed two years later, in Grave it is this technique that governs the metamorphoses).

Connections between Lutosławski and Jarociński stem from similar mutual or convergent musical reflections, and the musicologist's theoretic-historical divagations on the subject of Debussy's harmony overlapped with the procedures which Lutosławski created for his own creative needs. This is a significant detail, and it would be difficult to judge whether the variety of musical analysis applied by Stefan Jarociński to the works of this great French composer was significantly influenced by Witold Lutosławski's practical considerations as to his own compositional technique, or vice versa.


ach / trans. mk