Chain I

orchestration: chamber orchestra
  1(picc anche fla)1(1ci)11, 1110, batt, cmb, archi(1-1-1-1-1)
dedicated to: London Sinfonietta Vyner Michael
year composed: 1983
about premiere
location: Londyn
date: 4 X 1983
orchestra: London Sinfonietta
conductor: Witold Lutosławski
edition: PWM, Chester Music

The formal principle of “chain-form”, which had been present in many of Lutosławski’s previous works (including the Concerto for Orchestra, as representative of the “past period”), is elevated to the title role, where it will appear twice more in the composer’s oeuvre. The idea is simple: one strand begins before the previous one has ended. It is worth observing this simple principle in Lutosławski’s music, not only with regards to the successive movements or stages of his compositions, but also in far more detailed elements, e.g. when certain sound forms or objects initially appear as if accidentally, but later in the piece become the basis for more elaborate forms. This work – which is for fourteen instrumentalists – although it can be formally divided into three stages, according to use of instruments and the choice of (especially harmonic) techniques, proceeds as if under one arc, with a narration invoking aleatoric ideas, mobiles suspended in space, a distinctive feature of the String Quartet. On the one hand, it is reminiscent of Lutosławski’s symphonic scores, especially those geared towards chamber music. On the other hand (especially because of the use of the harpsichord, a characteristic feature in this piece, yet unique in the composer’s music), this piece rests on the border of symphonic and chamber music, with the chamber element seemingly more prominent than the symphonic one.

Chain 1 was first performed by Michael Vyner and his London Sinfonietta ensemble (to whom the piece was dedicated), conducted by the composer, at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in October 1983, as a part of the Lutosławski Concert. The following year, the composition was performed for the first time in Poland, at the Warsaw Autumn festival, by the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, directed by Heinz Holliger.

The programme for the Warsaw Autumn performance included the following comment by the composer: “The title Chain 1 suggests both the form used in this work and the intention of composing more ‘chains’ in the future. In a work composed in ‘chain’ form the music is divided into two strands. Particular sections do not begin at the same moment in each strand, nor do they end together. In other words, in the middle of a section in one strand a new section begins in the other. This principle has already been used in my previous compositions as a base for particular stages of the form or in whole movements, as in the Passacaglia of my Concerto for Orchestra. In Chain 1 the principle of chain-form serves to construct the greater part of the piece. Towards the end the texture becomes more complex and consists of several individual parts played ‘ad libitum’, which form a network of melodies to be played ‘cantabile’.”

In the 1980s, chain-form became another of Lutosławski’s formal strategies, like hesitant/direct opposition (seen in his Second Symphony), and introductory movement/main movement (in his String Quartet). Not only do parts overlap (i.e. one part continues, as the next begins), but the material used in one “strand” of the composition is absent in the next, and when it does appear there, it is discontinued in the previous strand. This creates a “dialectic” of sounds, textures, tones, intervals and harmonies. Lutosławski was a master of controlling his “ideal” listeners’ perception, directing their reception and, as it were, “conducting” their imagination. Chain 1, written after the Third Symphony, at a stage when Lutosławski’s ambition was to create a new melodics that would be fitting for the end of the twentieth century (a creative attempt is present in this piece). This three-stage composition, written for chamber orchestra, is an example of the development of Lutosławski’s “late style”. It can be seen as the classic Polish modernist composer’s nostalgic farewell to twentieth-century modernism itself, as he moves forward with an increasing interest in postmodernist expression and aesthetics.

ach / trans. aw