Concerto for orchestra

  1. Intrada
  2. Capriccio notturno e arioso
  3. Passacaglia, toccata e corale
orchestration: orchestra
  3(2 picc)3(1 ci)3(1 clb)3(1 cfg), 4441, timp, batt(3), cel, 2 ar, pf, archi
dedicated to: Witold Rowicki
year composed: 1950-1954
awards: Nagroda Państwowa I Stopnia (1955),
Order Sztandaru Pracy II Stopnia (1955)
about premiere
location: Warszawa
date: 26 XI 1954
orchestra: Orkiestra Filharmonii Narodowej
conductor: Witold Rowicki
edition: PWM, Chester Music

Concerto for Orchestra was inspired by Witold Rowicki, who asked Witold Lutosławski to compose a work for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra that Rowicki had founded in 1950. The composer initially wanted to answer the commission with a relatively short piece – functional and occasional in character, with no particular aesthetic aims. It turned out differently, however: the material demanded a more developed, symphonic form that made use of motifs from Polish folk music and was constructed on a broad plan of clearly neoclassical features. The Concerto was given its first performance on November 26th, 1954, by Warsaw’s National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Witold Rowicki, to whom the work is dedicated.

The piece comprises three movements: 1. Intrada (Allegro maestoso); 2. Capriccio notturno e Arioso (Vivace); and 3. Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale (Andante con moto – Allegro giusto). The third movement, which lasts longer than both the preceding movements put together, contains the climax of the entire work. This formal structure already suggests an idea that was to become a fundamental principle of Lutosławski’s large forms ten years later, i.e. the sequence of the introductory movement and the main movement. Lutosławski took this approach to cyclic form from his composition teacher, Professor Witold Maliszewski (1873-1939), who suggested to him a sequence of introductory, linking and main movements. Lutosławski’s teacher was also responsible for a more profound, structural approach to the use of folk material in composition.

The Intrada is based on a Mazovian folk tune, which is continuously enriched each time it reoccurs. From this material the composer draws another theme – cantando. In seeking an analogy with Lutosławski’s future work, one may observe the particular application of an idea that would be later used in Mi-parti: the use of the same material in different ways, which has little in common with the variation technique. Here Lutosławski is first and foremost a melodist, and not the harmonist he would become several years later, from Funeral Music onwards. The first section of this movement develops on the backdrop of the cellos’ low pedal-note F sharp – its “palindromic” equivalent (a prolonged high F sharp played by flutes) can be found in the final section of this movement. This may be seen as some kind of attempt at the structure of Funeral Music, where the Epilogue functions as an inversion of the Prologue. The whole movement develops in an arched structure: the thematic material first appears in a series of progressions rising by intervals of a fifth, and then descending by intervals of a fourth.

The second movement takes the form of a scherzo (Capriccio) and a trio (Arioso). It is perhaps the Capriccio that makes the most of the concertante role of the instruments, which exchange fragments of motifs in their solo passages. It is an airy vivace, with the passage-work and juggling of instrumental textures which would become so characteristic of Lutosławski’s later work. At the same time it is also a notturno, which is realised in terms of dynamics as a more muted mormorando, which is in violent contrast to the central trio, where the fortissimo trumpets introduce the Arioso. It is in the last movement of the Concerto that snatches of those elements which would come to typify Lutosławski’s later technique can perhaps most clearly be seen – particularly the chain structure. In the Passacaglia the eight-bar theme reappears eighteen times, developing from the lowest register of solo double basses with the harp, and then resurfacing through further instruments, to reach a tutti, before its final appearance is played by the highest register of the violin. The reoccurring theme is accompanied by non-thematic episodes, which are introduced non-simultaneously and often overlap or diverge from the main theme. Lutosławski himself pointed to this technique as one that he would many years later develop into his “chain” form.

The third movement of the Concerto can be understood as a variant of the whole work’s form, in inversion. While in the structure of the whole Concerto the third movement (Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale) is the longest and most significant in content, in its three sections it presents the reverse situation: after the most developed Passacaglia comes the linking Toccata with its obstinate theme, and then the archaised theme of the Corale, performed by oboes and clarinets. The Corale has a conclusive character, but it also brings about the climax of the whole work, which is set up by the preceding Toccata. After the four voices of the oboes and clarinets the chorale resurfaces in six parts of the brass, before finally extending over five octaves in fourteen string parts. There then comes a short coda (Presto), which will also become a principle feature of Lutosławski’s later work.

ach / trans. mk