Chain III

orchestration: orchestra
  3(3 picc)33(1clb)3, 4331, timp, batt(4), cel, 2ar, pf, archi
year composed: 1986
about premiere
location: San Francisco
date: 10 XII 1986
orchestra: San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
conductor: Witold Lutosławski
edition: PWM, Chester Music

Composed in 1986, Chain 3 was first performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lutosławski, on December 10th 1986 at the Davies Hall.

The piece, which can be seen as a uniquely crafted form of symphonic overture, comprises three parts and does not, therefore, fit easily into the usual category of Lutosławski’s two-movement grand symphonic form. On the contrary, the last section of this rather brief, twelve-minute work is half the duration of the preceding sections, yet it is set in slow tempo – somewhat paradoxically, as it clashes with its length. The first two presto sections are followed by the cantabile–cantando, which should denote a longer, broader expressive breath, and require a longer performance time. The fact that it does not do so, and yet the idea is still carried to its conclusion, makes this piece particularly interesting.

As far as the title term Chain is concerned, the first section is the most characteristic. Following an introduction comprising chimes, woodwind and string instruments, the first section consists of overlapping links played ad libitum by individualized and contrastive chamber ensembles. This section can be described as a Livre of chamber miniatures. The order of the twelve links and twelve chamber ensembles is as follows: 1. three flutes; 2. four double basses; 3. three violins and xylophone; 4. three clarinets; 5. three cellos; 6. celesta, harp and piano; 7. two trumpets and two trombones; 8. bass clarinet and three bassoons; 9. four violins; 10. three trumpets; 11. three violins; 12. harp and three flutes. The entire orchestra comes together for the tutti at the end of the section.

After the second part of the composition, with its alternate conducted and non-conducted forms, the climax of the whole piece comes in the third section – in a manner quite surprising for those familiar with Lutosławski’s earlier orchestral works, especially the Cello Concerto. In his orchestral scores, the composer has given distinctive expressive preference to particular sections of the orchestra, such as the brass section’s shrill, interventional quality – this dissonant, bruitistic quality stands in diametric opposition to the concept of melody, cantabile, euphony and lyricism. However, the idea behind Chain 3 is a certain rehabilitation and de-brutalization of the brass section: trumpets, trombones, horns and the tuba. It is to them, and not the usual string or woodwind instruments, that the swansong of the composition is given. The aim was to emphasize the melodious quality of the brass, and this aim is achieved in the third, and shortest, section of the score – adagio. There is no contradiction in the fact that, as in previous works, the final section of the piece is performed by an orchestral tutti, and not a chamber ensemble; the climax – based on a seven-note chord – goes against the adagio character of this section and is conducted at tempo presto.

In this piece the harmonic language of twelve-note chords ostentatiously gives preference to the consonance of minor thirds, perfect fourths and fifths, octaves and major seconds. Believing that there is no return to the major-minor system, in his scores from the 1980s Witold Lutosławski began to emancipate consonance, which – as if repressed because of the glorious position it held in previous centuries – was marginalized in the twentieth century, both as a means of expression and as a structurally significant form. This feature of Chain 3 can be seen as symptomatic of the modernistic Lutosławski, who was creating at a time of postmodernist pressure. Lutosławski did not use the terms ‘consonance’ and ‘dissonance'. Instead of this dialectic pair, he preferred to talk about assonances, which differ from one another in saturation in a linear, as opposed to a leaping, manner. The ending of Chain 3 might be interpreted as a kind of aesthetic commentary on the times of its composition, the 1980s. After a bright chord of fifths, octaves and seconds, the work ends with a cello glissando sliding into a dull, dark tone of resignation. Despite the exclusive, self-significant nature of Lutosławski’s abstract music, it continues to provoke an abundance of interpretations.

ach / trans. aw