Polish musical achievement in the 19th century was dominated by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), together with the lesser-known figures of Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819-1872), whose most important work is the opera Halka, and the violinist Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880). By the turn of the century, Polish composition was distinctly conservative, culturally and politically dominated by Germany, and represented by such composers as Wladyslaw Zelenski (1837-1921) and Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946). The best known Polish musician of the period was Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), a pianist of charismatic success who became the first President of the new state of Poland in 1919; his best-known composition is the opera Manru (first performed 1901), set in the Tatra mountains.
To counter the conservative tendencies of Polish music at the turn of the century, a number of composers formed the `Young Poland' group; the most prominent of the founders was Mieczylaw Karłowicz (1876-1909). The short lived activities of `Young Poland' attracted writers and artists, and the most important of Polish composers since Chopin, Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). Initially influenced by Reger and Strauss, he developed, after encounters with the music of Debussy and North Africa, a sensuous, exotic idiom that includes some of the richest and headiest music written. From the late 1920s he studied the music of the Tatra mountains, incorporating folk influences into a leaner but still meltingly beautiful style. Few other Polish composers made any strong impression before the 1950s, though the works of Alexandre (Aleksander) Tansman (1897-1986) are sometimes heard, eclectically modernist in the 1920s (when he lived in Paris), neo-classical following his return to Poland in 1946.
A number of younger composers, suggesting a revival of Polish composition and largely following French neo-classical models, were starting to emerge when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Nazi repression stifled cultural activity, although such composers as Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) continued with considerable courage to compose and arrange concerts, and this younger generation of composers was not to emerge internationally until the late 1950s. For the imposition of Communism after World War Two continued the repression of the arts, establishing Socialist Realism and cutting off Polish composers from developments elsewhere in Europe. Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981), Jan Krenz (born 1926), and Kazimierz Serocki (1922-1981) founded the `Group 49', ostensibly to promote music that would be `anti-elitist' and in contact with the listener, but pointing out that they did not want to eschew modern harmonies. Many composers continued in a neo-classical style, notably Grażyna Bacewitz (1909-1969), but also lesser-known composers such as Michal Spisak (1914-1965), whose Symphonie Concertante No.2 (1956) and Concerto Grosso (1957) are both lucidly constructed, the former colourful and entertaining, the latter more serious. One of the consequences of the clamp-down was a renewed interest in the folk-songs of the various regions of Poland, not only in choral works (such as Serocki's Mazowsze, or Lutosławski's Tryptyk Śląski, 1951, for soprano and orchestra, which uses folk-like melodies), but also, for example, in the concertos of Bacewitz. Socialist Realism appeared in such operas as Bunt Żakow (The Student's Rebellion, 1951) by Tadeusz Szeligowski (1896-1963).
Most composers stayed in Poland, but one of the finest, Panufnik, left Poland in 1954 and settled in Britain, while Roman Haubenstock-Ramati (born 1919) moved to Israel in 1950 and to Vienna in 1957. However, the foundation in 1956 of the Warsaw Autumn Festival (still one of the major European new music festivals) led to increased contacts with the rest of Europe. The immediate result was the rediscovery of the music of such composers as Bartók (whose harmonic ideas then influenced Bacewicz), but in the 1958 Autumn Festival Boulez, Cage, Messiaen, and Stockhausen were heard, as well as works by such young Polish experimenters as Henryk Górecki (born 1933). Once the dykes had been breached the floods could not be held back, and the authorities relaxed their control over styles of music. There then, in the early 1960s, occurred an explosion of Polish avant-garde music.
One consequence of the almost two-decade isolation of Polish music was the lack of knowledge of Schoenberg and 12-tone techniques. Jósef Koffler (1896-1943) had studied with Schoenberg and wrote 12-tone works with a neo-classical base, but died during the Nazi occupation. Baird, among others, wrote 12-tone works in the late 1950s, but generally strict 12-tone or post-Webern serialism was not a feature of the Polish avant-garde. Instead their elements were absorbed into a general style that managed to avoid some of the sterile over-intellectualism of Western academic composition (a similar process occurred in Hungary); a chief characteristic has been what one Polish commentator called `sonorism', in which sonorities, colour-changes, and unusual timbres become the chief features. Consequently, Polish music since 1960 has been among the most vital in Europe, led by Witold Lutosławski (born 1913) and Krysztof Penderecki (born 1933), both among the best known of all modern composers. The former combined elements of the avant-garde with a more traditional, mainstream approach; the latter was more self-consciously experimental. Kazimierz Serocki followed a similar path; his earlier works had included two symphonies influenced by Soviet composers, but he started experimenting with 12-tone compositions in the early 1950s, while simultaneously producing more publicly acceptable works. In 1958, he came under the influence of Boulez, particularly in the instrumental colouring, and then concentrated on colour effects. Musica concertante (1958) for orchestra, Serocki's strictest serial composition, Segmenti (1960-1961) for chamber orchestra, and Episodes (1959) for strings and three percussion groups all use step-like or block construction with pointillistic effects. With considerable energy in their forward momentum, they have a catchy quality, well worth investigating. By Symphonic Frescos (1963-1964) for orchestra the formal construction became more fluid; by Ad libitum (1977) for orchestra it included aleatoric elements. Such established composers as Bacewitz and Baird quickly found a new freedom; others, such as Spisak, faded away. Henryk Górecki (born 1933), after being a major figure in the Polish explosion of the avant-garde, turned to a Minimalist and spiritual style with affinities to Pärt and Tavener, and achieved a similar widespread popular success.
The major composers and works of this period are discussed under their entries below, but there were a number of lesser-known Polish composers producing work of interest and value. Haubenstock-Ramati drew from the dense textures of the opera America (1966, based on Kafka) an acid, multi-layered but powerful Symphony »K« (1967). The otherwise little-known Andrzej Dobrowolski (born 1921), one of the major Polish electronic experimenters, produced in Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo (1965) an effective combination of solo instrument and electronic material, the solo sometimes going off into ruminative fantasies, sometimes attempting a dialogue with the underlying sounds, the pastoral swept up in the concrete.
In the 1970s and 1980s the Polish avant-garde gave way to a retrenchment and the development of a neo-Romanticism. Penderecki unexpectedly looked back to the scale and harmonic qualities of Bruckner. Haubenstock-Ramati produced an emotive String Quartet No.2 (1977). Typical of this trend was the change in the idiom of Marek Stachowski (born 1936): the String Quartet No.2 (1972) presents the avant-garde idiom of the time, with aleatoric elements, Music de camera (1965) for chamber ensemble has an obsessive, almost minimalist image, and the Divertimento (1978) for string orchestra a characteristic Polish richness of sonority. But by the Sapphic Odes (1985) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra Stachowski has returned to the influence of the rich sensuous idiom of Szymanowski, with grand lyrical vocal lines and intense colour effects in the exotic orchestration in a powerful work. Krisztof Meyer (born 1943, not to be confused with the German communist composer Ernst Meyer) has concentrated on traditional forms (symphonies, concertos and string quartets), his antecedents in Mahler and Shostakovich, but developing his own brand of spare simplicity.
Polish Music Information Centre:
Polskie Centrum Muzyczne
Fredry 8, 00-097
tel: +48 002 6352230
born 5th February 1909 at Lodz
died 17th January 1969 at Warsaw
A virtuoso violinist as well as a composer, Grażyna Bacewicz was one of the most distinguished woman composers of the 20th century, although her work is still too little known outside Poland. Her idiom was founded on neo-classicism, but in the later 1950s she became influenced by Bartók, combining the Hungarian composer's expressiveness and sense of drama with the 12-tone techniques that were being rediscovered in Poland. From 1960 she developed a more avant-garde idiom, still expressive, often dramatic, and sometimes with almost impressionistic effects. However, she retained the classical outlook of her earlier years, creating an unusual idiom in which the colouristic effects, rhythmic variation and subtleties, and the tendency for the accumulation of short events are encased in a classical formality, flowing with precision and ordered momentum.
The early works such as the Wind Quintet (1933) and the Overture for Orchestra (1943) reflected her French training (she studied with Nadia Boulanger). Her works of the late 1940s and 1950s combined the neo-classical idiom she had learnt in Paris with rhythmic and harmonic elements drawn from Polish folk-music; the Violin Concerto No.3 (1948) uses folk themes and the ballet Z chlopa król (From Peasant to King, 1954) interweaves folk tunes and neo-classical courtly dances in a colourful story of a drunk dressed up to be a king. The neo-Baroque Concerto for String Orchestra (1948) employed ostinato motoric rhythms, rhythmic variations, and rich colours combined with lyricism. This period also includes her four dramatic symphonies (No.1 1945, No.2 1951, No.3 1952, No.4 1953).
Gradually Bacewitz started using 12-tone techniques in a free manner, with sharp sonorities, atonal motives, and the stress on tone colour. Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958) serialises rhythm and dynamics as well as harmony. The seminal work that signalled Bacewicz's break from neo-classicism and the adoption of the avant-garde was Pensieri notturni (Nocturnal Thoughts, 1961) for orchestra, a fantastical evocation of dream-like images, giving the impression of a world teeming with life that has been contained and is ready to burst out. Slides, glissandi, fragmented effects, and sharply contrasting focuses abound, sometimes in the mood of a Bartók nocturnal scene, but with the expressive precision and delicacy drawn from the Polish discovery of Webern. The combination of a classical layout and avant-garde means of expression is exemplified in the four-movement Concerto for Orchestra (1962), with an expressive, troubled slow movement which opens with Webernesque pointillistic effects. Her later works continued the classical formality, in a number of concertos and three orchestral works, including the Musica Sinfonica in Tre Movimenti (1965).
The last four of Bacewicz's seven string quartets are very highly regarded in Poland, and in them she sought new means of expression within generally traditional forms. The String Quartet No.4 (1951) is lyrical and yet highly charged, with a distant beauty and rich, warm colours, using a Polish dance in the rondo; the overall tone has affinities with Bartók, but the strong sense of organized rhythmic momentum shows the neo-classical pedigree, especially in the bouncing opening of the finale. The String Quartet No.6 (1960) loosely uses 12-tone principles, but with the sense of fundamental notes, and a wide range of string effects. The String Quartet No.7 (1965) covers a broad scope of emotion and incident, with expressive and dramatic effects (including repetitive, clockwork-like moments, sonorous drones, swoops and glissandi), all encased in a classical logic, with a driving rhythmic energy. Of her other chamber music, the Piano Quintet No.1 (1952) alternates the dramatic and the intense, as in the brooding opening and sections of the finale, with the bouncingly entertaining, the march of the first movement having the flavour of Weill. The slow movement is rich and sonorous, the piano playing a mostly textural role, and this weighty and extended trio is worth encountering.
Bacewitz taught at the Warsaw Conservatory. Her music should be known by anyone interested in women composers, especially those trying to establish a foundation for contemporary women composers, for she is one of the finest to have emerged this century.
- 4 symphonies
- Concerto, In una parte, Overture, Musica sinfonica in tre movimenti, Partita and Variations for orch.; Contradizione and Pensieri notturni for chamber orch.; Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion; Concerto for String Orchestra
2 cello concertos; piano concerto; two-piano concerto; viola concerto; 7 violin concertos
- trio for oboe, harp and percussion; 7 string quartets; quartet for 4 cellos; quartet for 4 violins; 2 piano quintets and other chamber works
- Ten Etudes and other works for piano
- Cantata for chorus and orch.; Olympic Cantata for chorus and orch.; songs
- radio opera The Adventures of King Arthur
Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958)
Pensieri notturni (1961) for orchestra
String Quartet No.4 (1951)
String Quartet No.7 (1965)
Piano Quintet No.1 (1952)
J.Rosen Grażyna Bacewicz - her life and works, 1984
born 26th July 1928 at Grodzisk Masowiecki
died 2nd September 1981 at Warsaw
The works of Tadeusz Baird are still little known outside Poland, overshadowed by the more extrovert and experimental idiom of Penderecki and by the craftsmanship and emotional power of Lutosławski. His music is more self-effacing than that of either composer, but he is a major figure in the history of modern Polish music, and his idiom always has the capacity to appeal, and often to surprise.
His earlier music after the Second World War, in which he was incarcerated in a concentration camp and was condemned to death by the Gestapo, reflected an awareness of a European mainstream represented by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and in parallel a neo-classicism influenced by French models. He was one of the founders of `Group 49', aimed at accommodating some of the strictures of the Communist regime, and his Symphony No.1 (1950) is a monumental, five-movement Mahlerian work, as (reportedly, since he destroyed it, though a recording of the first performance survives) was the Symphony No.2 `Quasi una fantasia' (1952). At the same time he looked back to earlier musics: the suite Colas Breugnon (1951) uses 16th-century galliards, and the intense, virtuoso Concerto for Orchestra (1953) employs Baroque forms, Renaissance procedures and Greek modes, opening with a Gregorian chant. Archaic effects (notably the use of the harpsichord) appear in the lovely song-cycle Four Shakespeare Love Sonnets (1955, written as interludes for a production of Romeo and Juliet, orchestrated 1965) for baritone and orchestra, with a lyrical flow to the vocal lines and a second song (with strings alone) that has affinities with Shostakovich's later song-cycles.
In the middle 1950s Baird started to adopt 12-tone techniques, initially in the Cassazione (1956) for orchestra, the Divertimento (1956) for wind quartet, and the String Quartet (1957). The last has Webernesque elements, but Baird retained his feel for expressive lyricism and his sense of sonority (as opposed to pointillism). The resulting idiom uses 12-tone techniques very freely, often retaining the sense of a more traditional harmonic foundation, and which has affinities with that of Berg. The work that brought him wider attention was the Four Essays (1958) for orchestra, largely mournful and meditative, and beautifully orchestrated. Each movement has a different orchestration, providing wide contrasts between the Shostakovich-influenced second (woodwind colours predominant), the dark-hued string colours and lyrical, thoughtful string solos of the first and last, and the almost aphoristic third. Espressioni (1959) for violin and orchestra maintains the idiom, but adds an intense passion closer to Berg, with soaring declamatory solo lines; the concise and orchestrally lucid Variations without a Theme (1962) for violin and orchestra is more broken up, focusing in smaller events. Elegeia (1973) for cello and orchestra explores more avant-garde textures, compact in size though large and dramatic in scale.
By the Four Novelettes (1967) for chamber orchestra Baird's material is the closest to the post-Webern avant-garde, mostly delicate and ethereal until the raucous close, fragmentary, and sometimes pointillistic. Then in two of his finest late works these more advanced techniques and refinement of timbres were combined with intense emotional drama. The cantata Goethe-Briefe (1970) for baritone, chorus and orchestra is based on correspondence between Goethe and Frau von Stein. This powerful, disturbing and concise work opens with musical anger, from the heavily declamatory and brittle chorus-writing to the crashes of the orchestra, the flow held by the solo line, whose emotions range from the angry to the vocally lyrical. The Concerto lugubre (1975) for viola and orchestra was written following the death of his mother, with a passionate, highly charged opening movement with an angry, lamenting solo line, a mournful middle movement and a final movement of quiet acceptance. This moving work, with its suggestions of tonal centres, expressive writing, and rich sonorities is perhaps the most effective introduction to Baird's music.
Baird's development, once he had left behind the Mahlerian influence, is consistent and evolutionary rather than making sudden shifts of direction. At the same time, he could revert to a simpler, direct and more archaic idiom, as in the lovely Chansons des Trouvères (Songs of the Troubadours, 1963) for mezzo-soprano, cello and two flutes, whose gentle lyricism should find a wide appeal. The Four Songs (1966) for mezzo soprano and orchestra, on poems by Vesny Parun, combine that lyrical, archaic feel with more modern harmonies and procedures. Baird's contribution to music theatre is the one-act Jutro (Tomorrow, 1966), based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, in which an old man is disillusioned by the return of his son, absent for many years; the father has hoped the son will marry the young woman who has kept house for him, but when the son tries to molest her, the father kills him. The setting of this dramatic, psychologically intense story concentrates on the psychology, with orchestral colours developing character, and the alienation emphasized by the role of the son being given to a speaking actor.
- 3 symphonies; sinfonietta; Sinfonia breve
- Concerto for Orchestra; oboe concerto; piano concerto; Concerto lugubre for viola and orch.; Expressioni varianti for violin and orch.; Four Dialogues for oboe and chamber orch.; Scenes for cello, harp and orch.
- Canzona, Cassazione, Elegeia, Epiphany Music, Four Essays, Psychodrama and Variations without a Theme; Four Novelettes for chamber orch.
- string quartet; Play and Variations in the Rondo Form for string quartet; Divertimento for wind quartet
- Chansons des Trouvères for soprano, 2 flutes and cello; Love Songs and Lyric Suite for soprano and orch.; Four Songs and Five Songs for mezzo-soprano and chamber orch.; Four Shakespeare Love Sonnets and Voices from Afar for baritone and orch.
- cantata Goethe-Briefe for baritone, chorus and orch.; Exhortation for reciter, chorus and orch.;
- opera Jutro
Chansons des Trouvères (1963) for contralto, 2 flutes and cello
Elegeia (1973) for orchestra
Espressioni (1959) for violin and orchestra
Four Essays (1958) for orchestra
Four Shakespearean Love Sonnets (1955, orchestrated 1965) for baritone and orchestra
cantata Goethe-Brief (1970) for baritone, chorus and orchestra
Concerto Lugubre (1974-77) for viola and orchestra ───────────────────────────────────────
GÓRECKI Henryk Mikołai
born 6th December 1933 at Czernica
Henryk Górecki catapulted into international prominence with the astonishing success in the early 1990s of the recording of his Symphony No.3 (1976), which reached an audience wider than that customary for classical music, let alone contemporary music. Before that success, his consistently experimental idiom was well-known in Poland, but only familiar to specialists outside: he was one of the first Polish composers to mature without the necessity of a degree of Socialist Realism. He has evolved an idiom of meditative contemplation and slow-moving simplicity, founded on the repetition and slow metamorphosis of a limited range of rich sonorities and restricted harmonies (often employing the alternation of just two notes against a dense background), that in its general style and religious impulse has affinities with Pärt and Tavener, but remains distinctively Polish through the use of old Polish chants and modes. A distinctive feature of almost all except his earlier works is to end in a mood of uplifting brightness.
His earliest works employed 12-tone techniques, as in the String Quartet (1957), or the Concerto for Five Instruments and String Quartet (1957), though the latter shows the influence of Boulez in its colours (flute, clarinet, trumpet, xylophone, mandolin). In the Symphony No.1, `1959' (1959) he combined the linear serial techniques with ostinato and cluster effects, but with Scontri (Collisions, 1960) for orchestra Górecki arrived at a personal preoccupation with sonority, and the work caused a considerable stir at its premiere. Written for a huge orchestra with a battery of percussion instruments, its marvellous semi-motoric opening textures, initially pianissimo and then with violent contrasts, are like a giant saw-mill coming to life. It proceeds with resonating textures, swoops, sotto voce held textures, massive dynamic collisions and extreme instrumental ranges. Almost without rhythmic progression in the conventional sense, it is propelled by step-like blocks of differing textures, all the movement in the contrast or changes of colour and timbre, ranging from bell-like delicacies to violent interjections. Scontri has a spontaneous, almost naïve, quality in its ferocity, as if Górecki had suddenly found the techniques and the emotions that would unleash Polish music from all its former suppression.
Genesis (1963), a cycle of three works for ensemble, is written in blocks rather than notes, showing the movement of the resulting sonorities; Refrain (1965) for orchestra concentrated on tone-clusters. Then Górecki's preoccupation with texture and sonority started to include old sources, including old chants in a number of chamber works of the late 1960s. A 14th-century organum and a 16th-century cantus firmus provide the foundation for Muzyka Staropolska (Old Polish Music, 1969) for strings and brass, contrasting slow-moving hushed string sonorities with martial brass calls, increasingly fragmented until the resolution of the close. The aesthetic of bare simplicity is predominant, and the overall idiom has affinities with Panufnik's works of the same period. At the same time, a religious impulse (Polish Catholic) started informing the music, initially in works such as Ad matrem (1971) for soprano, chorus and orchestra. The paring down of means to concentrate on the movement of sonority and texture (as in the contemplative final section of Ad matrem) was matched by a minimal use of words, Górecki extracting just the pertinent phrase for a vocal passage or work.
The Symphony No.2 `Kopernikowska' (`Copernican', 1972), written for the 500th anniversary of the Polish astronomer's birth, heralds some of the techniques of the better known third, in the apparent simplicity and economy of means, repetitive block chords, minimal intervals, and a continuity of momentum combined with irregular rhythms. The first movement has elements of sonata form, with two contrasting `themes' created by contrasts of textures and dynamics, and uses a psalm text. The second moves towards luminosity, with another psalm and a setting of text from Copernicus's De Revolutionibus orbium celestium, using a 15th-century chorale. But whereas the second symphony has elements of the monumental, the Symphony No.3 `Symfonia Pieśni Żałosnych' (`Symphony of Sorrowful Songs', 1976) maintains a mood of ethereal luminosity throughout its considerable length (just under an hour). All three movements have verses concerning mothers weeping for their children, the first movement from a 15th-century Polish prayer, the second a prayer carved on a Gestapo wall, the third a folk-song. The first movement is a slowly unfolding, sad and limpid canon (a new departure for the composer), interrupted by the soprano, eventually building to a climax. Throughout the work the limited range of sonorities is maintained, with just the occasional counter-idea of a piano note, like a fish rising on a pond; the third movement, the most beautiful and the simplest, reaches towards a heavenly bright light. It is undeniably a beautiful work, eliciting a sense of meditative bliss (hence its popularity), but it is debatable whether it is a challenging one; the complexities of the canon do not interfere with the overall impression of simplicity, and its limited range of expression palls. The more one hears it the more one recognizes the strong influence of Szymanowski. Even more direct, and in a very similar idiom, is the Beatus Vir (1979) for bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra, which will appeal to those who respond to the third symphony, while providing confirmation for those who have reservations about such monochromatic and emotionally monothematic musical expression. Some of Górecki's more recent music has suggested a movement away from such ecstatic meditations to a more varied idiom: `Lerchenmusic', Recitatives and Ariosos (1984) for clarinet, cello and piano, while opening with a plain-chant and limited sonorities, includes aggressive ideas, moments of a wild folk dance in the piano writing, anger in the middle movement, and strong echoes of Messiaen in the last, while the dissonant harmonies of the String Quartet No.1 `Already it is Dusk' (1988) almost seem evolved from a Shostakovich scherzo.
- 3 symphonies (No.1 1959, No.2 Copernican, No.3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
- concerto for harpsichord and string orch.; Concerto for 5 instruments and string quartet; Songs of Joy and Rhythm for 2 pianos and orch.
- Canticum graduum, Old Polish Music, Refrain, Scontri and Three Dances for orch.; Choros I and Three Pieces in Old Style for strings
- Diagram No.4 for flute; 2 string quartets (No.1 Already it is Dusk); Lerchenmusik for clarinet, cello and piano; 4 La Musiquette for various ensembles
- Monologhi for soprano and 3 instrumental groups; Two Sacred Songs for baritone and orch.
- Ad Matrem for soprano, chorus and orch.; Beatus Vir for bass-baritone, chorus and orch.; Epitaph for chorus and orch.; Amen, Euntes ibant et flebant, Miserere and Totus tuus for chorus
Beatus Vir (1979) for bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra
`Lerchenmusic', Recitatives and Ariosos (1984) for clarinet, cello and piano
Scontri (1960) for orchestra
Symphony No.2 Kopernikowska (1972)
Symphony No.3 Symfonia Pieśni Żałosnych (1976)
born 25th January 1913 at Warsaw
died 7th February 1994 at Warsaw
Witold Lutosławski is internationally the best-known of all 20th-century Polish composers, and a major figure in the classical music of the latter part of the 20th-century. Although he adopted avant-garde techniques in the late 1950s, his development was consistent throughout his compositional career, and he created a synthesis of various modern techniques within a fairly traditional framework and through traditional instrumental means, combined with emotionally expressive qualities. This synthesis became the main feature of Lutosławski's idiom and placed him at the centre of what has become known as `mainstream' composition.
Lutosławski's primary musical concern was with form, and in particular the creation of large-scale forms that would have connections with tradition while providing the framework for the new sonorities and methods that were developed in the avant-garde period. One of his solutions was the use of aleatoric elements within a `closed' (self-contained, strictly controlled) form. In this, the players are given elements of rhythmic freedom, so the overlap of lines is not preordained; but at the same time the material is chosen to take into account the harmonic possibilities of the potential overlaps and combinations. This gave a sculptural quality to his music, enhanced by other solutions to the problems of form, such as interconnections or contrasts between movements that become resolved in final sections or movements, and the linking of material in a `chain' form. Harmonies, at least in the works after the late 1950s, have little connection with traditional tonality, but the chosen harmonic combinations often suggest centres that, combined with a formal clarity that usually suggests recognizable motion within a formal progression, make Lutosławski's idiom easier to encounter than that of some of his contemporaries.
A suggestion of Lutosławski's early influences is provided by the Two Fragments (1963) for flute and harp, which are reworkings of music written for radio in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They will come as something of a surprise to anyone familiar with Lutosławski's later music, for the opening Magia (Magic), with its harp arpeggios, seems to come straight out of Ravel, and a Mediterranean sun warms the second, Odysseus in Ithaca. In contrast, the roistering Symphony No.1 (1948) combines shades of the neo-classical Stravinsky with an element of wild abandon heavily influenced by Prokofiev. If derivative, it is a compelling work for its verve and clarity, and for the mawkish march which emerges out of the nocturne textures of the second movement. The bubbling self-confidence of the symphony was echoed in the equally infectious neo-classical Overture (1949). During the 1950s Lutosławski continued the exploration of folk-music initiated in such early works as Twenty Polish Christmas Carols (1946) for voice and piano, but now combined with the obvious and felicitous influence of Bartók, in the delightful little suite of four miniature folk dances Mala Suite (Little Suite, 1950-1951) for orchestra, and in the undemanding but pretty Tanzpraeludien (Dance Preludes, 1955) for clarinet and chamber orchestra. Stronkette (Chain of Straw) for soprano, mezzo-soprano and wind quintet, is perhaps the most felicitous of these works, a cycle of arrangements of miniature folk-poems with rocking rhythms and a wind accompaniment that points, juxtaposes and cajoles. The major work of this period is the outstanding Concerto for Orchestra (1950-1954), which seeks to combine the neo-classical and the folk, largely confining the latter to thematic fragments drawn from folk-music, and which explores the sometimes complex interaction of linear textures and melodic lines. It is both attractive and weighty, the last three of its five movements played continuously to create a quasi-symphonic structure. With its driving rhythmic vitality (again harking back to Bartók) and its sharply focused instrumental colours, there are moments of solemnity, and also aural magic, such as the dancing revolutions of soloists handing ideas to each other over held strings and a tingling bell at the end of the first movement, or the passacaglia theme that starts the third movement in the deep double basses and harp, like a slow stamping folk-dance, the whole edifice rising up with the additions of other instruments, ideas eventually flying off with a tremendous sense of impulse and excitement. There are echoes of Martinů towards the close, in the step-like construction of momentum and the touch of the chorale against a huge swirling orchestral background, but this is the work in which one can feel Lutosławski developing his personal voice.
Throughout these earlier works, Lutosławski's harmonies had been traditional, leavened by inflections derived from Bartók. In the outer movements of Musique funèbre (1958) for string orchestra, dedicated to the memory of Bartók, he turned to 12-tone technique, though the rows chosen for these sombre and austere movements create a harmonic world akin to the dedicatee rather than anything more astringent, combined with a neo-classical sense of momentum. The middle sections are freer, and the work marks the beginning of the style of synthesis within generally traditional parameters. Then, in the period of the explosion of new musical ideas in Poland, he turned to exploring personal ways of introducing new ideas into large-scale forms. The prelude to this was Three Postludes (1958-1960) for orchestra, in which each of the three parts would have its own tone and textures, while being dependent in the overall form on the others, to be drawn together in a final, fourth, postlude; textures and colours were themselves to become a type of theme. The fourth was never written, but the best known of the Postludes, the first, is an interesting work in its own right, with the feel of an arch form and a magical opening with little fragments spinning off from the general texture into space. Venetian Games (1961) for orchestra, a four-movement instrumental concerto, introduced Lutosławski's crucial concept of controlled aleatoric elements. These were developed in the String Quartet (1964), cast in a duality between the slow prelude and a faster movement; most of the score allows independence to the timing of the actual events played, so their overlaps are not pre-determined. But the harmonic effects of those overlaps is determined, creating filigree effects in the opening leading to a feeling of fluidity, sometimes more dense, sometimes branching out, converging, and getting momentarily held up, like a lava flow that eventually peters out. Throughout events seem to be poised to develop in a recognizable fashion, only to turn out to be preludes to other events, and the unusual aural world of this string quartet has a strong coherence. In the Symphony No.2 (1967) the rhythmic and colour textures created by the aleatoric devices are contrasted with more direct, concerted material, again in a two-movement form. In Paroles tissées (Woven Words, 1965) for tenor and chamber orchestra, the sense of the mobile is created by a revolving tapestry of note patterns in the orchestra against the floating solo lines. The song-cycle is based on Jean François Chabrun's Quatre Tapisseries pour la Châtelaine de Virgil, symbolist poetry in four `tapestries' connected by repeated phrases. Lutosławski's setting, with constantly changing colours and sonorities, ranging from the delicate, with harp and high piano, to the highly charged in the third section, is both compelling and constantly inventive. It was written for Peter Pears, and there is not a huge stylistic leap from the Britten song cycles to the Pole's more contemporary idiom; it might make an interesting foray into more modern textures for those who respond to Britten's works. The expressive and dramatic Livre pour orchestre (Book for Orchestra, 1968) is divided into four movements (called `chapters'), with aleatoric elements at pivotal moments; the whole work thrusts towards the large finale. The culmination of this period appeared in the Cello Concerto (1969-1970), in four linked movements, with exceptionally difficult solo writing, controlled aleatoric sections, and powerfully expressive emotional content, and in the Preludi e fuge (Preludes and Fugue, 1970-1972) for thirteen solo strings. Here the search for large-scale form moulds one of the central musical structures into an unusual whole: seven linked preludes, each with their own character, culminate in a fugue with aleatory elements that uses six `bundles' of colour and melodic strands as themes, drawn from the earlier preludes. The sighing, lamenting textures of swooping cries and a nervous intense stutter that form the duality of this work are most effective. The rather strange Novelette (1978) for orchestra, opposing the brash idea of the opening with quietly sonorous material, as if Lutosławski had stepped into the garden of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, links five interrelated sections, distinct in character; its closing bars are pure Bartók. Mi-parti (1976), which could be called atmospheres and sonorities, returns to the concept of duality, using a technique where the second of two elements acquires new forms in repetition. Here the form is aurally elusive, suggesting fragments flowing together in one flux, but the work is often atmospherically dramatic, with fanfare elements, driving rhythmic energy, and haunting quieter moments, such as the opening, where images seem to be emerging out of mist. The Double Concerto (1980) for oboe, harp and orchestra is more arresting in texture and tone than the Cello Concerto, the basic opposition of the densely charged opening countermanded by a pastoral oboe dominating the work. It is rather frenetic in nature in spite of the boisterous close, as if straining after a general character outside Lutosławski's sensibilities.
The basis of Lutosławski's solutions to form had been moving in these works from an essential duality to a more linear linked progression, heralded but left latent in the Three Preludes and Venetian Games, more overt in the passacaglia of the Concerto for Orchestra. Like the passacaglia, the Preludes and Fugues and Novelette suggested a chain form, in which each section is linked to the other in a linear flow, and this was made explicit in Chain I (1983) for chamber orchestra. Here the music is divided into two strands, each beginning or ending simultaneously; the inherent duality of mood of the earlier works has become smoothed out into a more interrelated expressiveness. An element of the cantabile appeared in Lutosławski's works from the middle 1980s. Chain 3 (1986) for orchestra concentrated on shape and instrumental effect, while the Piano Concerto (1988) married some of Lutosławski's idiom with more traditional four-movement form and content. The Symphony No.3 (1972-1983) moves from a terse, sometimes nebulous sound world to a more lyrical and self-confident mood. Like its predecessor, it is cast in two movements, the first a preparatory movement to the second; here the work is framed by an introduction (including a tense fanfare motif that recurs through the work) and a coda, with the first movement divided into three sections and the whole played without a break. In the Seventeen Polish Christmas Carols (1985) for soprano, female chorus and chamber orchestra, Lutosławski harked back to the 1946 Twenty Polish Carols; the later set is based on the earlier. The traditional melodies will not be familiar to English-speaking Christmas traditions, and the settings are tinged with elements of Lutosławski's orchestral experience. The Symphony No.3 was joined by the Symphony No.4 (1993), in a form similar to the second and third symphonies; even more than its predecessor, it prepares expectations that are fulfilled by a lyrical outpouring on strings and horns.
Lutosławski's influence has been considerable; his synthesis of traditions and experimentation in the 1960s and 1970s heralded a movement general in Western classical music. His particular achievement was to create new ways of setting up expectation and fulfilment for the listener, whether on a small scale (as in the links of his `chains'), or on the large (as in the last three symphonies). When his output is taken overall, the emotional range of his expression was limited to two major modes, the first the terse, tense, sometimes angry, and the second a slightly fantastical nocturnal atmosphere. This limited range, if leavened by a more lyrical flow in his later works, has perhaps hampered a wider popularity for his music, but at its best it is a powerful experience.
- 4 symphonies
- series Chain (1 for chamber orch., 2 for violin and orch.; 2 for orch.)
- Concerto for Orchestra; cello concerto; Double Concerto for oboe, harp and orch.; Paganini Variations for piano and orch.
- Little Suite, Livre pour orchestre, Mi-parti, Novelette, Preludes and Fugues, Three Postludes for orch.; Venetian Games for chamber orch.; Five Folk Melodies, Musique funèbre and Overture for string orch.
- Sacher Variations for solo cello; Grave for cello and piano; Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano (also chamber orch.); Epitaph for oboe and piano; Bucolics for viola and cello; Partita and Recitative e arioso for violin and piano; string quartet
- Bucolics, Folk Melodies, Invention and Two Studies for piano; Variations on a Theme of Paganini for 2 pianos
- Les éspaces du sommeil for baritone and orch.; Five Songs for female voice and 30 solo instruments; Paroles tissées for tenor and orch.; Silesian Triptych for soprano and orch.; Trois poèmes d'Henri Michaux for chorus and orch.
Cello Concerto (1970)
Concerto for Orchestra (1954)
Les éspaces du sommeil (1975)
Mi-Parti (1976) for orchestra
Paroles tissées (1965) for tenor and orchestra
Preludes and Fugue (1970-1972) for thirteen instruments
Symphony No.1 (1947)
Symphony No.2 (1967)
Symphony No.3 (1972-1983)
S.Stucky Lutosławski and his Music, 1981
B.A.Varga Lutosławski Profile, 1976
born 24th September 1914 at Warsaw
died 27th October 1991 at London
Andrzej Panufnik developed an idiom with the inherent sculptural quality that is now recognizable as a hallmark of modern Polish music, albeit in a more traditional setting than either of his better-known contemporaries, Lutosławski and Penderecki. He retained this Polish flavour in his relatively small output in spite of leaving Poland in 1954 and settling in Britain (his mother was English). His earlier compositions were lost in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, and all his works, apart from three that he reconstructed, date from after the end of the Second World War.
The sculptural quality of Panufnik's music is created first by the use of sound blocks - one block of sound is maintained for a considerable period, to be replaced by another, each with a distinct and homogeneous tone and texture - and second by the layering of distinctively shaped material. Its basis is mathematical, less obvious but nonetheless present in his earlier works, and overt in the later. Mathematical symmetries - especially the palindrome, where the second half of a work or movement mirrors the first - and their permutations abound, and much of his music is founded on the mathematical manipulation of three-note cells. This is allied to an emotional feel of the spiritual or visionary, and this tone, together with the intentionally limited harmonic range and colours, has affinities with the music of Górecki, Pärt or Tavener. But where these composers have turned to older musics and elements drawn from the avant-garde, Panufnik's idiom ultimately derives from neo-classical antecedents. As a result, the mathematical techniques are aurally in the background; at their best, they provide a feeling of great cohesion or impelling force, like some great geared machine at times hardly ticking over, at others pounding in high gear. At their worst - and Panufnik's output is variable - this highly organized simplicity can sound as if the music is a formula. This is compounded by the often restrained orchestration and the intentionally limited harmonic or melodic palette for any given piece. The results are then insipid and sometimes tedious. His emotional range is inclined to hover between two states (reflected in the bipartite construction of many of his work): the quiet, atmospherically visionary, and a controlled anger expressed in the precision of percussion and strings. These are exemplified in his finest work, the Sinfonia sacra, one of a series of ten symphonies that form the heart of his output, and it could be claimed that all Panufnik's musical concerns are summated in this single work.
Of his early pieces to survive, the Heroic Overture (begun 1939, completed 1952) and the Tragic Overture (1942, restored 1945, revised 1955) reflect the martial and turbulent events of the times; of the two, the latter is the more interesting, its material built on a four-note cell that becomes more obsessive in tone as the whole piece evolves from an almost pastoral rumination to a grinding remorselessness. More characteristic of Panufnik's later musical concerns is the beautiful Nocturne (1947, revised 1955) for orchestra, a slow moving and still arch, coloured by the use of piano, in an idiom that invites comparison with a Shostakovich slow movement. A martial dissonance invades the tranquillity at close, but is laid to rest by the nocturnal, as if Panufnik was himself laying to rest his wartime experiences. The Old Polish Suite (1950, revised 1955) for string orchestra reflects the contemporary Polish interest in older music, and is archaic in feel.
Panufnik had already embarked on the series of `sinfonias' (often referred to as symphonies), each titled, that form the core of his output. His earliest was destroyed in the Warsaw uprising, and the first of the extant works, the Sinfonia rustica (Symphony No.1, 1948, revised 1955) is a delightful, lucidly orchestrated, and fresh neo-classical sinfonia, certainly not weighty enough for a symphony, using fragments of Polish folk themes. The symphonic construction is symmetrical in its four movements, and the strings are divided antiphonally between the wind and brass. The harmonies have rustic touches and dissonances, but the ingenuous, vigorous idiom, with no trace of sentimentality in the ruminative slow movement, will appeal to those who enjoy Vaughan Williams, and it seems astonishing that the Stalinist Polish government banned it in 1949, declaring "the Sinfonia rustica ceases to exist". The Symphony of Peace (Symphony No.2, 1951) for chorus and orchestra, frames a purely orchestral movement with two using chorus, the first wordless. The Sinfonia sacra (Symphony No.3, 1963), celebrating the millennium of Polish statehood and Christianity, is a much weightier work, and Panufnik's finest creation. Cast in two movements, the first divided into three sharply distinct sections or `visions', it opens with a long series of trumpet fanfares rolling over each other, the trumpeters placed at the four corners of the orchestra. As they reach a climax, there is a sudden hush from held strings, a beautiful vision recalling the Nocturne. Against this percussion breaks out to announce the third vision, a creation of extraordinary power and momentum using relatively simple means. The hymn that forms the second part is based on a medieval Polish hymn, and opens in disembodied woodwind harmonics. The whole movement organically grows from this opening, predominantly in the strings, but joined by trumpet fanfares that had opened the work, answered by the horns, ending in a triumphant clarion climax. There are affinities in this movement to Górecki's later work, but the closest comparison to the whole symphony, one of the finest 20th-century Polish orchestral works, is Janáček's Sinfonietta, similar in tone and construction, though here the textures are leaner and more direct.
The meditative and visionary tone of the second section of the Sinfonia sacra had been heralded in the opening of the lovely, tragic Autumn Music (1962) for orchestra without violins or brass, that uses the simplest of means (a three-note cell, and a limited series of chords) to create a piece of complex transformations, colours divided between the mellowness and the sharpness of autumn air, and heart-felt sadness. Less successful is the cantata Universal Prayer (1969) for four soloists, chorus, three harps and organ, setting a poem by Alexander Pope and musically arranged in a symmetrical arch. The writing for chorus and organ includes aleatoric elements, there being no rhythmical indications. While there are some beautiful moments (especially for the harp) Panufnik's vocal writing does not have the emotional impact or conviction achieved by some of his Polish contemporaries, and the limited intervallic range here works to the music's disadvantage.
The fourth symphony was a concertante work, the Sinfonia concertante (1973) for flute, harp and strings, which followed the palindromic and not especially interesting Violin Concerto (1971). Both the following two symphonies are more beguiling works than an initial encounter, where the apparent bareness is paramount, would suggest. In the Sinfonia di sfere (Symphony of Spheres, Symphony No.5, 1975) a seemingly barren landscape is contrasted with percussion of pounding rhythmic energy, with an almost jazzy bounce and fluid rhythmic ideas folding over one another. The piano has an important colour role in the otherwise limited colour range, in a work in which the aspect of suppressed and controlled in Panufnik's musical character is to the fore. The Sinfonia mistica (Symphony No.6, 1977) has a long lugubrious opening setting the mood of the title, followed by a series of orchestral calls and fanfares thrown around the orchestra, as if the first `vision' of the Sinfonia sacra had been broken up. Just when the varying shades of similar meditative mood, without much sense of internal movement, seem to have outstayed their welcome, it suddenly expands into a passage of inner movement and greater energy, to magical mysterious effect. Formally, the work revolves around the mystical number six, using six sections and combinations of six in the various construction parameters.
Metasinfonia (Symphony No.7, 1978) for organ, strings and timpani invites comparison with Poulenc's better known concerto for the same forces, and at moments sounds oddly like it, to the symphony's disadvantage. It again uses a three-note germ-cell and palindromic construction, with metres that gradually lengthen out in the organ and strings but not in the timpani. The Sinfonia votiva (Symphony No.8, 1981) is dedicated to the Black Madonna, a major icon in the political turbulence of the period when the symphony was written. The first of two movements is created by overlapping circles given to various instrumental groups, clearly audible, and is spartan in texture and tone. The second brings together the whole orchestra, but its intention of `an urgent petition' doesn't quite catch fire. Of his late works the Concertino (1980) for timpani, percussion and strings returns to Panufnik's most effective and atmospheric vein, while the ninth and tenth symphonies, the Bassoon Concerto (commemorating the martyred priest Jerzy Popiełusko) and the String Quartet No.2 `Messages', recalling the effect of wind in telegraph lines that Panufnik heard as a small child, reportedly made strong impressions.
Panufnik's immediate and attractive, if uneven, idiom is beginning to be more widely appreciated; his relative neglect was partly the result of his circumstances of exile, and was not helped by the conductor Stokowski's championing of one of his weakest works, the Universal Prayer. But, as the music of such Polish composers as Górecki becomes widely known, there are many who will appreciate the works of this unassuming Polish exile, limited in range but finely detailed and immaculately constructed, sharing something of the visionary of Górecki while maintaining a connection with the tradition of classical structure.
Panufnik was director of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra (1945-1946) and of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (1946-1947), and music director of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1957-1959). Out of the City of Fear (1956) by his wife Scarlett described their flight from Poland.
- 10 symphonies (`sinfonias') (No.1 Sinfonia rustica, No.2 Symphony of Peace for chorus and orch., No.3 Sinfonia sacra, No.4 Sinfonia concertante for flute, harp and strings, No.5 Sinfonia di sfere, No.6 Sinfonia mistica, No.7 Metasinfonia for organ, strings and timpani, No.8 Sinfonia votiva, No.9 Metasinfonia)
- bassoon concerto; piano concerto; Concerto in modo antico (Gothic Concerto) for trumpet and orch.; Hommage à Chopin for flute and string orch.; Concerto Festivo for orch.
- Autumn Music, Heroic Overture, Landscape, Nocturne, Polonia, A Procession for Peace, Rhapsody, Tragic Overture for orch.; Arbor Cosmica for chamber orch.; Jagiellonian Triptych for string orch.; Arbor Cosmica for 12 strings; Lullaby for strings and 2 harps; Epitaph for the Victims of Katyń for woodwind, strings and timpani
- 4 string quartets (No.2 Messages)
- Dreamscape for mezzo-soprano and piano; Hommage à Chopin for soprano and piano
- cantata Thames Pageant for young players and singers; cantata Universal Prayer; Winter Solstice for soloists, chorus and instrumental ensemble; Five Polish Peasant Songs for trebles and instruments; Song to the Virgin Mary for chorus
- ballet Miss Julie
Autumn Music (1962) for orchestra
Nocturne (1947) for orchestra
Sinfonia di sfere (Symphony No.5, 1975)
Sinfonia mistica (Symphony No.6, 1977)
Sinfonia rustica (Symphony No.1, 1948 revised 1955)
Sinfonia sacra (Symphony No.3, 1963)
A.Panufnik Composing Myself, 1987
born 23rd November 1933 at Debica
Krzysztof Penderecki has established himself as one of the leading avant-garde composers of his generation. His music has also appealed to wider audiences than many of his contemporaries, partly because his idiom has been quite wide-ranging and often uses large-scale forms that have met a need in the concert hall. A consistent feature of his output has been the creation of aural soundscapes of seemingly huge dimensions from the forces available. In addition, his music has what might be described as a visual, sculptural quality, as if it were hewn out of great blocks and then shaped, which has appealed to those who have otherwise found the avant-garde elements unfamiliar or disconcerting. His output has been primarily divided between works for orchestra (including concertos) and large-scale choral works of a religious nature.
Due to the strict cultural control in Poland in the early 1950s, Penderecki only became exposed to the more modern trends in the rest of Europe after 1956, and his first mature work is the Psalms of David (1958) for choir, harp, piano and percussion. The vocal techniques include reciting and whispering, and there are fragmentary effects derived from 12-tone techniques. The third psalm has strong echoes of Orff in the percussive propulsion and choral writing. There then followed a series of orchestral works in which Penderecki experimented with massed sonorities, creating dense atmospheric soundscapes whose expressive power has attracted a wide range of audience. The piece with which he made his name was the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1959-1960), which uses 52 strings for a dark work of contemporary effects that reflect the horror of the subject. Its striking sonorities are as effective and as harrowing today as when the work appeared. Anaklasis (1959-1960) for 42 strings and percussion includes a prepared piano used percussively, and the string writing involves the extensive use of quarter-tones and extended instrumental techniques. It is a study in dense-textured cluster sounds, overlayered by pointillistic moments, a transitional piece between the legacy of serialism and Penderecki's developing command of sonorities. The short and sonorously frenetic String Quartet No.1 (1960) explored a whole gamut of sound effects, hitherto unheard in the string quartet repertoire, in a simple but effective formal structure. Polymorphia (1961) for 48 strings developed the idiom, with dense cluster textures, swooping string sounds, massed pluckings, and a series of ebbs and flows culminating in a C major chord. Fluorescences (1961) for orchestra is a more extended exploration of expressive and extreme sonorities. De Natura Sonoris (1966) for orchestra breaks up Penderecki's customary dense textures into smaller groupings and transformations, exploring a wider range of sounds, sometimes akin to sounds of electronic music, at one point infused with jazz rhythms. Meanwhile, in Dimensions of Time and Silence (1959-1960) for 40-part choir, percussion and strings, Penderecki abandoned the original text in favour of clusters of vowels and consonants. Its tintinnabulating opening initiates the sense of ritual in Penderecki's work, and the fantastic sonorities and massed vocal effects point to the later choral works.
His most outstanding success of the 1960s, and one of the seminal works of the period, reached a wide public partly because of its Christian subject and partly because of the intensity and variety of its effects. The St.Luke Passion (Passio et mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam, 1963-1965) uses a very wide range of avant-garde devices, particularly in the choral and orchestral writing, but always in the service of religious effect and drama, and they are combined with obviously tonal effects. The Passion showed the viability of combining the emotional, liturgical tradition with judiciously chosen avant-garde techniques and sonorities. It also proved that such a combination could appeal to a much larger audience than most avant-garde works. The Dies Irae (subtitled Auschwitz Oratorio, 1967) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, uses many of the darker effects of the Passion, adding the sounds of siren and chain to the sonorities. It is an intensely dramatic and dark work, with massed sounds of horror, the entire construction aimed at an Expressionist impact using texts from the Bible, contemporary poets and Greek drama, all translated into Latin apart from the Greek fragments. Perhaps more impressive than either of these two works is the two-part oratorio Utrenja (1970-1971). Part I, subtitled 'The Entombment of Christ' for five soloists, two mixed choirs, and orchestra, combines echoes of the Russian Orthodox rite in low bass lines and homophonic chants with thick polyphonic choral writing with cluster effects, moving in slow, gradually evolving swathes of dark textures in a contemplative rite. Part I ends in the hope of Resurrection. Part II, subtitled 'The Resurrection' adds a boys' choir to the forces, and is an emotional contrast to Part I. Here there is a feeling of a tumultuous ritual, of the energy of the crowd, the vocal cries and shouts supported by clappers, bells, rattles and glockenspiels. Against this is set a chorale in the Orthodox tradition. There is a kind of visual abandon to this work, as blocks of events happen, stop, and start again, retaining their dense textures. Although designed so that the two parts form two works, they are best heard together, the two emotional worlds balancing each other. Similar musical effects were used theatrically in such works as the opera The Devils of Loudun (1969), based on the book by Aldous Huxley, where the dark story with its religious elements is reflected in a score of extreme, or untraditional, vocal effects (including a speaking role). The orchestration includes electric bass guitar.
Then in the middle of the 1970s Penderecki suddenly moved away from his considerable development of new sounds and effects, and seemed to step right back into a tonal world. The first piece to suggest such a change was Przebudzenie Jakuba (The Awakening of Jacob, sometimes titled Jacob's Dream, 1974) for orchestra, a tone-painting of huge atmospheric sonorities with neo-Romantic overtones in the massed layers of sound. The large, bold Violin Concerto No.1 (1976-1977) continued this trend, in a work that followed the tradition of the virtuoso Romantic concerto, with soaring solo lines, and a general duality between the quick and happy, and the darker, announced in the groups of thematic ideas of the single-movement sonata allegro form. The experience of his more avant-garde style appears in some of the sonorities and dissonant effects, especially in the darker, clustered moments from the orchestra, but to all intents and purposes this is a work of neo-Romanticism using the new sonorities to considerable effect. The impetus behind this new direction in Penderecki's style was a very large scale opera, Paradise Lost (1975-1978), whose theatrical demands are so great it has been rarely performed. From it, Penderecki drew a short (5 minute) suite, the Adagietto (1978), made up of instrumental ideas from the opera, an overtly Romantic work virtually without a dissonance or massed sonority. However, the work in this new aesthetic that aroused the greatest controversy was the Symphony No.2 `Wigilijna' (`Christmas Symphony' (1979-1980), which can only be described as Brucknerian. To those who had supported and admired Penderecki's work, it seemed a negation of all that he had previously achieved. What seemed surprising was again the relative absence of the massed layering of dissonances, or indeed Penderecki's earlier style in general (in contrast to the Violin Concerto). Given knowledge of Penderecki's earlier music, it is difficult to be objective about this symphony, though taken in isolation it is a powerful work constructed in a large arch, the theme of `Silent Night' threading through the work at unexpected moments, with Penderecki's knowledge of the sonorities of the orchestra turned to Brucknerian ends. Both those sympathetic to Penderecki's earlier idiom, and those antipathetic to it should try this work, the former to gauge their own reactions, the latter because they will find a powerful symphony they may well respond to. Even more overtly neo-Romantic is the Te Deum (1980) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which has strong Polish resonances both in the choice of the text and in some of the musical idiom. It combines very old-fashioned writing with some of the polyphonic choral and vocal effects derived from his earlier style. Influenced by traditional liturgical music, it comes as a shock after the brilliant spiritual illumination of Penderecki's earlier religious works, though the internal shifts from old-fashioned style to more contemporary effect are handled with great mastery. This combination might greatly appeal to those who are just exploring some of the sonorities and effects of the avant-garde, encased as they are here in more familiar surroundings.
This neo-Romantic trend has continued, considerably tempered, in the Cello Concerto No.2 (1982) and the Viola Concerto (1983). The Brucknerian element has disappeared in these works, replaced with precise rhythmic punctuation and instrumental detail that seems ultimately to descend from Stravinsky's neo-classicism and the vigour of Hindemith. The opening of the impressive Cello Concerto No.2 recalls Vivaldi, with dropping string lines that overlap with those that remain static to create dissonant effects. The solo writing is expressively restrained but highly virtuoso, the lyricism tempered by a bold, sometimes aggressive ruggedness, sounding against a combination of pithy comments handed around the orchestra. There are clear textures and moments of more sonorous, atmospheric depth of a dissonance absent in the symphony. The ending is a whirlwind of different stylistic effects, especially percussion against the soloist, synthesized into a unified whole, before a relatively tranquil close. The Viola Concerto is another large-scale single-movement concerto, overtly Romantic in the opening and in the solo writing, but then injected with orchestral sonorities derived from his earlier style, as if continuing the attempt at synthesis. The overall tone is of a rough-hewn block, the orchestral chisel wielded with sharp, angered strokes, and unexpected in a concerto for viola, which is usually treated lyrically. One can't help but feel that there is an element of annoyed response to his critics in both these works. A more worthy butt of such disapproval is the Polish Requiem (1980-1984) for soloists, two choruses and orchestra, whose throwback to the grand 19th-century manner and techniques seems the complete negation of this composer's particular genius, in spite of some passages that gesture towards his earlier techniques.
Fortunately, Penderecki returned to a tortured, extreme story in the one-act opera The Black Mask (1989). Set in 17th-century Silesia, it is a dark work of death, sex, exploitation and corruption. In the background lies the shadow of the Black Death; on stage, a symbolic dancer of death (the black mask of the title), while the plainchant `Dies Irae' is a recurring musical theme. Penderecki employs two orchestras, the main pit orchestra and a backstage woodwind orchestra, for a musical idiom that combines more conventional writing with expressive and dramatic vocal lines, with few purely solo moments apart from a long aria for the heroine. This is an opera of the complex interaction of characters, and the music reflects this. The orchestral colours are muted and dark, the textures lean and linear in comparison to the earlier works. Musically the opera appears rather monochromatic, the powers of orchestral expression tamed, but it gradually builds in variety of musical effect during its 90-minute duration.
Penderecki's new outlook has met with some critical disapproval. But it is perhaps too early to judge its impact, if any - in particular how general audiences will respond, given Penderecki's earlier reputation as a member of the avant-garde. His earlier works, quite apart from their expressive power, have an important historical place in the development of new sonorities, and, while not alone in such developments, Penderecki's sophisticated handling of these aural effects has had a considerable influence on other contemporary composers.
- 2 symphonies (No.2 Wigilijna [Christmas Symphony])
- cello concerto; viola concerto; 2 violin concertos; Capriccio for oboe and strings; Capriccio for violin and orch.; sonata for cello and orch.; Partita for harpsichord, 5 solo instruments amplified and orch.
- The Dream of Jacob, Fonogrammi, Fluorescences and other works for orch.
- Anaklasis for string orch. and percussion; Epitaphium on the Death of Artur Malawski for string orch. and timpani; Emanations for 2 string orchestras; Polymorphia for 48 strings; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 strings; De Natura Sonoris II for wind, percussion and strings; Prélude for wind, percussion and contrabasses; Actions for jazz ensemble; Pittsburgh Overture for wind and tympani
- Capriccio for Siegfried Palm for solo cello; 2 string quartets
- Strophes for soprano, narrator and ten instruments
- Canticum Canticorum Salomonis (Song of Songs) for 16-voice, chorus, chamber orch, and 2 dancers; Dies Irae for soloists, chorus and orch.; Dimensions of Time and Silence for choir and orch.; Kosmogonia for soloists, chorus and orch.; Magnificat for chorus and orchestra; Polish Requiem for soloists, chorus and orch.; Psalms of David for chorus and percussion; St. Luke Passion; Stabat Mater for 3 16-part choirs; Te Deum for soloists, chorus and orch.; Utrenja for soloists, 2 mixed choirs and orch.
- operas The Black Mask, The Devils of Loudon, Paradise Lost and Ubu Roi
The Awakening of Jacob (1974) for orchestra
Cello Concerto No.2 (1982)
Dies Irae (Auschwitz Oratorio) (1967)
Dimensions of Time and Silence (1959-1960) for choir and percussion
St.Luke Passion (1963-1965) for soloists, chorus and orchestra
String Quartet No.1 (1960)
Symphony No.2 Christmas Symphony (1979-1980)
Te Deum (1980) for soloists, chorus and orchestra (see text)
Threnody on the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) for 52 strings
Violin Concerto No.1 (1976-1977)
R.Robinson Penderecki: a Guide to his Works, 1983
born 6th October 1882 at Timashovka (Ukraine)
died 29th March 1937 at Lausanne
Of all the lesser-known composers in this Guide, the relative obscurity of the music of Karol Szymanowski must rank among the most inexplicable, though in the first decade of the 21st Century his music is gradually becoming more widely disseminated. No-one has ever exceeded him for sheer intensity of sensuous, ecstatic beauty, and of his limited number of works (69 opus numbers) at least three would seem to have all the requirements to maintain a firm hold on the hearts of music-lovers.
His output, after early works influenced by Chopin and German masters, falls into two distinct periods. The first followed his encounter with the music of Debussy during a First World War visit to Russia, and his discovery of Islamic culture during a visit to Sicily and North Africa in 1914. In the works that followed, brilliant orchestration of large forces is combined with intricate detail, exotic effects, oriental rhythms, and large-scale architecture to create music of sensual power and ecstasy. These works are characterized by high expressive violin lines, increasingly chromatic harmonies, and oriental sonorities. While the overall effect is Impressionistic, the expression of sensuality, the attention to brilliance of detail, and where applicable the choice of words, are oriental in origin.
Szymanowski's Symphony No.1 (1908-1909) was withdrawn, but the richly orchestrated Symphony No.2 (1909-1910, revisions 1934) stands between the Germanic influence of his earliest works and the full-blown sensuousness that was to follow. Its unusual structure is cast in two parts, the first (opening with a solo violin as if it were a concerto) audibly lies under the wing of Strauss, while the second is a series of linked variations culminating in a fugue, probably influenced by Reger. The highly charged one-act opera Hagith (1913, not performed until 1922), based on the Biblical story, still has echoes of Strauss, but is closer to the Bartók of Bluebeard's Castle in idiom, with a mood of ecstasy replacing the brooding of the Hungarian. By the Symphony No.3 `Pieśń o nocy' (Song of the Night, 1914-1916) for tenor, chorus and orchestra, one of Szymanowski's finest works, the Straussian voluptuousness had been joined by an Impressionist delicacy. The mystical text (in Polish) is drawn from the Persian 13th-century Sufi poet Djālal-al-Dīn Rūmī; the score allows for performance without tenor, but not without chorus. An orchestral introduction sets the sultry, richly perfumed nocturnal atmosphere, quickly joined by the tenor and a chorus line whose textures are folded into the whole orchestral image. The heady mysterious tone is maintained throughout the work (which is in one continuous flow), sometimes interrupted by fanfare figures or orchestral passages that suggest Bacchanalian dances under a hot night sky, and the music is pin-pointed with instrumental detail, a tambourine providing a continuous thread. A central section for the tenor hushes the tone against rich orchestral resonances and choral swells; the solo writing follows the inflections of speech (in contrast to the more cantabile solo instrumental lines), and the sense of hushed passion bursting its restraints is maintained to the end in one of the headiest of all symphonies. At the same time Szymanowski was working on an even finer work, the Violin Concerto No.1 (1915-1916), where the textures are thinner and more Impressionist, and which marks the summit of his ability to elicit an orchestral ecstasy, constantly in fervent emotional motion. It was inspired by another night poem, `May Night' by Tadeusz Miciński, and although there is no overt programmatic content, the concerto follows the exotic imagery and colour contrasts of the inspiration, with soaring rich solo writing whose sensuous tension is increased by contrasts with the orchestral material. This is one of the most passionate and beautiful of all violin concertos. The String Quartet No.1 (1917) brings some of the yearning beauty of the concerto into the chamber medium, but in a much more restrained fashion, with a lovely slow movement (bringing Ravel to mind) and an interesting fugal finale in which the voices enter a minor third apart and create polytonal effects until the final resolution. The first two of the three Mythes (1915) for violin and piano have an attractive languid Impressionism, especially the first, `La Fontaine d'Aréthuse', where the singing solo line has almost the role of a story-teller. The third, `Dryades et Pan' is dramatically more wide-ranging, a miniature tone-poem, the sound of Pan's pipes convincingly rendered by high harmonics on the violin.
The summit of this period of Szymanowski's output was the opera King Roger (1918-1926), where the libretto by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, about the 12th-century Norman King of Sicily, Roger II, who surrounded himself with one of the most intellectually advanced and multi-cultural courts of the period, exactly suited the composer's mixture of mysticism, Arab influence, and rich sensuousness. Roger is confronted by a pantheistic figure (the Shepherd) who converts his wife Roxanna, and eventually Roger himself, and is revealed as Dionysus; the distant source for the work is Euripides' The Bacchae. On one level this represents the conflict between Christianity and paganism, on another that between Apollo and Dionysus, but this complex libretto, full of allusion, is one of those multi-layered works so open to musical treatment, and is ultimately best analyzed in Jungian terms. The relationship between Roger and the Shepherd has homoerotic undertones; Szymanowski wrote a homosexual novel during this period, which was destroyed in the Nazi invasion. The opera is inclined to produce mixed reactions: for some the continuously charged atmosphere and exotic, sensual musical treatment is too overwhelming in a work so much longer than a concerto or symphony; for others, it is a continuously fascinating interplay of colour and intellectual and psychological ideas that raises complex questions of spirituality. Either way, there are glorious moments, such as the huge choral opening in the cathedral that, redolent of Byzantine church music, is one of the most exciting openings to any opera, `Roxanne's Song', or the vision of Apollonian sunlight at the close.
Following Szymanowski's research into Polish folk-music in the late 1920s, especially in the Tatra mountains, the ecstatic sweep was tempered by a more rugged mode of expression. These works incorporate folk elements either in direct quotation or in spirit, using unusual scales, harmonies and duple rhythms. The exotic colours and cantabile lines remain, but are combined with more immediate, folk-inspired rhythms, and a more direct contrapuntal writing. The orchestration is less dense, and the overall effect is more violent and improvisatory. The hinge work between these two styles is the ballet Harnasie (1923-1931) for tenor, chorus and orchestra, reflecting the life of the highland Tatra peasants, in which a robber baron rescues a maiden from forced marriage to a much older farmer. It contains marvellous moments, such as the orchestral evocation of the Carpathians or the Tatra folk-songs used in the pre-marriage ceremonies, but divorced from its stage setting is diffuse overall. The String Quartet No.2 (1927), however, is one of Szymanowski's finest works; once heard, the opening movement is difficult to forget, with its rocking opening over which emerges a sad, almost apologetic theme, its autumnal colours, and its moments of fretful mournfulness. The leaner textures, more formal organization, and the lingering sensuousness of melodic lines of Szymanowski's later period culminated in two concertante works. The Symphonie concertante (Symphony No.4, 1932) for piano and orchestra is more brittle than his earlier works, straying into neo-classical areas, with the piano melded into the general orchestral texture; this lack of highlighted solo display has hampered its wider performance. The Violin Concerto No.2 (1933) makes a worthy companion to the first, imbued with the spirit of the folk dance.
Szymanowski was himself a concert pianist, and piano works occupy an important part of his output and a significant place in Polish music. The earlier works are influenced by Chopin or Scriabin, but Métopes (1915) reflect his sensual period. More likely to be encountered are the Mazurkas (two sets, op.50, 1924-1925, and op.60). No trace of Chopin lingers in these works; they are subtle and elusive, like delicate perfumes, veering off into unexpected melodic lines and rhythmic effects, often with an improvisatory feel. Szymanowski's songs also occupy an important place in Polish music; their obscurity outside Poland must be partly due to the language difficulties. The earliest songs are influenced by Chopin, and then show an increasing chromaticism, as in the considerable demands of `Ryez burzo!' (`Howl, storm'), the fourth of Cztery peiśni op.11 (Four Songs, 1904-1905). One of the Fünf Gesänge op.13 (Five Songs, 1905-1907) sets a poem from the Das Knaben Wunderhorn collection; Zwölf Lieder (1907) shows the influence of Strauss. The Sześć pieśni op.20 (Six Songs) herald the interest in the sensual and exotic in both texts and music, and in the two sets of Des Hafis Liebeslieder op.24 and op.26 (Love Songs of Hafiz, 1914) he reached a mature individual voice in his songs; he orchestrated a number of them. The most representative songs of this period are the cycles Pieśni ksiezniczki z baśni op. 31 (Songs of the Fairy Princess, 1915) and Pieśni muezina szalonego op.42 (Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin, 1918). The persona of the former, for coloratura soprano and piano, is a Princess who, in a series of fantastical love-poems, sings of sensual longing and physical yearning, with voluptuous vocal lines. The latter, to texts by Iwaszkiewicz, includes the evocation of a Muezzin's call to prayer. Rymy dzieciece (Children's Rhymes, 1922-1923) is a series of 20 miniature songs evoking childhood for soprano and piano, suitable for a child as well as an adult to sing. The later songs include settings of poems from Joyce's Chamber Music (Four Songs op.54, 1926), but most show folk influence, notably the set Dwanaście pieśni kurpiowskich op.58 (Twelve Kurpian Songs, 1930-1932), the most potent expression of Szymanowski's involvement with his folk-music heritage. His finest vocal work, considered by many to be his finest work in any genre, is the Stabat Mater (1925-1926) for contralto, baritone, chorus and orchestra. Aiming at a simplicity and clarity of expression, it is small in scale but not in effect, and mostly slow. It is infused with an ecstatic spiritual intensity, drawing on Eastern church music and on the inflections of folk-song in the vocal lines. There is a noble climax to end the penultimate section before the most magical music in the piece, the opening of the final section. It is directly antecedent to Górecki's Symphony No.3, but is a more varied and more satisfying work, and anyone who has enjoyed the later Pole's symphony should hunt out this little-known but spiritually breath-taking work.
Szymanowski stands in a similar relation to Polish music as Bartók to Hungarian music, and if as not as significant an innovator, his emotional range can be as compelling in his best works; he deserves to be far more widely appreciated. He was principal of the Warsaw Conservatory (1927-1930) and died in a Swiss sanatorium of tuberculosis.
- 4 symphonies (No.1 withdrawn, No.3 Song of the Night, No.4 Symphonie concertante for piano and orchestra)
- 2 violin concertos
- Concert Overture for orch.
- Mythes and Nocturne and Tarantella for violin and piano; 2 string quartets
- 3 piano sonatas; Études, Four Polish Dances, Les Masques, Mazurkas, Métopes, Preludes and other works for piano
- song cycle with orchestra Love Songs of Hafiz (also piano); song cycles with piano Six Songs of the Fairy Princess de Laqua and Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin; many song sets including settings of Demal, Joyce, and Tagore
- Agave and Demeter for contralto, female voices and orch.; Stabat Mater for soloists, chorus and orch.
- ballets Harnasie and Mandragora
- operas Hagith and King Roger
opera King Roger (1918-1925, revisions 1934)
Mythes (1915) for violin and piano
Stabat Mater (1925-1926) for contralto, baritone, chorus and orchestra
String Quartet No.2 op.56 (1927)
Symphonie concertante (Symphony No.4, 1932) for piano and orchestra
Symphony No.2 op.19 (1909-1910)
Symphony No.3 op.27 (Song of the Night) (1914-1916)
Violin Concerto No.1 op.35 (1915-1916)
Violin Concerto No.2 op.61 (1933)
Samson, J. The Music of Szymanowski, 1980