Witold Lutosławski: Bukoliki
It was in 1952, while he was working on the Concerto, that Lutosławski composed a set of five short pieces for solo piano that he called Bukoliki, or “bucolics.” These pieces were based on Polish folk-melodies, and in that sense they were acceptable to Soviet authorities. The Bucolics are pleasing pieces, not so difficult as to be beyond the reach of young performers, and the entire set lasts only about five minutes–these pieces should be thought of as miniatures. Lutosławski himself was the pianist at their formal premiere in Warsaw in December 1953. In 1962, the composer came back to this music and arranged it for viola and cello, and that is the version heard at this concert. In their duo-form, these pieces become pleasing little exercises in two-part counterpoint, enjoyable for their attractive tunes, their rhythmic energy, and the precision and clarity of Lutosławski’s writing.
Witold Lutosławski: Sacher Variation
Among the many tributes paid to Paul Sacher, the founder and conductor of the Basle Chamber Orchestra and Choir, on his 70th birthday in 1976 was a short work for unaccompanied cello, composed the previous year by Witold Lutosławski.
It is not, as its title might suggest, in variation form, but a piece in which a six-note sequence gradually comes to the fore and takes precedence over other ideas which, besides being of an entirely different nature, are restricted to the remaining six notes of the chromatic scale and their neighbouring quarter-tones. The principal sequence consists of the notes E flat, A, C, B, E and D. If we regard the E flat and B as S (Es) and H, as in the German and the D as R (Re), as in French, we get the name ‘Sacher’. The order of these notes does not vary, although to begin with the sequence is broken up by the intervention of other material. For instance, the very first note is E flat (Es), but there is a gap before the A and C are reached and another one afterwards. Even so, there is no mistaking the two groups, for they are strongly contrasted both in register and dynamic levels, the ‘Sacher’ motif being restricted to the bass at this point.
Sacher Variation differs from all the other works of Lutosławski since his Jeux Venitiens of 1961, in that it contains no aleatory passages. There is a good reason for this. His aleatory technique is essentially a contrapuntal one that gives performers a limited degree of freedom in the precise placing of notes in time. As such it is not applicable to a work consisting of a single line, although the performer’s use of rubato adds up to virtually the same thing. Apart from the two quiet pizzicato notes at the end (the final statement of the ‘Sacher’ motif), Lutosławski makes no use of double stopping or chords. Nor does he call for those extremely high notes beloved by many modern composers; as in his superb Cello Concerto he is content with the cello’s normal compass.
-Malcolm Rayment, 1977
Steven Stucky: Nell’ombra, nella luce
Nell’ombra, nella luce (“In Shadow, in Light”) is based on simple oppositions between “bright” and “dark” musics – between music of high register, forceful gesture, clear harmony, optimistic tone on the one hand, and of low register, mysterious manner, and denser, less clear harmony on the other.
These contrasts are exposed almost immediately: the opening idea, gioioso (joyous), alternates with another idea, soave (gentle), but very soon these musics of the light are suddenly replaced by a shadowy, furtive music marked oscuro (dark). Throughout the 17-minute course of the piece, all these ideas and others like them will return several times, continually transformed but always in the service of the fundamental opposition between light and dark. At the same time, the rough outlines of a familiar formal layout may be glimpsed, especially something like a slow movement, and something like a scherzo (with trio!).
As often happens in my music, all the ideas are defined as much by factors like register, dynamic, instrumental texture, and expressive character, as by traditional thematic markers such as melody, rhythm, and motive. In this sense, like much of my work, Nell’ombra, nella luce is a composition of colors more than a composition of lines.
The work was commissioned by the Institute of American Music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and composed between August 1999 and January 2000. The first performance was given by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano in Pittsburgh on 12 February 2000.
Steven Stucky: Dialoghi
Among composers there is an old tradition of honoring patrons or friends by incorporating their names into the fabric of the music. One version is the soggetto cavato (carved subject) of Renaissance music. Later examples include the BACH motif, D.Sch. as the personal symbol of Shostakovich, and the coded names in Schumann's piano music.
Dialoghi (Dialogues) was written as a gift to a friend, the American cellist Elinor Frey. Its theme is the six letters of her first name, translated into notes: E, L (= la, or A), I (= mi, or E), N (= G, according to one often-used system), O (= do, or C), and R (= re, or D) - hence the work's subtitle, "Studi su un Nome," studies on a name. The music unfolds in seven short, vividly contrasting variations. Since the name-theme uses only five different notes, namely the pentatonic C, D, E (twice), G, and A, many of the variations juxtapose these five with other, contrasting combinations drawn from the remaining seven notes of the chromatic scale. The last variation leads to a grand restatement of the theme but then subsides into a serene coda.
Why "dialogues"? Partly because the theme notes and the non-theme notes so often engage in "conversation" throughout, but more importantly because the friendship being recognized in this piece rests not only on my musical collaborations with Elinor but also on our wonderful conversations about books, music, paintings, films, psychology, religion, food, and all things Italian (hence the Italian title).
Dialoghi was composed in October 2006 and was given its first public performance by its dedicatee in Cazenovia, New York, on 14 July 2007.
Witold Lutosławski: String Quartet
My String Quartet lasts approximately twenty-four minutes, and contains two parts: introduction and main movement. The introduction opens with a recitative by the first violin followed by several separate episodes – as if framed – by groups of octaves (C – C). A short allusion to the opening recitative (this time in the cello) ends the movement in a kind of suspense. The main movement starts with a ‘furioso’; its violent character dominates for quite a while culminating finally in a ‘crisis’ played in the highest registers of all four instruments. A kind of chorale in ‘pianissimo’ follows, then a longer section marked ‘funebre’. The final episodes of the work constitute a commentary, as it were on what went on before.
In this Quartet I have sought to develop and enlarge the technique employed in the two preceding works, Jeux Venitiens and Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux the technique of what I call controlled aleatorism. It employs the element of chance for the purpose of rhythmic and expressive enrichment of the music without limiting in the least the full ability of the composer to determine the definitive form of the work.
The String Quartet was commissioned by Swedish Radio for the tenth anniversary of its New Music programme ‘Nutida Musik’. The World Premiere was given by the LaSalle Quartet in Stockholm on 12 March 1965.
-- Witold Lutosławski