I love dead people. No, but really. When I first heard Witold Lutosławski speaking on the radio, he was dead since about fifteen years. To understand his music I needed another couple of years but when I did, it was instant love, as it was with Witek himself.
All the musicians should play as if they did not know what the others are playing, or at least as if they did not hear anything apart from their own performance. They must not worry that they are slower or faster than the others. This problem simply does not occur, as there are means at work that prevent any unwanted consequences of such freedom. If all the performers strictly adhere to the instructions included in their written parts, there cannot appear anything that the composer had not foreseen.
One of the most common expressions when it comes to describe music of Lutosławski (actually invented by himself) is controlled aleatorism. For those of you who are less of music theory geeks, think aleatorism as pure chance in music, a huge ad libitum: this is the piece and play it as you wish. Controlled aleatorism means giving some freedom to performers (one or more voices in the score) within certain limits: this is the melody, I won’t write exactly how do I imagine that part, but you better do it as if you were reading my thoughts. As an example I will give his String Quartet: he only wrote the parts, distributed them among the four performers and categorically refused to putting them together in one score:
if I wrote a standard score, mechanically transferring all the individual parts into it, I would be misleading you, offering a false image of my composition – it would simply be a score for a different work. For example, it would suggest that the notes appearing vertically in the same position should be played simultaneously, which contradicts my intentions. It would deprive the work of its ‘mobile’ character, which is one of its most important traits.
The LaSalle Quartet, for their part, refused to play it without an overview on maestro’s general idea – who, being as elegant and well mannered as he was stubborn, kept insisting that the complete score does not exist. As you may imagine, this is the moment when – according to Polish proverb – where the Devil cannot go himself, he sends a woman.
Danuta Lutosławska, sister of Polish author Stanisław Dygat, was great love of Lutosławski. They married in 1946, once she divorced architect Jan Bogusławski. She was not a musician, but insisted on personally copying all of her husband’s scores. She even said, that it would have been be worse than betrayal for her, if Witek would decide to delegate this task to someone else. When LaSalle Quartet questioned the lack of traditional score of the String Quartet, she was the one who copied everything once again and using scissors and glue prepared the approximate score that she sent to the ensemble’s first violinist, Walter Levin. Witold just pretended he didn’t know. Of course he did.
Danuta managed all of her husband’s professional life, was his passionate lover and most precise assistant. They were one. She told to a friend, Krzysztof Jakowicz: You know, I decided I have to live longer than him, because he needs me. Witek, for his part, kept saying he would be nothing without her, never delegated the score-copying or any other task, that could be completed by Danuta and that she was willing to do, to anyone else – and always chose dresses for her. They were indispensable for each other, breathing the same air and speaking the same language, even reading books together.
After Witold Lutosławski’s death in February 1994, Krzysztof Jakowicz called Danuta, but she put down the phone. He called again, only to hear: “Don’t call me please. I am not here any more.”
Two months later, having put in excellent order all husband’s papers and letters – except the ones between two of them, that she destroyed – she stepped through the door. Witek was waiting for her.
Happy 113th birdthay, Witek.
Paroles tissées – Les espaces du sommeil
First piece of the above three was composed in 1965 and first performed by tenor Peter Pears. The lyrics are taken from a monumental, four part poem by Jean-Francois Chaubrun: Quatre tapisseries pour la châtelaine de Vergi. Being aware it’s not the most promotion-ready title possible, Lutosławski – as always, respectfully – asked the poet to choose one for his composition (he could have named it Bang bang and no one would said a word, since it was separate piece… but it’s exactly why did I fell in love with him, posthumously. The old-fashioned elegance). Chaubrun proposed two variants out of which the composer chose Paroles tissées, which could be a nice title for all his vocal-instrumental output anyway: think how precise, how meaningful is the expression “woven words”.
Ten years later Les espaces du sommeil was premiered in Berlin Philharmonic with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing baritone part. Again yet, as with Paroles tissées, Lutosławski wrote the piece specifically for the singer and both of them are dedicated to their first performers. And again the Robert Desnos three part poem has sort of woven structure, which is mirrored in the musical layer as well. The composer initially classified his work as symphonic poem with baritone solo (and definitely not song cycle, nor a single song), but later when he realised the connotations with the genre so passionately loved by Liszt and Richard Strauss, he didn’t stick with this category any more. In Les espaces… one interesting thing is the fact, that it contains two lyrical subjects, one of them being the orchestra, that not only accompanies, but also colours and comments the – mainly syllabic – vocal part.
These two remain my favourite Lutosławski compositions. Generally speaking, his vocal works tend to be less complicated formally, because he was working very closely with the singers and asking them continuously to verify if the vocal line remains comfortable. Woven from such threads as well constructed dramatic tension, immense melodious invention and rich orchestral colours, both pieces say a lot not only about Lutosławski’s musical world but also about himself. Elegant and old-fashioned, gentleman in all meanings, insisting on being called simply Witek by anyone he worked with, all members of all the orchestras and more or less anyone he met – and it was not about respect or lack of it, it was just him. Incredibly intelligent and kind, but also stubborn and hard-working perfectionist. What he hated profoundly, yet treated with most distinct elegance, was lack of professionalism and ignorance. I am just wondering where did all these virtues go, as they are exceptionally rare nowadays – but I don’t want to be unjust, there are people who still behave like this, and I am lucky enough to know a couple of them.