Uploaded on Jan 9, 2011
Symphony No. 3 (1972-1973)
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Witold Lutoslawski is known as one of the great orchestral composers of the latter half of the twentieth century. His music is rooted in the Classical-Romantic tradition as well as the spirited character of Eastern European predecessors such as Bartók, Prokofiev, and Szymanowski. Along the way, though, he introduced a number of innovations in keeping with the avant-garde tendencies of his Polish compatriots. He managed to strike a balance, somehow, between novel, even aleatoric textures, chromatically expressive melodies, wide-ranging rhythms, and a clear formal balance that conveyed an engagingly dramatic narrative. His Symphony No. 3 is the most ambitious, and possibly the most successful, example of his style.
Lutoslawski struggled for many years with this score. Begun in the early 1970s as a prestigious commission for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he finally delivered the completed score in 1983. In discussions on its genesis, Lutoslawski has tended to focus on his own difficulties in working through Poland's period of Martial Law, a difficult time for those engaged in artistic expression. There are "martial" elements in the piece, particularly in the aggressive brass motives that impose themselves at various points, but this work is not programmatic, or possessed of a literal narrative.
One of the composer's main concerns was to find a way to incorporate lighter, more melodic passages into his work. His Symphony No. 2 (1967), for example, is built primarily from blocks of dense textures; there is very little line to the piece. Symphony No. 3, by contrast, is much more nuanced, both in the variety of materials and in the formal design. The piece unfolds as one continuous movement, but a number of sections can clearly be heard. The brass shout a call-to-arms to launch the symphony, but the music quickly dissolves into a nebulous wash.
The work proceeds in an episodic fashion, with the attention shifting abruptly from one texture to another. The brass continue to interject, and at last an extended transition pushes toward a more substantial section. A toccata-like, contrapuntal string texture casts a Beethovenian shadow, and one can hear vestiges of the sonata allegro form in this passage, with the strings leading into a more lyrical "second theme." These elements are developed in succession, intercut with passages featuring the brass. Along the way, there are a few triumphant moments for full orchestra. The final culmination leads to what Lutoslawski calls an Epilogue. This section constitutes a grand crescendo, building from the bottom up, with more and more instruments entering until the entire orchestra erupts in a final lyrical outpouring. The coda is brief, winding its way quickly downward, ending with one last gasp.
Symphony No. 3 represents the pinnacle of Lutoslawski's achievement. The various families of instruments are all featured in one fashion or another, complementing very well the talents of a great orchestra such as the Chicago Symphony. New to Lutoslawski's style is the lyricism which is evident throughout the work, set against his more characteristic orchestrational brilliance and rhythmic vitality. The formal construction is impressive, too; the thematic elements are carefully developed, and the harmonies, though non-tonal, are often sonorous and built from triadic superpositions. Lutoslawski completed this symphony at the mature age of 70 and would complete one more. [allmusic.com]
Art by Jackson Pollock