Witold Lutoslawski - Orchestral Works Vol.3 (1997)
In his comments on the suggestion that his music goes far beyond the "texture of words" of Jean-Francois Chabrun, which served him as a basis, Lutoslawski referred to the famous remark of Debussy, that music begins where the words finish. He added that he did not believe in any way that music was able to transmit unequivocally any kind of extra-musical content. For Lutoslawski the text was a source of inspiration and in no way the subject of the musical work, which, paradoxically, is not inconsistent with another statement of the composer, that the text had never been for him purely an element of sound and that he had never reduced the content to a futile excuse for composing. It should be added that with Lutoslawski, at the start of the development of a vocal-instrumental work, it was not a question of a text that might stimulate him to set it to music but rather a general sketch of the composition, written without any relationship with any text. Lutoslawski sought for words for a musical idea already sketched, which was realised and shaped by contact with the words and the contents chosen. He was principally concerned with French poetry and had a particular feeling for this language: I like particularly French sung, above all because of its nasal sounds that give pleasure to my ear, a pleasure that is purely in sound. It is because of these that French songs sound different from poems sung in any other language, because of the large number of vowels, but above all nasal vowels. Similarly the tonic accent on the last syllable determines a certain way of rhythmic writing. It is not by chance nor through his preference for the surrealists who, on the one hand, often give importance to the richness of sonorities in the language and, on the other hand, avoid, as a matter of principle, any concrete and unequivocal meaning, but rather the poetic of the surrealists that corresponded best with Lutoslawski's ideas on composition and his artistic opinions.
Lutoslawski sought a poem for his idea of a work for tenor and orchestra. In the review Poesie 1947 he found the poem Quatre tapisseries pour la chatelaine de Vergy (Four Tapestries for the Lady of Vergy). I wanted a shorter title, Lutoslawski said, and... the writer suggested to me, answering my wishes, two other titles, of which I chose Paroles tissees ...The work is written for tenor and string chamber orchestra, with harp, piano and percussion. Completed in 1965, it was first performed on 20th June in the same year by Peter Pears, to whom it is dedicated, and the Philomusica of London under the direction of the composer at the Snape Maltings in the Aldeburgh Festival.
In the title of his poem the poet alludes to the medieval French roman that tells the beautiful and sad story of the guilty love of the Lady of Vergy and the Duke of Burgundy. It is there, however, that connection with the secular story ends. The title of Chabrun's poem could be considered a dedication to theLady of Vergy .The title of the composition chosen by Lutoslawski refers to the formal structure of the poem. In the four consecutive movements the same motifs are repeated, mingled, as it were, with other threads:
Une ombre I'ensorcelle celui de l'arbre mort celui des btes prises
(a shadow casts a spell on it of the dead tree of creatures caught).
The title of the composition, nevertheless, does not reveal another quality in this poem, of which Lutoslawski made masterly use, notably a narrative element, impalpable and unreal, suggested in allusions that follow a dream logic, which, with purely lyrical aspects, introduces into Lutostawski's work a dramatic character.
While it is clear that Chabrun's poem is one work in four parts and not a collection of four poems, it is clear too that Lutoslawski's composition is not a cycle of four songs but a poem in four movements which, by the aid of purely musical means, depicts an unreal story to which the poet alludes without showing it. Lutoslawski even openly admitted that his way of treating Chabrun's text was false, since I wrote music for a story that does not exist in Chabrun's text. Nevertheless, according to Lutostawski's confirmation of Debussy's remark, music begins where the words end. This story cannot be put into words.
Lutoslawski understood the first passage of Chabrun's poem as information, expressed without any feeling. The whole movement continuously respects the aleatoric technique of ad libitum.
The second section represented for him a lullaby hummed in mezza voce. The orchestra, using the collective ad libitum technique, accompanies the tenor and the harp, which share a common beat of semiquavers. The third part of the text represented for the composer a conflict and a catastrophe, a sensual and dramatic cry. The vocal line here is aleatoric in character and where it dies out the composer introduces conducted orchestral passages. A kind of dramatic climax to the whole work is the longer instrumental fragment and the tenor phrase mille coqs hurlent ma peine (a thousand cocks cry out my pain), with a long melisma on the word peine (pain). The fourth section brings peace to the conflict with an extended lyrical cantilena, the nocturnal climax of which punctuates the flow of the music, again ad libitum, using the aleatory contrapuntal technique so characteristic of Lutostawski. The whole work consists of four different passages, with the vocal scheme ranging from recitation on one note to a syllabic and even melismatic vocal line.
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