Franzi on music: Witold Lutosławski – Concerto for Orchestra

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

By Emil Franzi / SoAzNewsX

Premiere Warsaw. Warsaw PO, Rowicki  November 1954

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)  had an even worse time with oppression than Shostakovich. Bolsheviks shot his father and uncle when he was five, his brother died 30 years later in a Siberian prison camp. A Polish soldier, he barely escaped the Nazis and made a living as an intinerant musician often with his close friend, the composer Andrej Panufnik. Fleeing Warsaw before the 1944 uprising, almost all his early music was lost.

Polish music post WW2 was as enfeebled by music in the Stalin era as Russian. Lutoslawski’s music was considered “too formal” for “Socialist realism”. He wrote for radio, theater, films and schools and played piano in bars.

In 1950, his friend the conductor Witold Rowicki asked him to write for the new Warsaw Philharmonic. Lutoslawski took over three years to complete the Concerto for Orchestra.Its tonality separates it from his later works and the folk tunes used as its basis was enough to keep the local apparatchiks happy. Those tunes were collected in the 1880s in the Mazovia area around Warsaw. Los Angeles Philaharmonic annotator Steven Stucky notes that they’re “mere raw material for radical transformation….It is an ingenious approach: the substance of the music is demonstrably so ‘national’ as to be politically unassailable, yet modern and personal enough to burst the bounds of what in Poland was called ‘socrealizm’, the local variant of the Soviet artistic creed. Here the composer is master, not slave, of folklore.”

Lutoslawski eventually became highly honored in Poland and elsewhere, but the early Concerto for Orchestra is his most popular work.



Emil Franzi is the Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner as well as a classical music and opera aficionado.



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