What sets the Polish avant-garde apart from post-war music elsewhere in Europe is its decidedly popular flavour. At a time when the acerbic was the norm, works by Polish composers—from Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion to Gorecki’s poignantly tuneful Third Symphony—were accessible in ways music by most other leading modernists was not. Lutoslawski was no exception, and his Concerto for Orchestra, with its relatively simple harmonic language and rhythmic structure, folk melodies, transparent counterpoint, and brilliant orchestration has become a staple of the concert repertoire. Lutoslawski began the Concerto in 1950 on a suggestion from Witold Rowicki that he compose something for the newly formed Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. The composer originally planned a relatively compact work based on Polish folk melodies, but it swelled to a full-scale symphonic composition over a four-year period of gestation.

The Concerto is based on folk materials, which are all, appropriately enough, from Masovia, the area around Warsaw. The composer, however, never simply quotes them—they are always transformed and sometimes radically so. Folk songs and dances, moreover, furnish material not only for themes, but also motivic cells that are used to construct an elaborate contrapuntal edifice.

The Concerto for Orchestra is cast in three movements, the third being longer than the first two combined. The “Intrada” is a ternary form, the “pungency and immediacy of the outer sections contrasting markedly with the central folk melody.” The middle movement is a scherzo and trio form in which the former is represented by a rapid “Capriccioso” and the latter by an “Arioso,” interrupted by a “Notturno” episode. In the finale, “Passacaglia, Toccata, e Corale”, the passacaglia serves as an extended introduction to the principal toccata section, into which the chorale is interpolated twice.

A Deruchie [ii-07]