Symphony No. 1
It took the
composer six years to write his Symphony No. 1. The completion of the
work was delayed by external, wartime circumstances and by purely musical
difficulties. After all, the Symphony was Lutosławski’s most ambitious
creative endeavour to date. It provided a summary of his earlier
experiments, and there were also signs of things to come in his later works.
The influence of 20th-century classics (mainly Prokofiev and Albert
Roussel) as well as its conventional, four-part form constitute a link with
tradition. Lutosławski’s later oeuvre is heralded by the very subtle, varied way
he treats the orchestra as well as by
some details in the melody and choice of chords – ta the beginning of the third
movement, for example, there is a melodic line in the strings comprising all 12
notes of the chromatic scale. Beginning with Funeral Music (1958)
Lutosławski will very often use this type of structure.
The composer’s mastery revealed in the Symphony provoked admiration among experts, while his artistic independence outraged promoters of socialist realism, which was being imposed on art in Poland at the time. The then Minister of Culture, Włodzimierz Sokorski, allegedly said after listening to the work: “Here is a composer who should be thrown under a passing tram”.
The first movement, Allegro giusto, is based on two themes, a dance-like melody given by solo trumpet and a cantilena played by the strings. The second movement, Poco adagio, opens with a melodious theme of the French horn, which is accompanied by strings and harp (some believe the composer refers here to the first bars of his Lacrimosa). The strings carry the melody until the emergence of a new thread, a march-like theme by the oboe resembling the famous March from Prokofiev’s opera Love for Three Oranges. The French horn melody returns in a new version, with a persistent repetition of its last section leading to a climax.
The remaining two movements, Allegretto misterioso and Allegro vivace, seem slightly less characteristic. However it is these movements that best testify to the virtuosity with which Lutosławski handled a symphony orchestra. There is an intriguing section of the third movement, with a clear waltz rhythm, that stands out among the movement’s other sections. Perhaps it was this waltz – this “bourgeois relic” – the irritated Minister Sokorski so much?