Epitaph for oboe and piano
involving a few simultaneous notes, which Lutosławski called “thin textures”,
now became the basic characteristic of his style. Within such a texture it was
possible, as it turned out, to display distinctive melodic lines with
accompaniment, a solution that had not been used in the composer’s mature works
until this stage. It is no coincidence that the dominant genre in his music
after 1979 was work for solo instruments or voice accompanied by piano or
orchestra. The introduction of thin textures was also associated with limited
use of the aleatory technique, which was ideally suited for the projection of
large sound masses but became less useful when the number of notes was small.
Lutosławski’s first work in accordance with this new convention was the Epitaph, commissioned by oboist Janet Craxton to commemorate her husband, the composer Alan Richardson. Four episodes in the work are separated by five appearances of a simple refrain. The episodes are lively and are gradually shortened, while the presentations of the refrain are static and increasingly long. After the climax, which comes in the fourth episode, a slow, melodious refrain-like coda emerges.