Livre pour orchestre
title of the work, typically given in French (Book for the orchestra)
alludes to the livres pour clavecin, collections of small pieces for
harpsichord, many of which are to be found in French Baroque music. Initially, Lutosławski’s
Livre was to consist of a series of similarly concise pieces, closing
with a longer finale. As he worked on his composition, these introductory
movements began to grow and the Livre eventually became a four-movement
symphonic cycle with a particularly large fourth movement four. Successive
movements, Chapitres or Chapters, are separated by brief Intermèdes
or Interludes, links with
deliberately trivial, not very distinctive content. With the exception of the
last one, all Chapitres contain traditionally conducted music, while all
Intermèdes and a majority of the Chapitre final are played ad
libitum, the musicians playing their parts independently of each other.
The first chapter begins with the playing of the strings, full of characteristic “sliding” sounds. An entry of the brass and percussion initiates a short dialogue, which fades and gives way to the first Intermède, played by three clarinets. In the next two chapters the dialogue of instrumental groups is continued and gathers momentum. Yet the “action” does not reach a climax and stops with the entry of each of the next two Intermèdes, the second performed by two clarinets and harp, the third by harp and piano.
In the last Intermède, piano and harp are joined by percussion and two cellos: thus, imperceptibly, begins the finale. Against a background provided by percussion, piano and harp, two cellos weave complex melodies, which are taken over by other string instruments, solo and then by their entire sections. A sumptuous entry of the brass paves the way for the climax. The music traverses it in stages – each highlights a selected group of instruments and is shorter than the previous one. A breathtaking climax in which the orchestra plays tutta la forza ma cantabile – “with all its strength but cantabile” – is followed by an epilogue: Complex chords allocated to the strings provide a background for a lyrical dialogue of two flutes. Thus ends one of the visionary symphonic compositions of the 20th century.