Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano
with the Concerto for Orchestra, the Preludes complete a series
of Lutosławski’s works inspired by folklore. All of these works, the two are
the most sophisticated and perhaps the most strongly linked to Béla Bartók’s
The Preludes hardly bring anything new to Lutosławski’s “folk” music. Yet the whole composition deserves our attention, especially the deeply expressive and intricately devised prelude IV (Andante), similar in its mood to the slow movement of the Silesian Triptych, and when it comes to the technical solution – to the Passacaglia from the Concerto for Orchestra. We are dealing here with a three-layer structure: measured steps in the low register, above them – static harmonies, and in the highest register – lament-like melody played by the clarinet, shaped clearly in the fashion of Bartók (similarly to the cor anglais solo at the beginning of the Passacaglia).
The Preludes quickly found their way both to concert halls and pedagogical repertoire. Encouraged by their success, the composer made two versions of the cycle for bigger ensembles. From 1955 comes a transcription for clarinet solo, string orchestra, percussion, piano and harp, and from 1959 – an arrangement for nine instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass). The premiere of the orchestral version was conducted by a friend of Lutosławski’s, the eminent British composer Benjamin Britten.