Spaces of Sleep for baritone and orchestra (dir. Stanisław Wisłocki)
A memorable concert took place at the National Philharmonic Hall
in Warsaw on 2 October 1973: German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and
Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter performed selected songs by Hugo Wolf. Lutosławski,
who was in the audience, was delighted with the performance, personally
congratulated both artists and had a long conversation with the singer. It
resulted in the idea of a work for baritone and orchestra, written for
The composer did not want to write a song cycle, but a longer single-movement form, so he needed a rather long text with a distinctive dramaturgy. Taking into account Dieskau’s nationality, he initially considered works by German poets (An die Hoffnung by Hölderlin, Über Vergänglichkeit by Hofmannsthal), then settled on his favourite poetry, French surrealism, and a poem by Robert Desnos (1900–1945), Les espaces du sommeil (Spaces of Sleep). The content of the piece (oneiric visions of the lyrical subject) as well as its form, with a clearly marked introduction, “vicissitudes”, climax, epilogues and a surprising punch line, constituted powerful fuel for the composer’s imagination. It took him two years to create a work with an extraordinarily suggestive “plot”, full of visionary sonic ideas. In Lutosławski’s oeuvre it heralded a turn towards distinctive melody and almost romantic expression.
This “symphonic poem with a baritone in the leading role”, as the composer described it, is clearly divided into four parts. An instrumental introduction reveals “fuzzy” sounds that gradually become “blurred” – a musical equivalent of falling asleep. A substantial changeability of musical ideas corresponds to the constant changeability of oneiric images. We hear “murmurs” of four cellos and double basses (in William Kulik’s translation: “Forests collide with legendary creatures hiding in thickets”), followed by lively figures of three double basses played pizzicato and bright “point sounds” in the voices of two trumpets (“light from the street lamp and the ragman's lantern”), and a standing chord of 12 string instruments (“A piano tune, a shout. A door slams. A clock”). Between the “scenes” there return two - threads, each with the same text: “Dans la nuit” (“In the night”) and “Il y a toi” (“There is you”). Their returns bring some order into the course of events, at the same time putting it on hold.
A slow second part evolves without any disruptions. The accompaniment is carried here by changing “subsections” of the orchestra, each of which encompasses two “representatives” of the wind section, one from the percussion or string section, and bowed strings. String chords, capricious figures of wind instruments with piano, percussion or harp, and declamatory phrases of the baritone sum up into a three-plane arrangement with a gentle and, at the same time, sophisticated sound.
The words “No doubt there is you who I do not know” begins the third, climactic part of the piece. Sounds of various instrument groups change kaleidoscopically and become more and more intense. Visions of the lyrical subject become extraordinarily sharp as well. They are crowned by the words: “In the night there are stars and the shadowy motion of the sea, of rivers, forests, towns, grass and the lungs of millions and millions of beings”. After this phrase the soloist falls silent, giving in to the pressure of the orchestral forces.
The epilogue features a return of the gentle sound of the second movement (strings, piano, harp and percussion) as well as “refrains” from the first section (“Dans la nuit”, “Il y a toi”) – changed but still recognisable. A surprising finale (“In the night there is you. In the daylight too”) makes a huge impression. The last note of the baritone, taken up by trumpets, horns, trombones and strings, leads to a powerful chord of the full orchestra, which immediately breaks up into individual instruments. The punch line leaves us in no doubt: Sleep is over, the awakening has occurred.