Woven Words for tenor and chamber orchestra
The composition Paroles
tissées (Woven Words) was
commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival for the outstanding British tenor Peter
Pears. In order to suitably emphasise the solo part, Lutosławski used a small
ensemble of instruments, similar to the one used in the 5 Songs of 1957. The new work was a setting of a lyrical poem by
Jean-François Chabrun (1920–1997), Quatre
tapisseries pour la châtelaine de Vergi (Four Tapestries for the Châtelaine de Vergy). The poem describes a
tragedy (probably the death of a loved one), with the description not being
formulated directly but by means of sophisticated images combining reality and
dream. The intricate poetic form is based on a repetition of the same
expressions, in various combinations, which are woven in the text like threads
in a tapestry.
The four-part structure of the poem corresponds to the four-part structure of the composition. Key expressions, which keep returning, are set differently each time, in accordance with the evolving drama. As the composer said, “[...] the same group of words [e.g. ‘Le cri du bateleur et celui de la caille’ (‘Cry of the bateleur and the quail’)] in the first part sounds dispassionately informative, in the second part like a quietly murmured lullaby, in the third like a passionate, dramatic cry, and in the fourth like an expansive lyrical cantilena”.
The first movement evolves lazily and is devoid of any strong accents – thus it constitutes an introductory link, typical of Lutosławski. Between purely instrumental episodes there emerge four lines of the solo voice, introduced each time by a characteristic figure in the piano part.
The second movement is a dialogue between the tenor and harp, accompanied by interventions of the string section and piano.
The third, most dramatic link, brings us the climax of the work. A very expressive melody of the voice evolves against a background of vigorous playing by the ensemble dominated by two ideas: strings chords “sliding” towards one another, and aggressive, quivering sound of piano, harp and percussion. The climax comes shortly after the words “a thousand roosters cry out my anguish / A thousand mortally wounded roosters”.
The fourth movement contains a lyrical melody of the solo voice discreetly accompanied by the orchestra. Lutosławski had not been able to create such lucid sounds and such distinctive melodic lines since the Venetian Games’ flute solo in the third movement. The composer did not return to this style of expression until much later – in 1979. In this respect, Paroles tissées differs from other works from his Sturm und drang period, to which it belongs together with the Venetian Games, Trois poèmes and the String Quartet. It heralds the composer’s later oeuvre and its particularly profound, almost painful expression – as if referring to the last words in Chabrun’s poem: “this song of anguish which others have again taken up will be taken up by others again”.