Witold Lutosławski Symphony No. 3 [3.Symfonia] (1983)
LUTOSLAWSKI - SYMPHONY NO 3
My Symphony No. 3 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who as long ago as 1972 had asked me to write a work for them. Shortly after that, I wrote some sketches for the Symphony but only in January 1983 did I complete the score. The Premiere was given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti on 29 September 1983 in Chicago.
The work consists of two movements, preceded by a short introduction and followed by an epilogue and a coda. It is played without a break. The first movement comprises three episodes, of which the first is the fastest, the second slower and the third is the slowest. The basic tempo remains the same and the differences of speed are realised by the lengthening of the rhythmical units. Each episode is followed by a short, slow intermezzo. It is based on a group of toccata-like themes contrasting with a rather singing one: a series of differentiated tuttis leads to a climax of the whole work. Then comes the last movement, based on a slow singing theme and a sequence of short dramatic recitatives played by the string group. A short and very fast coda ends the piece.
© Witold Lutoslawski
The symphony is a strong, logical, clear-eyed work, typical of the composer’s care for balance and form. The element of violence that is embedded within the music never seems gratuitous, but structural, and therefore pointful. The work begins with a cannonade of four rapidly repeated E naturals: loud, brassy, peremptory, a summons to order and attention. After a flurry of whirling triplets in the strings, the stern summons is heard again – and a third and fourth time; later on, the figure is multiplied, extended and harmonized, while a world of orchestral colour and device springs up and plays around this harsh motif. A sense of impatience seems to hang over the music, modified by episodes of song-like melody for the strings. At the very end of the three continuous movements that make up the symphony, the repeated E’s have spread to the whole orchestra, and are hammered out for the last time with an effect of absolute finality.
Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Sunday Times,25/03/1984
The 30 minute symphony is so dazzling in its originality, so powerful in its use of the orchestra’s resources and so remarkable in its ability to communicate that a person had to think of it immediately as a 20th Century masterwork – dare I say a landmark to stand beside masterpieces by Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich? The music is unique. It sounds like nothing else. The orchestra flows from one splendid tone cluster to another with never the feeling that a moment is bland, dreary, repetitious, or overly derivative. Mr. Lutoslawski has composed music which sounds so new, yet, amazingly, he has avoided amidst this experimentation any sounds which are offensive to the ear. Instead, we get a challenging, completely intensive journey in sound which consistently surprises us and grabs us up in its visceral sweep.
Joe Cunniff, The Chicago Leader,03/10/1983