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Symphony No. 1 - Witold Lutosławski

Although Witold Lutosławski started working on his Symphony No. 1 under the Nazi occupation, he may have composed the themes of two of its movements before World War II.

The Symphony was completed in 1947 and the Grand Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio (WOSPR) under Grzegorz Fitelberg - to whom the work was dedicated - premiered it at a closed concert (for invited guests only) in Katowice on 1st April 1948. Like other concerts of that orchestra, this one too was broadcast for Poland and Czechoslovakia, leaving the listeners much impressed and earning the composition the status of the representative work of its times in Poland. However, the admiration was short-lived, for while it was performed at a gala concert inaugurating the 4th Chopin Competition in Warsaw during the autumn 1949 Łagów conference that decreed the social realism, some Russian jurors left the room ostentatiously to manifest their disapproval of a work that had been accused of formalism. After that Symphony No. 1 was put on a black list of banned music and was not played in Poland for several years.

True to the classical tradition, Symphony No. 1 has four movements: 1. Allegro giusto, 2. Poco adagio, 3. Allegretto misterioso, and 4. Allegro vivace. The form of each movement is also steeped in tradition, the first one being a typical sonata allegro and the third one a scherzo. On the other hand, the work abounds in innovative ideas and testifies to advanced technical proficiency of the young composer (Lutosławski was 35 at the time), particularly in counterpoint and instrumentation.

After the years of ban Symphony No. 1 slowly returned to concerts halls; it was performed at the 2nd Polish Music Festival in 1955 and played by Leopold Stokowski himself in Warsaw in 1959, during his European tournament. Lutosławski, too, would often include it in his concerts.

Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, January 2005.

Tags: symphony no. 1witold lutosławski

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