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Witold Lutosławski, "Symphony No. 2"

Witold Lutosławski's Symphony No. 2 was commissioned by Hamburg's Norddeutscher Rundfunk for the 100th concert in its Das Neue Werk series. Lutosławski worked on it in 1965-67. The second movement, Direct, was ready first and was premiered by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg on 15th October 1966. The whole, two-movement (Hésitant - Direct) work was first played by the Grand Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio in Katowice on 9th June 1967, with Lutosławski conducting. In May 1968 Symphony No. 2 won the first prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris.

Symphony No. 2 is a testimony to the changes which occurred in Lutosławski's music after he had composed his Symphony No. 1. This is how the composer himself commented on his work:

"My 'Symphony No. 2' has two movements with no break in between them. The last sentence of the first movement still resounds when the other one has started. Thus the work forms an undivided whole. (...) The [first movement] consists of a series of episodes played by various small instrumental groups joining in. (...) Despite some distinct differences, all of the episodes share certain characteristics. The similar structures give each of them an aura of a kind of self-effacement, indecisiveness (hence the movement's name, Hésitant) (...) Each episode is followed by a short, slow refrain, played every time by three instruments (...) These instruments do not play the episodes. (...) The last variant is considerably expanded and as such offers a bridge leading to the second movement". (Witold Lutosławski, "Nowy utwór na orkiestrę symfoniczną" / "New work for symphony orchestra", "Res Facta", no. 4, PWM, Kraków 1970, p. 9)

Years later Lutosławski came to see his Symphony No. 2 as a work which was too aggressive and full of sharp chords. Nowadays rarely performed, it could be heard at the final concert of the 49th Warsaw Autumn Festival in 2004 - an event during which all Lutosławski symphonies were played.

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

Tags: symphonylutosławskicontemporary polish music

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