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Dance preludes

originally written for clarinet and piano

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, Poland’s musicians and film-makers suddenly blossomed in a remarkable resurgence of artistic independence. But the Communist regime demanded music that was ‘accessible’ and folkloristic, requirements that many Polish composers, Witold Lutoslawski prominent among them, found restrictive, though they managed to conform without compromising their principles. The Dance Preludes are a product of that difficult period and they remain one of Lutoslawski’s most popular works.

Originally written in 1954 for clarinet and piano, Lutoslawski subsequently made two orchestral versions. One closely adheres to the original with the clarinet as soloist; the other, made in 1959 for a larger group, breaks up the solo line and shares it between several instruments. The earlier of these two orchestral versions, the one recorded here, dates from 1955 and was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1963 with Gervase de Payer as soloist and Benjamin Britten conducting the English Chamber Orchestra. In addition to the strings, harp, piano and percussion were added to the orchestra.

All five movements are based on Polish folk dance rhythms if not actual folk tunes. Lutoslawski has not identified them but they follow the general dictum that ‘the tempo of Polish folksongs changes almost from bar to bar’. The first, led in with a downward arpeggio in crotchets on the clarinet, is a jerky dance, almost wholly staccato. It centres round E flat and varies between 2/4 and 3/4. The second, a flowing Andantino alternating between 9/8 and 6/8, is based on B flat minor tonality with a quicker central section heralded by the quiet rattle of the tambourine.

No. 3, a kind of scherzo, alternates between 2/4 and 3/4 with 4/4 making an appearance near the end. Jagged acciaccaturas give the music a wild, abandoned character, and fast, high-register passages for the soloist suggest the sharp tone of the E flat clarinet favoured by many Polish folk musicians.

No. 4, another reflective piece, this time in 3/4 and 3/2, is introduced by a quiet pizzicato on the doublebass punctuated by a few low flourishes from the piano. The melody, concentrated within the interval of a fifth, is relatively simple and makes much use of repeated notes.

The last movement, a strongly accented dance centring round E flat, is the most complex metrically speaking – a combination of 2/4, 5/4, 3/4, 4/4, and finally 6/4 signatures, with the clarinet being offered alternative passages that run counter to the rhythm of the orchestra. There are hints of bagpipes, and the jolly atmosphere, rising to a wild climax, perhaps suggests a village wedding.

from notes by Kenneth Dommett © 1986


Lutosławski, Seiber & Blake: Clarinet Concertos
CDA66215Archive Service

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