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About this Piece

An active clarinetist as well as a composer, Paweł Mykietyn studied composition with Włodzimierz Kotonski in Warsaw and made his Warsaw Autumn Festival debut at age 22 with La Strada, an instrumental trio. He has written three symphonies, a piano concerto, several large vocal/choral and dramatic works, chamber music, and a handful of highly honored Polish film scores.

Polish Radio 2 commissioned 3 for 13 in 1994, and the work was premiered in 1995 by members of the Sinfonia Varsovia under Jerzy Maksymiuk. It received the first prize for composers under 30 at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. It was already something of a classic by the time it got to the Warsaw Autumn Festival  in 2003.

As the title suggests, the work is three movements for 13 players. Dedicated to the music critic Andrew Chlopecki (an important Warsaw Autumn figure), it is a sort of musical puzzle, inspired by Mykietyn’s fascination with the music of Paweł Szymański (b. 1954), probably Poland’s leading postmodernist. Szymański is famous for ironic pastiches and reworking Baroque musical styles and concepts, and according to Marcin Gmys, 3 for 13 is based on a four-part fugue that Mykietyn composed in the style of Bach. This fugue is never presented in its original form, but in fragments it supplies the thematic material and formal urges of the piece.

The structure and textures of 3 for 13 also suggest Szymański’s quasi una sinfonietta. The first movement, or phase of development, is a pointillistic exposition, the line of the fugue subject reduced to suggestive dots of sound. Except for sustained architectural markers from the string bass, every note in the movement is an isolated eight note until the final mad rush to thundering diminished seventh chord. (And the harmonic implications, though certainly ironic, are also real.)

Where contrapuntal and narrative linearity was deconstructed into connect-the-dots in the opening, it falls into lush stasis in the second phase. The same sustained bass note from the first movement lies under the whole second movement. Above it slither string chords, the woodwinds chatter thematically, and the celesta offers glittering portents.

Time returns with vehemence as rhythm comes to the fore in the dancing Minimalist finale. Scales and arpeggios rise and fall in different patterns and speeds and Mykietyn’s processes both compress and dissolve thematic coherence. A haunting fadeout seems nearly complete, when a crazed tom-tom solo presses the pattern to its abstract limits.

— John Henken