Symphony No. 4 (LA Phil commission)
In one way or another, a two-part format - preparation, main event - lies at the heart of many of Lutoslawski's works over the last 30 years of his career, including the Second Symphony (whose two movements bear the explicit titles "Hesitant" and "Direct") and the Third (introduction, preparatory first movement, large main movement, third movement comprising lyrical aftermath, brief coda). The Fourth Symphony presents an example that is both clear-cut in its two-movement layout and unprecedentedly subtle in the way in which the two movements relate to one another to create a single, overarching musical experience. Its first movement adopts a favorite ploy for engaging our attention while at the same time frustrating our desire for continuity: alternating two contrasting kinds of music. The first of these, a lyrical melody against a gentle, chordal background, is first exposed by solo clarinet, later by flute and clarinet together. Interposed between statements of this unfolding melody are mercurial interludes of faster, less predictable music. On its last appearance the lyrical music is taken up and extended by the strings until it culminates in an abortive attempt at a grand climax.
As promised, just at the moment when we grow impatient with the preparatory first movement, the main second movement arrives. This music unfolds in three stages. The first section, dominated by running 16th-note figures, introduces a grave, cantabile theme that will return for later development. The middle section is a sparkling orchestral texture that begins at the top of the orchestra and swells down through the ranks until, heralded by solo trumpet and a trio of trombones, it yields to the third section. Now the cantabile idea heard earlier returns in full force, gaining in urgency until it culminates in a powerful unison statement by the massed strings and brasses. As if there were no way forward from this frankly emotional climax, the music dissolves in dreamlike recollections. A brief, brilliant coda brings the Symphony to a close.
Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with generous support from Betty Freeman, was completed on August 22, 1992; the composer conducted the first performance here on February 5, 1993. Esa-Pekka Salonen and the orchestra quickly made the work their own, repeating it in Los Angeles and recording it for Sony in the fall of 1993, touring it in Europe and introducing it to New York audiences in 1994.
- Steven Stucky, author of Lutoslawski and His Music (1981), is the Philharmonic's Consulting Composer for New Music.