I often listen to Sibelius for the compositional starkness
of his most despairing works, like the 7th Symphony, his final,
his shortest, his ground breaker as it declared that a piece
with a single movement that contained the requisite symphonic
expressions could be treated as a symphony, even in its manifestation
as a single (mass).
Lutoslawski offers a composition that is much
the same length as Sibelius' and is no more or less unconventional.
The work is tied to the discipline of a double concerto by
its showcase of two instruments. Remove the feature, redirect
the structure.... Save for Lutoslawski's composition being
a bad example of how this can be done, for it lacks the requisite
There are, however, strange congruences. What
I might call massiveness in Sibelius I hear as empty space
in Lutoslawski for unlike Sibelius's motif which is a solid
mass, much like an iceberg, Lutoslawski picks away at our
aural sensibilities and supplies a dense if spaced out stage
for the oboe and most certainly the harp. The crescendos are
common and both are nautical. Sibelius sings the song of the
iceberg cast, Lutoslawski suggests the seasons of turbulence
of water and rocky shore. Ice in winter, breakup in spring,
placid in summer and fall. Only in measure, water in different
The percussive explosions of Lutoslawski find
their counterpart in the momentary silences in Sibelius.
Although Strauss and Lutoslawski are current
so far as to say Cage and I are current, although the currency
is what I will call a Class AB2 overlap, which is to say,
very little. Lutoslawski began to compose twelve-tone music
in earnest by the late 1950's at which point he garnered attention
for having done so. As Strauss composed well into his last
days (he composed the Oboe Concerto in 1946), there is overlap.
Cage was composing music when I began to in 1980. The variants
Twelve-tone music has little to offer the Double Concerto,
except perhaps a congruence of pattern. The Double Concerto
is far too playful to find its way on to the ambient-hardcore
playlist of a college radio station (where Cage clones currently
hold court). I may have more to do with Stravinsky, Cage and
Lutoslawski than the composers have with each other. I make
these observations while listening to Lutoslawski moreso than
Cage or Stravinsky. I have little if any common ground with
Strauss, although listening to his Concerto makes me wish
that I did.
I suspect the true reason for this subterfuge
recording is to have Strauss support the covert raison-d'etre
which is to provide some valuable 1984 CD space for the Double
Concerto (which is filled with plenty of empty space to allow
the harp to be heard with fantastic dimension.)
To say that Lutoslawski's work compelled me to re-listen
is no exaggeration. His Double Concerto makes an immediate
impression of tension of the muscular type. Its opens in to
a cataclysm of waves that envelops the listener with compression.
The left and right halves of the orchestra undulate in a dissonant
manner: I feel like the second violinists are pulling a saw
through my head from left to right, while the viola players
do the same thing, to varying degrees of phase, amplitude,
and frequency, from right to left. It makes me want to squirm
thrice, and I'm alone on the couch with Fancypants
who knows a moment of bewilderment is best translated into
I can only characterize
the listening experience to being akin to alternating current,
pushing and pulling. It is dissonant, and brilliantly so.
And it's just the opener. Lutoslawski's music is an ear opener.
Lutoslawski provides a Slavic take that is entirely
unlike Strauss in a million years. There is a modernity about
his composition that fits well with contemporaries such as
Stravinsky and Bartok. The dances that fill spaces, instrumental
chirps from Heinz Hollinger,'s oboe; smooth, nautically stable
waves made by Ursula Hollinger and her harp. Husband and wife?
Brother and sister? Who can say. Both pairings are common.
Quartets are the worst.
It is rare that a small group of artistes forms an association
at some point in time, serendipitously. Most artistes begin
to learn their instrument at a young age. Other children so
assembled at a young age, play best with each other.
The Double Concerto was well received at its
London premiere in 1980. I am waiting for the Double's Deer
Should I suggest an interstice for you? Strauss is much like
an ordered lawn. Lutoslawski gazes at the currency of the present
and fits in amicably, chaos-garden, untidy weeds and all. I
regret not having said more about Strauss. The Oboe Concerto
is a transitional work that brings some elements of modernity
into the ordered garden, but how little it fits in with the
nautical world of Jean Sibelius or Witold Lutoslawski.
Lutoslawski is closer to hard-core punk than anything else
out there. 'The kids can't cope with Cage' on any drug, and
Lutoslawski has songs that you can dance to. He is a crossover
artist; as close as one will -ever- get to a quartet like Throbbing
Gristle, an ensemble that have a tremendous amount to do
with Cage, or Penderecki, or Babbitt. Finally, a connection
between Cage and Lutoslawski that I can offer up in a useful
Classical Punk Currency
This CD was manufactured
in Japan for Scarboro's Moss Music Group -Vox Cum Laude-MCD
10006- Love the catalog number. I guess the CD was their sixth,
and all of those extra zeros? Who can say? I believe they
put out 20 or so before being bought out over and over again
in the 1990's. All very Canadian.
High end audiophiles take note: Lutoslawski's
Double Concerto supplies image-specific shift. As I described
above, the stage moves chaotically. For best effect, play
back at a sound pressure level that at -1dB from maximum amplitude
supplies 98dB to the seated position which is the apex of
an equilateral triangle, where each loudspeaker is positioned
at either corner of the base of the triangle. For the sonically
polite, any normal listening level will get you a seat.