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Witold Lutosławski

Publisher: Chester Music

Sacher Variation for solo cello (1975)
Work Notes
Chester Music is the publisher of this work in all territories except Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, China, countries of the former Czechoslovakia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Romania, Hungary and the whole territory of the former USSR, where the copyright is held by Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM).
Chester Music Ltd (Polish Works)
Solo Works (excluding keyboard)
Year Composed
5 Minutes
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Programme Note
Witold Lutosławski Sacher Variation for solo cello (1975)
Among the many tributes paid to Paul Sacher, the founder and conductor of the Basle Chamber Orchestra and Choir, on his 70th birthday in 1976 was a short work for unaccompanied cello, composed the previous year by Witold Lutoslawski.

It is not, as its title might suggest, in variation form, but a piece in which a six-note sequence gradually comes to the fore and takes precedence over other ideas which, besides being of an entirely different nature, are restricted to the remaining six notes of the chromatic scale and their neighbouring quarter-tones. The principal sequence consists of the notes E flat, A, C, B, E and D. If we regard the E flat and B as S (Es) and H, as in the German and the D as R (Re), as in French, we get the name ‘Sacher’. The order of these notes does not vary, although to begin with the sequence is broken up by the intervention of other material. For instance, the very first note is E flat (Es), but there is a gap before the A and C are reached and another one afterwards. Even so, there is no mistaking the two groups, for they are strongly contrasted both in register and dynamic levels, the ‘Sacher’ motif being restricted to the bass at this point.

Sacher Variation differs from all the other works of Luotlaswki since his Jeux Venitiens of 1961, in that it contains no aleatory passages. There is a good reason for this. His aleatory technique is essentially a contrapuntal one that gives performers a limited degree of freedom in the precise placing of notes in time. As such it is not applicable to a work consisting of a single line, although the performer’s use of rubato adds up to virtually the same thing. Apart from the two quiet pizzicato notes at the end (the final statement of the ‘Sacher’ motif), Lutoslawski makes no use of double stopping or chords. Nor does he call for those extremely high notes beloved by many modern composers; as in his superb Cello Concerto he is content with the cello’s normal compass.

© Malcolm Rayment

  • Soloist(s)
    W. Boettcher
  • Soloist(s)
    I. Monighetti, cello
    Le Chant De Monde:
  • Ensemble
    Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra
    Bruno Weinmeister, cello / Stefan Veselka, piano
    Heinrich Schiff
    Arte Nova:
  • Soloist(s)
    T. Demenga, cello
    ECM New Series:
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