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Witold Lutosławski

Publisher: Chester Music

Preludes and Fugue [Preludia i fuga] (1972)
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)
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
34 Minutes
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Programme Note
Witold Lutosławski Preludes and Fugue [Preludia i fuga] (1972)

Preludes and Fugue was commissioned by the American conductor Mario di Bonaventura and dedicated to him. The piece was first performed on 12 October 1972 in Graz, Austria during the festival ‘Styrian Autumn’. Mario di Bonaventura conducted the Zagreb Radio and TV Chamber Orchestra.

Seven preludes sharply contrasted and overlapping each other precede a large-scale fugue, whose duration is nearly twenty minutes. Six themes of very differentiated character (cantabile – grazioso – lamentoso – misterioso – estatico –furioso) together with independent material for a short introduction and episodes form the basis for the construction. The parts of particular expositions do not consist of single melodies, as in the traditional fugue, but appear always in the form of ‘bundles’ containing several similar but not identical melodic strands played ‘ad libitum’. On the other hand the episodes between the expositions consist of normally conducted music. Before the climax of the piece all six themes appear simultaneously.

This partly aleatoric work certainly makes an allusion to the baroque fugue rather than a fugue in the proper sense of the word. Nevertheless there are obvious analogies. For example, the division between, on the one hand, aleatoric music played ‘ad libitum’, and consequently rather static, and on the other, music strictly established in time, played ‘a battuta’, and therefore harmonically more active, corresponds to the classical division between passages in one single key and modulating ones. The first serves to expose themes, the second to pass on from one exposition to another. These remarks concern only the construction of the piece. And this, after all, is not the most important thing. What is then the aim this construction is supposed to serve? I am afraid I have not much to say about it, as is very often the case with any piece of music. The message transmitted by musical sounds is a rather mysterious phenomenon and certainly not explicit enough to describe in words. “The music begins where the words end…”

© Witold Lutoslawski

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Antoni Wit
  • Ensemble
    Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
    S. Kringelborn, soprano
    Daniel Harding
    Virgin Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie
    Jean-Paul Dessy
  • G. Schirmer / AMP:
  • Ensemble
    NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
    Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Lucy Wakeford (harp)
    Ernst Kovacic & Nicholas Daniel
  • 07 MAY 2020
    Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
    Scottish Ensemble / Andersson Dance
    Jonathan Morton, director

    Other Dates:
    9 May - The Sage, Gateshead
    14 May - The Bridge Festival, Glasgow

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