Ravel - La Valse and Penderecki's Szczecin Fanfara
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) had the idea to write La Valse in 1906. The piece was originally titled Wien and was intended as a tribute to Johann Strauss II's Viennese waltzes, which Ravel genuinely admired. He even once said that every composer dreams of writing a good waltz, but it is extremely difficult.
However, La Valse is not a Strauss-style ballroom waltz. The composer uses typical Strauss gestures and transforms them into a kaleidoscopic orchestral texture. This is why many critics often refer to the piece as a deconstructed Strauss waltz. Though originally written for the ballet, Ravel's waltz quickly became a symphonic work in its own right, admired for its harmony, brilliant orchestration and rhythmic play.
Ravel himself spoke about La Valse: I didn't imagine it as a dance of death or a fight between life and death. I changed the original title "Wien" to “La valse”, which is more in line with the aesthetic nature of the composition. It is all about dancing, swirling, almost a hallucinatory ecstasy, an increasingly passionate and exhausting whirl of dancers who are not overwhelmed or delighted by anything else than the "waltz".
The Szczecin – Fanfara is a piece composed by Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) in 2014 for the inauguration of the new building of the Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic in Szczecin, which has been the home of ILYO from the very beginning of the project. The Fanfara is one five fanfaras composed by him in the last period of his life. We will play this beautiful piece on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Szczecin Philharmonic.
Maurice Ravel and Krzysztof Penderecki
Richard Strauss - Concerto for oboe and small orchestra
One of the last works of Richard Strauss, the Concerto in D major for Oboe and Small Orchestra, AV 144, TrV 292 was premiered on february 26, 1946 in Zürich. There is a remarkable history behind the piece, one of a soldier that inspired the great composer to write his unique concerto for oboe.
On the very same day that Hitler committed suicide – April 30, 1945 – American troupes entered the dresort town of Garmisch in the Bavaria region of south Germany. They were looking for houses good enough for their own use, forcing the residents to pack and leave their homes immediately so that the US forces could move in. On the Zoppritzstrasse, Americans arrived at house No. 42; it seemed just perfect for their needs. When they tried to force the elder man who lived there to leave, he surprisingly declared “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salomé.”
The then 80 years old Strauss was fortunate, because the soldier he addressed was John de Lancie, himself a classical musician. To be precise the principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Orchestra in his civilian life. Weiss of course ordered his soldiers to move to other houses and allowed the composer to stay on his own. But he also asked him a question: “Maestro, did you ever consider writing an oboe concerto?”, “no” – replied Strauss. But the American oboist inspired him to add it to his remarkable compositions. This is how the one and only concerto for oboe written by Strauss came to be.
2 years after the world premiere of the piece, Strauss revised the score and expanded its last-movement coda.The piece was recorded for the first time in 1948, since then is on of the most beloved pieces by all oboists around the world.
Witold Lutosławski - Concerto for Orchestra
This year, the International Lutosławski Youth Orchestra will play one of the most famous works of its patron – the Concerto for Orchestra, i.e. a piece that ILYO already performed in 2013, during its very first edition.
The work was commissioned from Lutosławski by Witold Rowicki, then the chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which was revived after WW2. The work had its premiere in 1954 in the hall of the Roma Theater in Warsaw, because the seat of the current National Philharmonic has still not been rebuilt.
Lutosławski worked on his Concerto for five years, inspired by the famous Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók (which ILYO performed in 2022 during its tenth jubilee edition). However, Lutosławski, although he drew on Bartók's work in general terms, created a thoroughly individual work, drawing on Polish folklore, which he used as a mine of main motifs and themes.
The work consists of three movements with the following titles: Intrada, Capriccio notturno e arioso and Passacaglia, toccata e corale. The first part is an introduction in which the composer subjected folklore songs from the area of Czersk to far-reaching transformations. The second movement, in turn, is in the form of a scherzo and is based on a sycoped melody, also of folk origin. Finally, the longest and most elaborate third movement is the climax of the entire piece. Lutosławski formally alludes here to the typical Baroque forms, such as: passacaglias, toccatas and chorales. In addition to successive transformations of folk melodies, there are also fragments that are modifications of themes from the first and second movements, which makes the Concerto an extremely coherent work.
From the very beginning, the Concerto was enthusiastically received not only by the audience and critics, but also by the entire music world, and its fame soon began to reach much further than Poland alone. It became one of the favorite works of many famous conductors, who willingly included the work in their repertoire. Among them are Antoni Wit (known for his great love for this work), Jerzy Semkow, Stanisław Skrowaczewski (who conducted the work during its first performance in America), but also Seiji Ozawa and Georg Solti. Concerto for Orchestra is, according to hard statistical data, the most frequently performed piece by our patron in the world.
The work was also greatly appreciated by the composers. This is how Rafał Augustyn wrote about Concerto for Orchestra:
The work in its entirety gives an impression of a large-scale and highly complicated structure; one glance at the score shows this is achieved with amazing economy of form. The Intrada’s polyphonically woven textures are reminiscent of Handel rather than Bach: two-voice imitation on a continuous bass line plus a short contrapuntal phrase, and yet it sounds like a fully developed multi-voice texture. The Capriccio’s diaphanous runs are monodic, yet in pivotal moments chromatically treated allowing the solitary sequence of notes to be accompanied for a little while by their imaginary sound. The entire concerto is replete with these simple ideas, which however one discovers by chance: the fiendish F sharp in the double basses, timpani, harp and bassoons of the opening is transformed into a ceiling-reaching f sharp of bells against an ethereal background of string flageolets. The same happens with the Passacaglia theme, which extracted from the song about eighteen wives has a twist worthy of “all the money in the world”: a sudden and seemingly pointless change from triple to duple rhythm in two places, which gives the whole far greater perspective.