About this Piece
Witold Lutoslawski was indisputably one of the major composers of the 20th century. Born in Warsaw in 1913, he showed prodigious musical and intellectual talent from an early age. His composition studies in Warsaw ended at a politically difficult time for Poland, so his plans for further study in Paris were replaced by a period which included military training, imprisonment by the Germans, and escape back to Warsaw, where he and his compatriot Andrzej Panufnik played their own compositions and transcriptions in cafes.
After the war, the Stalinist regime banned his First Symphony (1941-47) as "formalist," but he continued to compose and in 1958 his Musique funèbre, in memory of Béla Bartók, established his international reputation. His own personal aleatoric technique whereby the performers have freedom within certain controlled parameters was first demonstrated in his Jeux vénitiens (1961) and is to be found in almost all the later music.
Over the years, Lutoslawski was frequently inspired by particular ensembles and artists including the London Sinfonietta, Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Anne-Sophie Mutter. His Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with generous support from Betty Freeman) and received its world premiere in February 1993 under the baton of the composer. A powerful work, it reflected his increasing concern with expansive melody. Among many international prizes awarded to the composer were the UNESCO Prize (1959, 1968), the French order of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (1982), Grawemeyer Award (1985), Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal (1986), in the last year of his life, the Swedish Polar Music Prize and the Inamori Foundation Prize, Kyoto, for his outstanding contribution to contemporary European music, and, posthumously, the International Music Award for best large-scale composition for the Fourth Symphony. The following note was written by the composer:
"The title Chain I suggests both the form used in this work and the intention of composing more 'Chains' in the future. [Lutoslawski composed Chain II, a "dialog" for violin and orchestra, and Chain III for orchestra, in 1985 and 1986, respectively.]
"In a work composed in chain form, the music is divided into two strands. Particular sections do not begin at the same moment in each strand, nor do they end together. In other words, in the middle of a section in one strand, a new section begins in another. This principle has already been used in my previous compositions as a base for particular stages of the form or in whole movements, as in the Passacaglia of my Concerto for Orchestra. In Chain I, the principle of chain form serves to construct the greater part of the piece. Toward the end, the texture becomes more complex and consists of several individual parts played ad libitum which form a network of melodies to be played cantabile.
"I composed Chain I for the fourteen principal players of the London Sinfonietta as a souvenir of our common music-making. The first performance I conducted myself, October 4, 1983, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London."