• Witold Lutosławski
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra [Koncert na fortepian ] (1988)

  • Chester Music Ltd (Worldwide except Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, China, countries of former Czechoslovakia, Croatia, former territories of Yugoslavia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Romania, Hungary and countries of former USSR)

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).

  • 3(2pic)33(Ebcl:bcl)3(cbn)/4231/timp.3perc/hp/str
  • piano
  • 27 min

Programme Note

My Piano Concerto consists of four movements which are played without any break, despite the fact that each of the movements has a clear ending. The first movement comprises four sections. In the first and third, the motifs presented are as if ‘nonchalant’, light, sometimes rather capricious, never over-serious. In contrast to the first and third, the second and fourth sections are filled with a broad ‘cantilena’, finally leading to the highpoint of the whole movement.

The second movement is a kind of ‘moto perpetuo’, a quick ‘chase’ by the piano against the background of the orchestra which ends by calmly subsiding in preparation for the third movement.

The third movement opens with a recitative for the piano alone, which then intones, also without the involvement of the orchestra, a singing ‘largo’ theme. The middle section, beginning with the entrance of the orchestra, contrasts against the first section with moments of a more sudden, dramatic character. The ‘cantilena’, without orchestral accompaniment, returns at the end of the movement.

The fourth movement, by its construction, alludes to the baroque form of the Chaconne. Its theme (always played by the orchestra) consists of short notes separated by rests and not (as with the traditional Chaconne) chords. This theme, repeated many times, provides only one layer of the musical discourse. Against this background the piano each time presents another episode. These two layers operate in the sense of ‘Chain-form’, i.e. the beginnings and endings of the piano episodes do not correspond with the beginnings and endings of the theme. They come together only once, towards the end of the work. The theme appears again for the last time in a shortened form (without rests) played by the whole orchestra without the piano. There follows a short piano recitative, ‘fortissimo’, against the background of the orchestra, and a short Coda ‘presto’ concludes the work.

Although used to a lesser degree than in other works of mine, the elements of ‘chance’ also appears in the Piano Concerto. It is, as always, entirely subordinated to principles of pitch organisation (harmony, melody etc). In an article published in 1969, in the journal ‘Melos’ (No 11), I endeavoured to explain how this is possible. The whole substance of my arguments need not be repeated here. However, there is one aspect to remember: there is no improvisation in my music. Everything which is to be played is notated in detail and should be realised exactly by the performers, the members of the ensemble. The only fundamental difference between ‘ad libitum’ sections (i.e. not conducted) and others written in the traditional manner (i.e. divided into beats of specified metre), is that in the former there is no common division of time for all performers. In other words, each performs his part as if playing alone and not coordinated with other performers. This gives quite specific results, ‘flexible’ textures of rich, capricious rhythms, impossible to achieve in any other way.

All that has been said applied to matters which are not of great importance compared to the central essence which the composer employs to achieve his goal. What then is this goal? To this question only music itself can provide the answer. Happily, it cannot be explained in words. If it were possible, if a musical work could be described precisely in words, then music as an art would be entirely unnecessary.

Witold Lutoslawski
August 1988
(translated by Charles Bodman Rae)

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival. The first performance was given by Krystian Zimerman (piano) and the Austrian Radio Orchestra conducted by the composer on 19 August 1988 at the Festival.


Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: 1. ca. 110
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: 2. Presto - attaca
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: 3. ca. 85
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: 4. ca. 84


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