But I always turn to Tom's weekly article with interest, because he comes up with examples that I tend to miss, like this week's discussion of Lutosławski's Symphony No. 3, written between 1973 and 1983. I have crossed paths with Lutosławski a couple of times. When I was an undergraduate at McGill in the 1970s he gave a talk, much of which was on his ideas about aleatory technique. And later, in 1988, when I was also there, he was at Salzburg conducting the premiere of his violin concerto, but sadly, I missed that concert.
Tom concludes his article by saying that the Symphony No. 3 is the "most convincing of post-tonal symphonies." It sounds good, but like so much that Tom says, I am not quite sure what he is trying to say. Is it convincing because it is post-tonal? What does that mean? In any case, go and read the whole article, with its well-chosen clips. I'll wait.
Let's have a listen to the whole symphony. Here is the premiere recording with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of the composer:
There are some interesting passages in Tom's discussion, such as this one, which lends support to my frequent attempts to detach the music from the composer's biography:
Lutosławski (who died in 1994) always resisted attempts to connect his life’s work with the circumstances of is creation, either in terms of his personal life or the broader context of the precipitous Polish politics through which he lived.There are some inaccuracies in the essay, such as in this rather over-stuffed sentence:
Lutosławski’s unique musical grammar of sections of “ad libitum” or “controlled aleatoricism” (sections in which individual players are rhythmically un-coordinated, but in which the pitch field they have to play, and the character, and the overall affect of the music, are defined by the composer – in fact, there’s more “control” here than “chance”, but the idea of a musical individualism, of a multitude of separate voices as opposed to a mono-dimensional musical collectivism still stands), contrasting with “ad battuta” – conventionally defined, obey-the-conductor passages.There is nothing "unique" by the mid-1970s about aleatory passages. John Cage had been doing things like this, but so had a host of others including Stockhausen and Xenakis. By 1978 even I had written a piece that was fundamentally aleatory. Have a look at the Wikipedia article for an overview.
Tom's piece is an excellent, enthusiastic introduction for the general reader, but don't rely on him for too much in the way of detail.
By the way, why is it that only the British press seems capable of doing a decent educational series on classical music? What with all the promoters like Greg Sandow suggesting this and that strategy (which usually boil down to presenting the music more like pop music) why isn't anyone in North America simply doing the obvious: running a series of articles that educate the public? Must be too elitist! But The Guardian is hardly an example of an elitist venue in the UK. Just another mystery, I guess.