A dramatic opening, full of apprehension – something terrible is going to happen. But what? A murder? Yes. It’s Good Friday. Today, Christians all over the world mourn the death of Jesus Christ at the cross. Today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow Christians all over the world renew their hope that Jesus’ sacrifice was not in vain, but quite to the contrary, that it was meant to inspire his followers, to give them the courage and strength to believe in a life after death.
Inspired by Polish folk tunes
Between 1950 and 1954, the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski wrote an impressive piece he called Concerto for Orchestra. Beautiful melodies, partly inspired by Polish folk tunes, make it a charming experience for the listener, the sombre subtones and the disjunct, isolated music figures give it an extraordinary depth. A sense of oppression balanced by joy of life, optimism, assertiveness. Tragedy and hope – the two poles of this music. The two poles of Good Friday and Easter. The recording by the Camerata Silesia is worthwhile listening to.
Back to traditional forms
Lutoslawski lived and worked in Poland, in the shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Artists had little room for creativity outside the framework set by Communist aesthetics. This did not restrain Lutoslawski however. He did not hesitate to revert to music forms from the past, the Baroque and the Vienna Classic era. The three movements of his concerto are labeled: Intrada, Capriccio notturno and Arioso, Passacaglia, Toccata e Chorale.
Cultural thaw after Stalin’s death
The work was first performed in Warsaw on 26 November 1954 made Lutoslawski’s name known in the Western Europe and the United States. A year earlier, Stalin had died and many hoped for a less oppressive future. Artists throughout the Communist bloc like Dmitry Shostakovich or Lutoslawski immediately took advantage of the cultural thaw to present works that at the time wore rather revolutionary.
Parallels to Shostakovich
Lutoslawski highly esteemed Shostakovich, a major composer reflecting political crisis in his music – an issue he understood only too well. In 1948, Lutoslawski’s First Symphony had been banned by the Polish government. The works that saw the light thereafter were Lutoslawski’s response and by 1954 he could give his music a voice in public.
Political crisis, terror, sacrifice, deliverance, hope – keywords in the modern world. Keywords two millenia ago. The New Testament and especially the Apostles’ narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are highly political documents. And the first and most important of the Apostles’ lessons learnt, still valid today, is this: Good will triumph over evil.
© Charles Thibo