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Grzegorz Majka, EVOLUTION OF JULIUSZ ŁUCIUK’S STYLE
Juliusz Łuciuk’s creative career involves over half a century of unceasing exploration. The beginning of the composer’s creative work – the second half of 1950s – was marked by specific „basic” work. It was the time for perfecting techniques, for polishing his craft by means of compositions for piano solo or with another instrument as well as songs with piano accompaniment. It seems that from the very beginning of his artistic career Łuciuk has coped very well with textural discipline, which sometimes makes it difficult to compose for solo instrument or duet. As early as The Three Songs to words by Leopold Staff (1954), his natural skill in handling available expressive resources was captivating. It was the reason why, in combination with the faultless exploitation of the properties of the text and a special stress on the colouristic aspect, the first cycle of Łuciuk’s songs – and the whole of his vocal lyrical music, for that matter – occupies an unprecedented position in Polish music. After all, Maciej Negrey was right when he wrote that the premiere of the poem Tool from the Light (1966) meant that (...) it was already obvious that in Polish musical culture there has appeared someone who establishes song rules anew.(1)
The elements of the musical language making for the novelty and the considerable individuality of the song were transferred to instrumental music in the early period of the composer’s creative career. As a result, one can say that e.g. Capriccio for violin and piano (1956) is identical with The Three Songs to Leopold Staff’s words in its poetical suggestiveness. In respect of the sound layer, this analogy is based mainly on the way the narrative is developed, with its considerable fluency and freedom in using dynamic and colouristic shades. Łuciuk’s artistic statement is here – to apply rhetoric criteria – coherent, logical and concrete and is characterized by high language culture.
It is easy to notice, even in his earliest works, that the composer consistently (and effectively) avoids overloading the sound, aiming more at displaying the beauty of the sound itself . One can even say that he relishes the sound rather than „uses it” in order to build formal structures. Such an attitude should not be identified in any way –at least in respect of the early period of Łuciuk’s output – with any form of sonorism. Still, his highly individual manner, full of dynamic and colouristic subtleties, in which the composer handles the musical material, makes it possible to isolate a new, characteristic tonal quality.
Thus, in Łuciuk’s creativity, the second half of 1950s was a period marked by new – not only vocal – lyricism. As it became the key element of his style, the composer contributed to the musical scene of
In the early 1960s Łuciuk directed his attention towards exploration and experimentation. It was then that the colouristic element attained predominance in his work. The new aesthetic attitude found its particular expression in Niobe, in its first version (1962): the work, which – as it seems – was later to play a prominent part in Łuciuk’s further creative career. The drammatic programme of Niobe is expressed both in its musical layer and in its free choreographic-pantomimic realization. The composer employed large forces and at the same time individualized both the functions of particular sections of instruments and the notation itself. The fact that the score of the work departs completely from traditional methods of notation does not mean at all that interpretation and performance have become more optional. As for the textural idea, it was based on so-called intergroup rotations and resulted in full freedom in shaping the form on the basis of the evolution within tonal structures rather than thematic motifs.
It can only be the workings of fate that the first graphic version of the composition – instead of initiating a new, fascinating musical trend – has remained up to now in only two manuscripts. And – what seems unbelievable – it has been waiting for its world premiere for forty years.
Juliusz Łuciuk proved to be an excellent architect and builder of dramaturgic tensions, an ever-exploring colourist and, last but not least, a melodist of enormous inventiveness. Those features, conspicuous usually exactly in this kind of hierarchy, are characteristic of all the stages of his creative career. Two further aspects suggest themselves: innovator and Romantic individualist. These, however, do not convey much about the music itself; they are rather the resultant – sociological in nature – of earlier tonal qualities, determining the peculiar quality of the language, as well as Łuciuk’s personal traits.
Despite the lack of understanding and considerable caution with which Niobe was received, the composer continued his bold explorations. He concentrated all his powers of invention, however, not on the orchestra – with its enormous possibilities – but the relatively ascetic medium of the piano. A period of exploration and exploitation of the possibilities resulting from its preparation followed from1963 to 1968. These researches resulted in absolutely masterly compositions (esp. Lirica di timbri), in which textural limitations do not in the slightest degree inhibit the impetuous musical and dramatic idea of its author, but – quite the reverse – seem to enhance them, ensuring the vitality of his work. But, for the time being, the work has not come alive.
It is significant how certain a composer must be of his creative and artistic vision in order to be able to use the orchestral forces – regardless of their specific qualities – only as a peculiar „pretext” both for expressing any dramatic quality and manifesting his own musical philosophy. For example, one cannot declare, with full responsibility, that Die Kunst der Fuge – in respect of the specific weight of its surplus, circummusical layer – yields precedence, in any degree, to the
Juliusz Łuciuk’s exploration of the avant-garde has been strongly individualized. His creative career has not been determined by involvement with any compositional school and his inner aesthetic needs have provided the exclusive motive power of all his experiments. Hence today we owe the existence of such musical means as inner- or intergroup rotation (in the orchestra) or continuous sound (of the prepared piano) precisely to Łuciuk’s creative ingenuity, exploratory talent and – to a certain degree – to his independence. What is more, his concepts were not transitory visions, but provided a skeleton for logical and expression-bearing forms.
„As for the avant-garde, I have used it, summed up and done away with,” the composer said in a conversation with Agnieszka Stankiewicz-Malatyńska. (2) In another place, regarding the opera Demiurgos (1976) as a tool in his struggle with the avant-garde, he was just as straightforward: „Music (...) cannot be severed from tradition. And most avant-garde composers have completely repudiated the past. It has begun to get on my nerves”. (3) Those are significant words and one must approach the interpretation of such a declaration with great responsibility. Łuciuk has devoted all his life to music – and quite a large part of it just to the avant-garde. One can hardly believe that it was his purpose to discredit the important achievements of the avant-garde. That this was not indeed his intention the composer assured us during his December appearance at the
Opportunism has been completely alien to Łuciuk. The inborn attachment to timeless virtues was the reason why he found himself in the musical opposition in the late 1960s. The abandoning of all the fruits of compositional thought from the era before the twentieth century and the complete breaking away from the output of earlier composers were not attractive options for him. Extreme manifestations of the „innovatory activities”, in the form of e.g. demolishing instruments, made him all the more hostile to the prevalent group of composers. It was on these avant-garde composers that he declared war, not on the avant-garde itself – after all, an important trend of progressive exploration - but its radical, attitudinizing and fanatical representatives.
The reasons for Łuciuk’s break with avant-garde circles should not be sought in a short-sighted willingness to manifest his independence from composers involved with it. The point was that the route of exploration adopted by them could not lead Łuciuk to his own destination. In this context the writing of the opera Demiurgos (1976) and the oratorio Saint Francis of Assisi (1976) may be regarded as a turning-point. Those works became the beginning of a not-so-easy way towards an artistic ideal. It was probably at this moment that the composer gained enough in maturity and strength to start the long process of the crystallization of these ideals.
In order to understand the essence of Łuciuk’s guiding principle, one should follow the evolution that his output has undergone from the decisive works of 1976 to the most recent oratorio God’s Stream (2004) or the song Presacrament for solo voice (2005).
The composer calls the opera Demiurgos his artistic credo. It refers here to the sphere of art and is expressed in a vision of a great, but commonly misunderstood and unappreciated artist. Juliusz Łuciuk is, however, not only an artist, but, above all, a man of art. To be sure, music fills his entire life, but music does not complete his image as such, i.e. an artist with all the traits of his personality. On the other hand, these traits can also be translated into the language of music. So allowing for the peculiar traits of the composer’s personality, we should consider the oratorio Saint Francis of Assisi as his „great credo”, as it is not only the artist’s manifesto, but also a musical representation of man’s creativity. Through this work the composer injected a completely new quality into Polish music, bearing all the features of timelessness and one still seldom accepted up to date.
It has never been Łuciuk’s aspiration – fortunately – to meet anybody’s expectations or to subscribe to particular trends, but – simply speaking – to express himself in art. Drawing on traditional harmony and melody – while shocking to others – was just as natural an element of the language as the piano preparation ten years earlier: one could say – a testament and symbol of novelty. Owing to the facility with which the composer employed different conventions as well as the strong, inner conviction of the rightness of the adopted path, Saint Francis of Assisi became an extremely rich work in respect of aesthetics. It is not a result of classical rhetorical formulas and modern textural ideas, but – strikingly coherent in form – an artistic utterance of transcendental content.
From the perspective of the past three decades we clearly see how consistent the way of transformations of Juliusz Łuciuk’s musical language was. The oratorio God’s Stream (2004) is its next stage. Comparing it with Saint Francis of Assisi we notice very clearly the composer’s overriding idea: the idea of ennobling and spiritualizing the sound layer.
God’s Stream is a contemplative work, in which the motivic elaboration has been limited to a minimum and the motive itself – to three pitches. Instead, the colouristic shades with which the sound of the whole work glitters are miriad; what’s more, they manifest a clear affinity with sonorism.
Juliusz Łuciuk placed all the compositional means employed in God’s Stream at the service of concentrated reflectiveness. It was in fact a double reflectiveness: on the beauty of the sound itself and the poetical force of the words. Łuciuk used large orchestral forces and an extended choir. These resources did not serve, however, as the material for monumental texture, but provided an opportunity for saturating the sound, making it profound, intense and interesting. The whole sound layer of the oratorio is an artistic symbol. It lacks inappropriate references, trivial playing with emotions or unnecessary exaltation. The musical linguistics are in perfect harmony with the words, forming the unique poetry of the work.
Between 1976 and 2004 a number of works were composed, in which the idea included in God’s Stream was only crystallized. The music of this period became the basis of all the later controversies accompanying Juliusz Łuciuk’s work to date. It was just then that the associations with impressionism appeared, quickly attracting accusations of epigonism. They were a result of misunderstandings, which one can try to explain today using the example of the oratorio Gesang am Brunnen (1990).
The work was written right „in the middle of the road” leading from the display of the great melodic invention and textural wealth of Saint Francis of Assisi to the formal asceticism and poetic contemplative quality of God’s Stream or Presacrament. On the one hand, Gesang am Brunnen surprises with interesting ideas. On the other, however, the impression is that these ideas are „drowned” in the general tonal sound. As a result, the artistic effect is not wholly convincing. What is missing here is the subtle colour of God’s Stream, as a result of which some passages - especially the choral ones – simply lack identity.
Gesang am Brunnen should be treated today as the fruit of one of the stages of the evolution of Juliusz Łuciuk’s style. Certainly it is not a „bow” in the direction of impressionism. Since 1976 Łuciuk’s musical language has been subject to constant transformation, whose direction can be precisely defined today. Although in Gesang am Brunnen the transitional stage of these aesthetic transformations came close to impressionism, it is simply accidental. From the very beginning Juliusz Łuciuk’s creative individuality has been considerable and his artistic philosophy strong and clear. It is hard to believe that he should have strayed towards impressionism. God’s Stream is sufficient testimony of his creative integrity and vitality.
Juliusz Łuciuk’s most recent oratorio does not seem to be the last phase of his creative career. It is not a closed composition, in which one could not change even one note without disturbing its basic construction. Instead, together with the Presacrament, it gives a clear image of the composer’s artistic ideal.
(1) Maciej Negrey: an essay in the pamphlet The Days of Juliusz Łuciuk’s Music on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Creative Activity, Cracow 2004.
(2) „Colours of Music”, Dziennik Polski [Cracow daily], 11 December 2004
(3) op. cit.
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