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Paweł Łukaszewski

Paweł Łukaszewski


  • Paweł Łukaszewski - The Mystery of " a Crucis?

Paweł Łukaszewski - The Mystery of "Via Crucis"

The Way of the Cross is a service of the Christian congregation known for all the catholic community. This service commemorates scenes when Christ went on streets of Jerusalem with cross on His arms from Pilatus’ pretorium, that was the place where the verdict had been brought in on the Saviour, to mountain of Golgotha, where the verdict of crucifiction was executed upon Him. The spiritual core of the service of the Way of Cross consists on contemplation of the Christ’s passion simultaneously walking through a symbolic trail of the Way of the Cross, marked with 14 crosses to be a kind of remembrance of hurtful occurences of the Saviour’s torment. The particular crosses along the Way of the Cross are called ‘stations’. The number of stations changed along centuries. Recently, advised by the Second Vatican Council, the fifteenth was added to point the goal of the Way – the Resurrection.

The form of the Way of the Cross is rarely met in the music history, we can find it in barely few composers’ output: Franz Liszt (for piano), Marcel Dupré (Chemin de la Croix for organ), and also some Polish contemporary composers: Sławomir Czarnecki (for organ), Marian Sawa (for solo voices, choir and brass orchestra, with text of cogitations in Polish), Stanisław Moryto (for percussion and actor, with poetic text in Polish).

Via Crucis, written by me in 2000 (for contratenor, tenor, baritone, reciter, mixed choir organ and symphony orchestra to the texts from the Bible in Latin) is a composition of duration of 60 minutes. It evolves by a manner of “mega-rondo”, i.e. a large rondo, wherein each of the thirteen stations is opened and closed by a very similar formula (in shape of refrain), built of a name of a station (choral male voices), an invocation :”Adoramus Te, Christe...” (choral female voices) and finally a lamentation “Qui passus est pro nobis...” (choral female voices), and instrumental interludios, based on themes of Polish Lenten songs, which symbolize passing between stations (scanned sounds in wood winds on a background of low bourdons of brass). One of the next element serving for consolidation of the formal construction of the whole are strokes (chord horizontals of all instruments, from one to fourteen strokes) which are to be recognized as numbering of stations (listener recognizes the idea starting with third/fourth stroke). The most distinguishing character can be noticed in Stations of the descent from the cross and of the burial (dynamics in refrains of inter-station passages and in the strokes numbering stations is softened).

There are many elements of archaizing of compositional language in Via Crucis. In the very sound layer it is achieved by numerous bourdons to stress austerity of harmony, frequently used low brass and high, a sort of medieval “pipes” (wood-winds in inter-station passages, in the ways between stations) and general roughness (tartness) of sound timbre; in a melodic layer – harmonically severe recitatives and melodeclamations; in choir texture – opposition: female voices–male voices, after the fashion of antiphonal chants (this concerns all “refrain” parts of choir as well as some “plot” parts, e.g. Third Station, Seventh Station). I also revert to practice of figures of speech (in terms of musical rhetorics) to maximally visualize my sound language. Due to this quite vivid pictures are achieved, like in the Third Station (sequence of invocations of singular voices of a cappella choir with last syllables lengthened in bourdon-like manner); Seventh Station (exclamations imagining groans and sighs of tormented Christ); Ninth Station (sounds going astray to illustrate Isaiah’s words: “Omnes nos quasi oves erravimus”); Tenth and Eleventh Station (culmination of the suffering of crucifiction has its equivalent in drammatic commotion in music and vibration of choral-orchestral texture); in the Stations of agony, descent from the cross and burial (dilution and congealment of musical occurences). Moreover in the last Station of the Way of the Cross I introduced a melody of a sad Polish Christmas carol in mood of lullaby “Jezus malusieńki”. This quotation symbolizes a birth for a new life while the death of a body. Such quotations are motivated by me in terms of expression, formal construction, idea and rhetorics.

While I consciously limited myself in “refrain” parts, in all fourteen Stations, and in the fifteenth which acts as coda, one can follow and perhaps experience an increasing dramaticism of the work. It reaches its summit in Golgotha-Stations (ten to fourteen) and in the final Fifteenth Station (Resurrection). Beside of general assumption of a kind of asceticism (less speaking – far more can be said than speaking much) listeners are envolved in the plot as it develops. I am interested in secrets of psychology of how large (long) works are perceived and I seek for my own assemblage of means of expression. The use of the “refrain” sections, apparently identical but still various each time, can somehow cancel, erase in receiver’s memory all that has happened. Thus after each Station listener stands as if in front of a new picture. This “reset”-function was acted by amorphic section of inter-station passage. In primordial “plot” sections (based eleven times upon the Bible and three times upon words of Isaiah, at the Stations of Christ’s falls – 3, 7, 9) we can find the music action very rich and varied: from ascetic fragments based only upon narrative parts (spoken or melodiously declaimed), through Stations of choral a cappella, up to very dramatic moments that use the rich choral and orchestral outfit (Stations no. ten, eleven and fifteen). In fifteenth Station I used organ (in C major), for it resounds on the day of the Resurrection during services in the Church.

In 2002 my Via Crucis was performed in four Polish philharmonies. Each of the performances took place in the other city, in participation of the other orchestras and soloists. The last concert, with excellent soloists from London, was broadcast by the Polish Radio.

(Translation: Aleksander Kościów)


Niall O’Loughlin, Paweł Łukaszewski as Choral Composer

The name of the composer Paweł Łukaszewski (b.1968) is not familiar in Western Europe or the United States, but his reputation is growing apace in Poland. With recordings of his music now beginning to come available in the West, this situation should change, but even with the appearance of recordings, it still takes some time for unfamiliar music to take a foothold. The impact of the composer’s choral music is very vivid, with its ecstatic sound and an immediacy that is not always present in contemporary music. The techniques by which this has been achieved are generally quite straightforward, leading to some commentators to suggest that the music is both simplistic and superficial. With the composer’s careful attention to the impact of the words and the overall effect of the radiant sound, this view has no real foundation. While most comparisons with the music by other composers are unnecessary or even invidious, it is helpful to give a clue to help the listener identify with less well known music. Some of the idiom can be related to that of the music of the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, and the English composers, John Tavener and Kenneth Leighton, both in musical techniques and in the response to sacred words.

These techniques were clear in his famous cycle of antiphons. The seven Antiphonae, composed in the five years from 1995 to 1999, and written for unaccompanied mixed choir, are extended settings of the Advent Antiphons, lasting a total of some forty minutes. The first of these, O Sapientia, sets the tone with slow-moving themes accompanied by fast-moving ostinatos, in a single-tempo glowingly sonic piece, while the much longer second, O Adonai, uses a ternary frame to present a slowly rocking melodic phrase (almost like Debussy) in a reflective and hypnotic repetition contrasting with an exciting section featuring a repetitive staccato motif. The third, O radix Jesse, is again calm with parallel chords, often using ‘open’ chords based on the fourth and fifth which magically and quite unmechanically move up and down by step. A brilliant glissando at the climax with the words ‘veni ad liberandum’ releases the tension in an instant. The fourth, O clavis David, is carefully built up with various motifs and phrases in an amalgam of ideas that impresses on each hearing. The fifth antiphon, O Oriens, uses sectional subdivision of the parts to create richer textures, mostly in a slow emotive atmosphere. The sixth antiphon, O Rex gaudium, immediately establishes the dramatic use of the discord of the minor ninth to heighten the tension, but moves through some gentle melodic shapes to convey its message. The last antiphon, O Emmanuel, in many ways combines the different techniques and methods of the previous pieces: the sustained melodies, the insistent patterning ostinatos, and rising glissandos. Overall, these works have a strong presence that brings into focus a clear presentation of the meaning of the sacred words.

Similar features dominate the mass setting which was composed while the composition of the antiphons was continuing. Łukaszewski’s Missa pro Patria of 1997 is an imposing and broadly tonal work, scored for soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, mixed choir and an orchestra of wind and percussion. It has a duration in the recorded concert version of about 25 minutes, but the composer has also written four more sections that are performed only as part of the liturgy, making a total duration of about 35 minutes. While it sets the main fixed five Latin texts of the Mass, it adds to them in its unique way other sections that use mostly Polish texts often with a ‘homeland’ connection, giving the whole work a special Polish dimension and in particular, one concerned with the composer’s own country. The overall plan or organisation is now recast as five ‘rites’ or ‘liturgies’ in the following sequence: Ritus initiales, Liturgia verbi, Liturgia eucharistica, Ritus communionis, Ritus conclusionis. Within each section there are up to four parts that focus on a particular theme.  

In the first section (Ritus initiales), a concise Kyrie and Gloria are prefaced by a setting of a deeply moving prayer by the late Pope John Paul II, ‘Peace to you Poland, My Homeland,’ in which quiet overlapping wind chords and brass fanfares plus threatening timpani ostinati and the sound of bells lead to the joyous unison setting of the Pope’s words. The melody expands hesitantly in small intervals, but expands to sevenths and octaves, before a powerful reprise of the opening section. The following movement, the Kyrie, is calm and briefly sets the normal mass words, by two solo singers in imitation with rich harmonic choral support. Following this realm of calm there is a huge outburst of the brass for the Gloria, with the choir again mostly in unison. Simple rhythms are effectively used to great purpose.

The first of the liturgies, Liturgia verbi, has at its centre the normal Credo. In the liturgical version Łukaszewski frames this with short settings in Polish of Psalm 68 and a two-part Alleluia with both parts in symmetrical arch-forms, and, after the Credo, a short chordal prayer on the words ‘Te rogamus audi nos, Domine’ (in Latin or in an alternative Polish version). The main Credo is substantial, in several sections of varying tempos, presenting a free chant weaving its way around held chords in a hypnotically expressive way with brass interjections. Some haunting motifs remain in the memory, particularly the triplet rising fifth and falling second. Two vivid moments of harmonic intensity stand out, both for their simplicity and their impact: the choral F sharp-A sharp-E of the choir with its brass accompaniment at the words ‘et resurrexit’ and the unexpected but visionary A major chord of the final ‘Amen’. The second liturgy, Liturgia eucharistica, includes the normal Sanctus, but this is preceded by an Offertorium setting the Polish words of an anonymous prayer for the homeland sung in octaves by the two solo singers. The slow tempo, the quiet volume, the repetitive phrases and the almost obsessive focus on A minor within a very small vocal range do much to enhance the intensity of the words. The hypnotic spell of the prayer is broken by the onslaught of the ingeniously planned Sanctus with its pounding rhythms from the percussion and the melodic vocal motif of falling minor second and major third, while the Benedictus with its calm rising phrases in the low register of the women’s voices is a moment of quiet reflection. Both Sanctus and Benedictus are followed by a lively dotted-rhythm choral Hosanna in imitation between the women’s and men’s voices, with the second appearance after the Benedictus being reinforced by the return of the wind and percussion parts from the beginning of the section. For liturgical use Łukaszewski has added a five-fold Amen that ends firmly on an extended C major, but for concert performance the ending of the Sanctus on C sharp is joined enharmonically and without a break with the next section.

The Ritus communionis concludes the normal mass setting with the Agnus dei, starting in the traditionally peaceful key of D flat major. This is sung by the solo singers in turn and, after the choir’s rich parallel chordal statement, together in octaves. Its downward-moving melodic shape is distinctly memorable, a point that is particularly emphasised by the repetitions. The second part of this Ritus is another section marked ‘Communio’, a slow choral prayer for the homeland, ‘O God, the Governor and Lord of Nations’ by Father Piotr Skarga (1536-1612). It is a mixture of simple tonal progressions of closely-spaced chords and melodic phrases that present the words precisely. The final F sharp major Amen fades away gently; in its liturgical form the music the ending merges with the other ritual, but in the concert version the Ritus conclusionis follows without a break. It is a very brief section, setting the Latin words ‘Da pacem Domine in diebus nostris. Amen.’ The unison shouts of ‘Domine’ by the choir are reinforced by the added-note discords of the brass and are immediately contrasted by the slowly sinking line of the soloists singing ‘Da pacem Domine’ before one more loud call from the choir and the final calm conclusion.

Many important techniques of Łukaszewski’s composition can be found in the Missa pro Patria. These include simple forms effectively deployed, short but memorable melodic phrases within an unambiguous tonality, the setting of words that communicates clearly and directly, and a strong dramatic sense of contrast and musical timing that holds the listener’s attention throughout the work. These features give the Mass a strong and well defined character. It deserves to become well known outside Poland.