Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54) is the crowning achievement of Witold Lutosławskis first creative period, during which the composer stylised Polish folk music and used compositional techniques characteristic of neoclassicism. In his Concerto for Orchestra he drew on several folk tunes from the Mazowsze region. He transformed these melodies by changing their rhythms and by subjecting them to colouristic alterations through varied instrumentation. He also endowed them with a new musical sense by presenting them in the context of different melodic and harmonic content. In elaborating the folk material, he had recourse to musical tradition, using toccata and passacaglia forms as well as imitation technique and enriching traditional elements with modern harmonies and instrumentation. Concerto for Orchestra is characterised by clarity of form and a dynamic musical action, the climax of which occurs in the third and last movement of the work.
The first movement, entitled Intrada, is cast in an arch form composed of a number of sections: A B C B1 C1 B2 A1. The work starts with a theme in cellos based on a Masovian song. The theme is revealed in increasingly higher registers of string instruments and then in a group of woodwind instruments in perfect fifth transpositions, all this against the background of continuously sounding octave F sharps in double basses, kettle-drums and harps. An analogous section (A1) ends the Intrada. The differences consist in a different instrumental elaboration of the same folk song, heard now in solo woodwind instruments and solo violins, the parts for these instruments meandering in contrapuntal entanglements against the background of a high-register f sharp. The arch form of the first movement contains two more alternating sections: B and C and their variants. The B section contains motifs of a new folk melody, appearing in the score with the expression cantando, whereas the C section (starting from Figure 6) consists of freely composed material.
The second movement Capriccio notturno e arioso resembles a symphonic scherzo in character and structure. Consisting of four sections (A A1 B A2), the movement includes jocose elements (A, A1 and A2), in very quick tempo, with unexpected accents, disrupting the flow of the material as well as a song-like section (B), modelled on folk melodies.
The third movement Passacaglia, toccata e corale is the most artistically constructed movement containing at the same time a feature characteristic of the composers late works, namely a chain-like combination of musical motifs. In the section using the formal model of the passacaglia, the composer took as his theme a variant of a folk melody, which assumes various colouristic shades evident in a dozen varied instrumental combinations, ranging from the dark colour of double basses with harp, through increasingly lighter colours to a two-tiered orchestral tutti, in which the theme is accompanied by a mobile layer of ''rushing'', ''brilliant'' figurations. In turn, in the section Allegro giusto (after Figure 61), there appears for the first time material marked by the constant, rapid movement of the toccata. With regard to its content, the toccata theme is akin to that of the passacaglia; it gains a new character here, however, mainly owing to the rhythmic changes and tempo variation, whereas new melodic material is introduced in Corale (after Figure 75). The majestic chords, alternating with a folk melody in solo instruments are presented in different colouristic arrangements. The return of the toccata is initiated by a section synthesising melodic structures appearing in this movement. They are coloured in new ways, owing to the instrumental, dynamic and textural transformations. The finale contains many spectacular effects such as the harp glissandos, the tremolandos in the piano and other instrumental parts as well as rapid passages with forte fortissimo dynamics.
Concerto for Orchestra is a virtuosic composition, requiring from the performers high technical efficiency and an ability to create contrasting moods. The instruments have been alotted parts varying in character: lyrical, pathetic, mysterious, jocose and extrovert. Concerto is a work of rich instrumental colour and lively musical action embracing a wide range of moods and emotions.
Jadwiga Paja-Stach (translated by Ewa Cholewka)