Mini Overture (Witosławski)

Program note

WITOLD Lutosławski (1913–1994)
Mini Overture

Witold Lutosławski was one of the most significant voices in Polish music in the twentieth century.

Born in Warsaw, he grew up learning violin and piano. He studied mathematics for two years at university before quitting to study piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. His plans to continue his education in Paris were interrupted by the Second World War, which saw him spend some three weeks in the Polish army as a radio operator before being captured by the Germans. He escaped and returned to Warsaw, where he worked as a pianist in a cafe.

Lutosławski’s music drew on influences from folk music to 12-tone and aleatory music (chance music) and his career weathered both the Nazi occupation of Poland and a subsequent Stalinist government that banned the composer’s more avant-garde works.

While best known for his orchestral works – such as his Concerto for Orchestra and Funeral Music – Lutosławski also wrote a number of small chamber works, including this Mini Overture for brass quintet.

Lutosławski wrote this short, virtuosic firecracker of a piece at the behest of Swiss lawyer, music lover and philanthropist Walter Strebi, to whom it is dedicated. Strebi commissioned the work for the fiftieth birthday of his daughter Ursula, who was married to British trumpeter Philip Jones, founder of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. Strebi was one of the founders of the Lucerne Music Festival in Switzerland and was chair of its committee for many years. It was there that the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble premiered the Mini Overture in 1982.

The piece was originally intended as the first movement in a larger suite. Lutosławski never completed this larger work and delivered the Mini Overture at short notice, apologising and refusing the commission fee – the money for which was used to make a recording of the work instead. Lutosławski described the piece as a ‘small caricature of an overture’ and there is a wry humour to the piece’s spiky rhythms and virtuosic flourishes.

© Angus McPherson, 2022

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