Symphony No. 3 (Lutosławski)

Symphony No. 3 (Lutosławski)

Witold Lutosławski wrote his Symphony No. 3 in 1973-1983. The work was given its world premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, on 29th of September, 1983. This work was selected for the first Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 1985.


The Symphony calls for a large orchestra, consisting of:
*woodwind: 3 flutes (two doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (third doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet, another doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon)
*Brass: 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 1 tuba
**4 additional percussionists playing: xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone (without motor), bells, five tom-toms, two bongos, bass drum, side drum, tenor drum, three cymbals (small, medium and large), tam-tams (hign and low) and tambourine
*celesta, 2 harps, piano four-hand
*and Strings (violins, violas, cellos and basses).


Many passages in the Symphony no. 3 employ Lutoslawski's by–then well developed technique which he called "limited aleatorism", in which the individual players in the orchestra are each asked to play their phrase or repeated fragment "in their own time" — rhythmically independent from the other musicians. During these passages very little synchronisation is specified: events that are coordinated include the simultaneous entrances of groups of instruments, the abrupt end of some episodes, and some transitions to new sections. By this method the composer retains control of the symphony's architecture and the realisation of the performance, while simultaneously creating complex and somewhat unpredictable polyphony.

At the beginning of the illustrated page from the score, for instance, the woodwinds and brass (notated at the top of the page) are playing short repeated passages. The composer specifies completely the music for each player, leaving the interpretation to the individuals: only the co-ordination between the parts is unspecified. The strings (notated at the bottom of the page) join the texture by sections: first the violins, then the violas, the cellos and lastly the basses, all playing rapid repeating figures. The string players do not coordinate their playing (even within sections) except for their entries. These entries are indicated by the conductor, as instructed by the down-arrows above the string parts. (The illustration may be enlarged via the .)

Other parts of the symphony (the very beginning and the very end, for example) call for rhythmic synchronization of the orchestra, and are notated more traditionally.

In the composer's own words

Fact|date=March 2007cquote2
I had already written the first sketches for the Third Symphony in 1972; later I totally abandoned a part composed in the following years. The score was only definitively completed in January 1983; meanwhile I wrote a number of other pieces, such as "Les Espaces du Sommeil", "Mi-Parti", and "Novelette". In composing the Third Symphony I always had in mind the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its exquisite sound. It was a powerful stimulus to my imagination. At the same time always, in writing for such an interpreter, I felt the weight of responsibility that had forced me to be more exacting with myself. This was perhaps the reason that work on the Third Symphony went on so long.

The form of the Third Symphony is the results of my experiences over several years as a listener to music, in particular to larger forms. I was always fascinated by the extraordinary strategy of Beethoven in this field, and this was also for me the best lesson in musical architecture. My model for the large form, perfectly balanced, was, however, the pre-Beethoven symphony, above all the symphonies of Haydn. I have not ceased to be an admirer of the large-scale forms of Brahms in symphonies, concertos, and chamber music, but I must admit that, after having listened to a symphony, a concerto, or even a sonata by Brahms, I always feel exhausted, probably because with him there are always two large-scale movements, the first and the last. All these reasons have inclined me to research into other possibilities. I found in the end a solution in the large-scale form in two movements, where the first is only a preparation for the second. Its function is only to draw the attention of the listener, to awaken his interest, without giving him complete satisfaction. It is necessary for the listener, in following the performance of the first movement, to be waiting for something more important to come. He may even be impatient. And it is at this precise moment that the second movement appears, bringing the principal idea of the work. Such a way of arranging the musical substance of the work in time seems to me natural, in conformity with the psychology of listening. I have used a form of this kind in a number of compositions, the String Quartet and the Second Symphony are the most typical examples.

In the Third Symphony, the first 'preparatory' movement appears after a short introduction. For some time the music does not move forward from here, and its course is interrupted by pauses. This movement consists of three episodes, the first of which is quicker and the last slower. To be exact, the tempo remains the same to the end, the apparent difference only comes from the use of longer rhythmic values. A short slow passage leads to the second movement, the main part of the symphony.

The form of the second movement could be defined as a 'reference to the "sonata-allegro" with its thematic contrast'. The climax of the work comes towards the end of a series of tutti passages. There is still a distinct epilogue, an Adagio, where dramatic string recitatives mingle with a broad cantilena.
Witold Lutosławski, 1988



* [ Witold Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3 (3.Symfonia)] – information page for the work from the publisher, Chester Novello (accessed 2007-03-31)
* Lutosławski, Witold. "Symphony no. 3" (score). London: Chester Music, 1990. ISBN 9780711923683

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