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Witold Lutosławski

Publisher: Chester Music

Chain 3 [Lancuch 3] (1986)
Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Work Notes
Chester Music is the publisher of this work in all territories except Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, China, countries of the former Czechoslovakia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Romania, Hungary and the whole territory of the former USSR, where the copyright is held by Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM).
Chester Music Ltd (Polish Works)
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
10 Minutes
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Programme Note
Witold Lutosławski Chain 3 [Lancuch 3] (1986)

In recent years Lutoslawski has found a way to create musical forms combining unrelated strands of music whose short, discrete sections overlap one another like the linds of a chain. Elements of this method can be found in many of Lutoslawski’s earlier works, but the first to emphasize it was Chain 1 (1983), for fourteen instruments, written for the London Sinfonietta. Chain 2, subtitled ‘Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra’, followed in 1985.

The latest work to adopt this approach is Chain 3 (1986), for large orchestra. Broadly speaking, the composition’s ten minute span falls into three sections, of which the first provides a particularly clear, readily audible example of the chain technique. After a quick opening flourish, Lutoslawski presents a sequence of twelve overlapping ideas, each characterised by a particular mode of expression, and each vividly coloured by a few instruments playing as a unit. For example, chimes, violas and flutes together form the first ‘link’, this is overlapped by a quartet of double basses, they in turn overlap a xylophone and three violins, and so on. The last of the twelve links in this musical chain thicken into a kind of general babble among the winds, marking the first tage in the work’s larger form.

In the second and main part of the work. The chain technique grows much more complex, its details quickly submerged in a developing tutti. More striking than any such details, though, are the depth of feeling and mounting sense of urgency communicated by an emerging violin melody. Both this long-spun melody and its grandly conceived orchestral setting unfold in three broad, accelerating waves, both melody and setting growing increasingly elaborate until ultimately they merge to culminate in an expansive, singing climax for all the brass.

As if spent by the intensity of this development and climax, the orchestra subsides in the final section into a colourless, expressionless mass of string sound. Still, there is momentum enough left for a last surprising filing, an attempt at a big affirmative final gesture. Spurred on by little fanfares on brass and woodwind, the whole orchestra rushes to assert an A major-like, pseudo-tonic chord. But the reassurance this ordinary, ‘symphonic’ ending seems to offer rings hollow, falsifying the very real passion and originality of what has gone before. The would-be cadence chord cannot prevail: it is abruptly swept away, and Chain 3 ends as enigmatically as it began.

Chain 3 was written for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra who gave the first performance conducted by the composer on 10 December 1986 in the Davies Hall, San Francisco.

© Steven Stucky
October 1986

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    BBC Symphony Orchestra
    K. Zimmerman, piano
    Witold Lutoslawski
    Deutsche Grammophon:
  • Ensemble
    Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
    A. Bauer, cello
    Antoni Wit
  • Ensemble
    BBC Symohony Orchestra
    Christian Ehring
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