Jeux Venitiens (1960-61)

Jeux Venitiens was commissioned by Andrzej Markowski and the Chamber Orchestra of the Cracow Phiharmonic Orchestra, receiving its preliminary performance at the Venice Biennale on 24 April 1961. Only
the first, second, and last movements were performed, as the third movement was incomplete. The first complete performance was done by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw on 16 September 1961. The work won first prize of the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs , Paris, in May 1962.
The work is Lutoslawski's first composition in which controlled aleatorism played a role. Lutoslawski cites the work as beginning the mature phase of his career. The changes in his style, which this piece represents, are felt to be evolutionary from his earlier music, with an acculturation of Western European influences which were felt by Polish composers in the period following Stalin's death. In addition, the philosophies of John Cage were important in influencing Lutoslawski:

It was in that year [1960] that I heard an excerpt from his [Cage] Piano Concerto and those few minutes were to change my life decisively... While listening to it, I suddenly realized that I could compose music differently from that of my past... If you compare it to Cage's work you will realize that the two compositions do not resemble each other in any way... Yes, it was a stimulus, a spark to ignite the powder keg in me. I wrote all that to Cage who was in the process of publishing a collection of manuscripts and asked me to send him a score. I gave him the full manuscript score of Jeux Venitiens , and wrote him a letter saying that that piece had opened up a new period in my life, and all that had been prepare by listening to his Piano Concerto... It was at that time that Andrzej Markowski asked me to write something for his ensemble... which was participating in the Venice Festival in the following year, 1961. That is why I gave the piece the adjective Venitiens .
But to get back to Cage's influence: I would not say that I have taken over from him. In my music, chance plays a completely different role from that in his works. Yet, I owe Cage a lot because it was he who reintroduced chance into music. That element of composition had been known for a long time, but European composers had neglected it. It was Cage who again turned their attention to it. (Lutoslawski, in Varga)

Written for a chamber orchestra or 29 soloists, the work is divided into four movements, of which the first three are rather simple, with the last being more complex. The work takes thirteen minutes to perform.
While the use of aleatory is limited, its use results in static textures, while lengths of time-fields of events articulate the form. The form is based upon various aspects of contrast, as well as variations on voicings
of a 12-note chord. The types of contrast, consistently used throughout the work, provide a sense of unity as well as forward motion.
The first movement is based on contrast of two types of material which are separated by a single percussion stroke. The first type of material is based on a symmetrically-voiced 12-note chord which is first stated in the woodwinds. Every time this material is stated, another group of instruments is added to the texture, thus filling-in and expanding the available musical space. The first statement of the "A" material by the woodwinds is the 12-note chord voiced symmetrically using interval classes 2 and 3. The two hexachords are separated by the interval of a perfect 4th. Each time this material, which functions as a ritornello, is sounded, tympani, brass and piano (four hands) are successively added to the previous texture. The brass texture, dominated by interval class 1, fills in the space between the two woodwind hexachords, while the piano, whose voicings are dominated by interval classes 3 and 4, extends the extreme registers outward. Each time this material is sounded, the duration of the event is progressively increased, culminating in a 24-note chord consisting of all-interval harmony.
The material which is contrasted against this energetic texture consists of soft, static chromatic clusters in the strings, which each span a perfect 5th. Each time this material is articulated, each cluster is transposed by a series of octave transfers. The brief articulation of the strings between the respective entrances of the brass and the piano differs in that the vertical sonorities are dominated by interval classes 3 and 4, rather than 1, so that this vertical use of strings clearly forshadows the entrance of the piano a few seconds later, and is closely related to it. The Codetta, lasting approximately seven seconds, is characterized by the
use of percussion, echoing and fading on the material it previously used.
The second movement, described by Stucky as a scherzo, is based on similar juxtapositions of two types of contrasting material. After the first statement of each type, variations of each type are used, with the overall form being ABa'b'a"b". The "A" material, sounded by the strings, consists of fragments which are separated by brief silences. The "B" material is sounded by the harp, winds and mallet percussion and consists of a continuous texture. Elision occurs between the two types of material, with the "B" material being sporadically introduced (m. 9) until it completely dominates the texture (m. 30). While each successive sounding of the
"A" material is marked by an expansion of register and sonority, the duration of each event is diminshed. Consequently, the duration of "B" sections gradually increases, thus replacing "A" as the principle material, with the strings ultimately reduced to a background role.
The remaining coda is characterized by the introduction of membranophones which begins with individual tones which gradually becomes an unpitched continuous texture similar to "B", joined by staccato piano
clusters. The brief recall of "B" material by the woodwinds ends the movement.
The third movement, a slow expressive recitative for solo flute, often virtuostic, is accompanied by the orchestra. The flute moves from the lowest to the highest register, with a gradual crescendo, arrival and
brief decrescendo. This arch is supported by the orchestra in a more complex way. While the registers of the piano, woodwinds and harp are gradually expanded, reaching the widest registral expanse at the movement's conclusion, the range of the strings, sounding 15 12-note chords, gradually collapses, then gradually expands. The rate of strings entrances corresponds with the range of sonic collapse and expansion, gradually increasing towards the point of arrival, thus corresponding with the flute in articulating the form, after which the rate of string entrances decreases until the end of the movement. While these technical processes may seem to be merely mechanical, Stucky feels the aural result justifies the technical
While the first three movements develop material by gradual augmentation of the texture in the first, varying materials in the second, and shaping the third by register and dynamic control, a "conclusion" has not
yet been reached, only sonic investigations of contrast and process. However, the fourth movement is significant in that a conclusion is affirmed by use of a traditional musical tension curve, in which there are four principle divisions of the movement: an introduction, the approach and point of arrival, a release, and a coda. The movement is characterized by overlapping statements of two extremely contrasting textural blocks, sounded in the strings and winds respectively. Control of contrast is achieved rhythmically as well as harmonically. The 12-note chord voicings of the strings are dominated by tritones and perfect 5ths, while the 12-note chord voicings of the woodwinds consist of secondal clusters. As the movement progresses, successive textures are articulated by four groups (woodwinds, brass, piano and strings) which overlap and accelerate the rate of consecutive entrances. These overlapping textures are what Lutoslawski calls wielowanswowsc (multilateredness), resulting in what Stucky describes as a "sonic brawl" between the four orchestral groups. During the course of the movement, the rate of successive entrances increases from five seconds to less than half of a second, by which time the texture has coagulated into a thick soundmass. The arrival is marked by the percussions playing a three-part canon in augmentation at fff, which is followed by piano, celesta and harp softly arpeggiating 12-note chords. As this texture subsides, four orchestral groups recall former materials, thus concluding the piece.
    While the techniques employed in Jeux Venitiens are not executed perfectly, the result is a striking investigation of sonic phenomena as well as an innovative use of aleatory. While use of 12-note chords, systematic contrast and overall formal design provide a strong cohesiveness, the contrasts of dynamics, registers and voicings ultimately provide a sense of balance to the work.


Jarocinski, Stefan. "Witold Lutoslawski". Chap. in Polish Music. Ed. by Stefan Jarocinski. Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1965.

Stucky, Steven. Lutoslawski and His Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Varga, Balint Andras. Lutoslawski Profile. London: J. & W. Chester/Edition Wilhelm Hansen London Ltd., 1976