On “Lutoslawski on Music” and other Sunday Morning Thoughts

It is Sunday morning in Guerneville after a night of celebration of the 30th birthdays of my dear friends Alex and Julie. I had retired earlier than the rest last night being a bit exhausted from being sick this past week, and consequently I have woken up earlier than everyone. The sun is quite bright this morning, lighting up the fantastic view brilliantly. I sat outside briefly looking out at it all, listening to the sounds of insects all around, watching the bees visiting the beautiful flowers nearby and thinking how lovely it all is.

Inside everyone else is still asleep, so I took out the book Lutoslawski on Music by Zbigniew Skowron, a book Lisa was kind enough to check out for me from the university library. Only 20 or so pages in, having read the introduction and first essay of notes on large-scale form, I am already deeply drawn to Lutoslawski’s thoughts and considerations and have the expectation that this may very well be one of the most important texts I may read about composition and music.

This book is the first full collection of Lutoslawski’s writings and I am excited to be reading it now. In the past there have been a number of occasions where I have come across a book that seemed to have come at exactly the right time and addressed exactly concerns of mine. It has been some time since I had such a feeling but I am struck by this book now in this way.

My mind for composition has felt quite blocked for some time, both in regards to my general view on music and composition and in particular in regards to the concerns of large-scale form of the piece I have been working on, off and on, for the past couple of years. I believe this was in large part a result of the circumstances of our previous apartment, as already in the week since moving to the new apartment I have felt a great joy in being able to really listen to music again. Having mostly settled in to the new place, I have begun to collect myself to work once again on this piece, though I have been feeling a bit slow to engage again with the material and the form.

Reading and thinking about Lutoslawski’s words this morning has my mind racing and feeling a degree of activeness towards music that is exhilarating and refreshing. Recently I have been reflecting quite a bit on my life, about time passing, and composing in general, and many other things. Perhaps too with my friends entering their 30’s–a milestone I will be observing myself at the end of this year–I have been looking at areas of my life that may be taking up too much time and others that may be neglected. This morning, sitting here in the quiet house, I am filled with thoughts on music and composing and am glad to be spending my time on this. I am looking quite forward to reading more of this wonderful book and seeing where all of these thoughts will take me ahead.


  1. Hi Steven,

    I must say, I was really rather touched reading your thoughts on music and being a composer; and handling the ‘malaise’ that can – and I think, should – punctuate a composer’s life. I do feel prompted to read the Lutoslawski book – it sounds wonderful. My own journey as a composer has taken me down some very unsual roads: some dispondent; others, ecstatic.

    My own malaise was brought on by wanting to go beyond ‘just music’. After experiencing certain epiphanies, composing seemed trite and unrewarding/unchallenging; like it was just one side/facet of a polygon, when it was the whole polygon I wanted to understand/express. That analogy probably makes no sense at all :)… apologies for that.

    I think being able to compose is easy, no matter how sophisticated the end work; however, being able to compose something that has meaning, real meaning for the composer, is so very difficult. That’s my own take on composition 🙂 I think that’s why it’s essential we lose our way periodically. So many composers compose because they can; churning out work after work – I’ve done it myself. But when the fruits of your work leave you cold/empty; it’s time to really question what it is you’re doing – even if that means taking time out.

    Anyway, it was really nice to hear the thoughts of a like-minded composer. I wish you the very best of luck and happiness – especially in your creative life.

    Kindest regards,

    Helene (UK)

  2. Hi Helene,

    My apologies for not seeing you had sent your lovely reply until just now; I had recently updated WordPress and I’m realizing it is not notifying me of new comments anymore.

    I enjoyed reading your comments and wanted to say thank you for your kind words and best wishes to you in your own work and creative endeavors!


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