Elegeia for orchestra (1973)
Performers: Wielka Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia w Katowicach, Wojciech Michniewski – conductor, Katowice 1979, Polskie Nagrania
One of the best known among Baird’s works, the piece was commissioned by the National Arts Centre of Canada to mark the 500th anniversary of Nicolaus Copernicus’ death. Baird’s work was premiered during the anniversary celebrations in Ottawa.
Elegeia – dedicated to Baird’s friend Jan Krenz – is scored for a classic orchestral line-up and its form depends on the message contained in the title. According to the composer himself, this is not a funeral song, but a reflection on the past, past affairs, which sometimes disturb our imagination.
The composition is a struggle between two characters – an aggressive, noisy, attacking (“male”) one and a profoundly expressive, romantic, lyrical (“female”) one. Their alternating appearances give us grounds to distinguish four phases in the work. The first (bars 1-26) is aggressive owing to sudden strikes of the percussion and the brass. The gentler phase two (bars 27-80) gradually calms everything down, heading for melodious, even grotesque sounds (e.g. juxtaposition of the delicate timbre of the flutes with the drum beating a waltz rhythm). The aggressive character returns in phase three (bars 81-100), gradually disappearing in phase four (bars 101-132) – gentle and delicate (clearly oscillating around the A note), heading for a niente assoluto. This varied progression is based on four sound planes – murmuring, harmonic, melodic and rhythmic – which appear in various configurations: alternating or simultaneous.
In the context of the development of Baird’s individual style, the Elegeia was an artistic nod towards a “new romantic character”, a type of aesthetics and sound language fully manifested in his last works (Canzona and Voices from Afar).
After the performance of the work at Carnegie Hall (in the first half of 1974) Harold C. Schonberg stressed in the New York Times that for the first time in years he had witnessed a contemporary piece being encored in this great and famous concert hall.
Within less than a year of its premiere (by September 1974) the Elegeia was presented many times in Europe, e.g. in Italy, Germany and Ireland.
Krzysztof Knittel talks about Elegeia from his presonal, contemporary perspective:
- K. Lisicki, “ElegeiaTadeusza Bairda” [“Tadeusz Baird’s Elegeia”], Ruch Muzyczny 1975, no. 7, p. 7.