I composed my Nocturne soon after the horrifying events of the Second World
War, which I experienced in my native Warsaw.
In this orchestral piece, I completely detached myself from the tragic memories of
the past years. I was escaping reality, weaving for myself a kind of night vision, as
in a dream - seeing at the beginning cloudy and mysterious images, which gradually
emerge clearer and clearer, building very slowly and irrevocably up into an orgiastic
climax, then transforming little by little back into the misty images as at the beginning,
softly dispersing until they fade out completely.
My Nocturne won first prize in the Karol Szymanowski Competition in Poland, and soon after (1948) I was allowed to go to Paris to conduct its first performance.
However, the next year the situation of every creative artist in Poland changed
drastically. This was the crucial 1949 when a most significant conference of Polish
composers was organised by the Communist Party. Here, for the first time, a fierce
attack was launched on 'formalism' in music. 'Formalism' has many complicated
and obscure definitions in theory, but in practice a 'formalistic' work was one which
could not be used as political propaganda. Worse still, its musical language related to
the Western 'decadent' contemporary composers. We received strict orders to
compose for the 'broad masses', using the 'method of socialist realism', which meant to
write music 'national in form and socialist in content'. My Nocturne was performed
during this conference. Being an abstract work and having no power to 'mobilise'
politically, being neither 'national in form' nor 'socialist in content', it was labelled
With regard to form as opposed to 'formalism', this work is designed as a great arch
in sound: at the beginning, from absolute silence emerges a muffled tremolo on the
side drum. Other instruments gradually join in, mounting in a widely protracted
crescendo to a point where they achieve maximum volume of sound - and after this
extended climax, the sound very gradually decreases, once more right down to side
drum tremolo then to silence. The end and the beginning, which mirror each other,
both convey a sort of counterpoint of sound and silence.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer