Lucia Dlugoszewski at the timbre piano

Lucia Dlugoszewski at the timbre piano

© Library of Congress

Contemplations into the Radical Others: The Life of Lucia Dlugoszewski

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” [1]

Rebecca Solnit

“Contemplations into the Radical Others: The Life of Lucia Dlugoszewski” is an attempt to tell the story of Polish-American composer, inventor, poet, teacher, choreographer, philosopher and avant-garde artist Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925–2000). Its about contemplations, speculations and radical transformations. Throughout her career and life, Dlugoszewski composed orchestral works, works for ensembles as well as music for dance. She was one of the integral members of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and became its director after the passing of Hawkins. Dlugoszewski invented over 100 percussion instruments and wrote poetry and prose. Her compositions encompass scored music, graphic notations (from her earlier career), instructions for dance and an abundance of aesthetical maps that accompany her music. She studied composition with Edgard Varèse, briefly with John Cage and piano with Grete Sultan. With her radical exploration of new playing techniques and subtle sounds, Dlugoszewski has been one of the forerunners working with prepared piano and created her performance techniques for timbre piano. She has been closely connected to composers such as Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, John Cage and Virgil Thomson and was also deeply linked to the art world. Although Dlugoszewski composed her earliest pieces at the age of 15, it was not until the 1950s that her work began to flourish. After she and Hawkins met, they began a close (working) relationship, with Dlugoszewski feeding his choreographic work with her thoughts, instrument inventions and compositions for dance.

In the late 1970s through the early 1990s, Dlugoszewskis work achieved critical acclaim, which also marked a period with fewer collaborative projects with Erick Hawkins. One of the seminal works she composed during that time was “Abyss and Caress” which premiered in 1975, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic; written for and conducted by Pierre Boulez. The work has foundationally explored many of Dlugoszewski’s musical concepts, such as in “Opening of the Eye” and “Amor Elusive Empty August” amongst others. Despite positive reviews, her work has fallen into obscurity for the public and the music industry in the following decades. Notably and thanks to the WDR Sinfonieorchester, “Abyss and Caress” has premiered in 2022 in Germany, 40 years after its inception.

Over the last two years, MaerzMusik and collaborators engaged in extensive research on the work of Lucia Dlugoszewski. This project included visiting the Music Division “Erick Hawkins and Lucia Dlugoszewski Papers” at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., exploring scores, sketches, concepts, scribbles, photos and much more. It also included extensive conversations with Katherine Duke, the current director of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, as well as Christine Chapman, Marco Blaauw and other members of Ensemble Musikfabrik.

Small Ears. Big Rooms.

Dlugoszewski was driven towards philosophical questions on the notion of immediacy, which she has explored with experimental and situated listening. She proposed a sense of “shattering” normative modes of hearing in order to explore specific modes through which sounds are experienced. This is something you can explore in her work “Tender Theater Flight Nageire” (performed by Ensemble Musikfabrik on 24.03.2024). She writes: “[T]he simplest of creative experiences with sound is the truest place to activate the listening orientation.” [2] Her earlier works have dealt with the mundane and the everyday sound and its position in space, which “utilised the sounds one lives with daily – the pouring of water, whistling of a teakettle, clinking of glasses, bouncing of balls, rustling of paper and so on” [3] (the work will be performed at the programme series “Contemplations into the Radical Others: Laboratory” by Katherine Duke and Kate Doyle on 24.03.2024). Her quest into sonority was probably informed by her meetings with Varèse and Cage. Although resulting in very different stylistic and aesthetic outcomes, she continued to carry on their traditions of experimenting with sound and space. Through this, she shifted attention away from the technological to the experiential and acoustic. Dlugoszewski formulated her rejection of technology as follows: “Magnetic tape is only a machine, a tool, an extension of ourselves. As Proust one said, if we travel to the moon, there we will merely hear what our ears will hear. No machine can change the ear, only possibly clean it or awaken it.” [4]

It is not a surprise that she then moved on to working with dance and movement, raising other questions that challenged traditional instruments and compositional techniques. Her collaboration with Erick Hawkins, starting from 1953, did not only inspire her, but also had a profound impact on Erick Hawkins in his aesthetic, as they both tapped into the realities of the body; egalitarian collaboration between sound, movement and immediacy; and possibly the intimacy of the theatricality of sound and its performativity. Although still composing within a classical contemporary musical sense, she continued to invent new instruments to push the boundaries she confronted. When asked why she invented new percussive instruments, she responded: “When I look at Western percussion it is so flat footed, it’s just a boom boom boom. It’s really kind of a macho hitting things, and so I wasn’t attracted to that (…) I wanted to find a more pure non emotionally evocative sound.” [5] Similarly, in reading Dlugoszewski’s music and reconstructing her instruments for this programme, Christine Chapman refers to her inventive instruments as follows: “Percussions sounds like hitting, but I know for her music it is stroking (…) they are not instruments for sudden shouts and punches, they are to be stroked, they are to be brushed and caressed to bring forth the sounds”. [6]

“What I realised that form is a cliché, the instrument is a cliché certainly, the notation is a cliché, in the sense that they are fixed, and what we want is always to tap into that creative unknown” [7]

Lucia Dlugoszewski, 1992

Likewise, in an encounter with Marco Blaauw in 2023, Blaauw referred to working on “Space is a Diamond”, saying that “[t]here is this physical aspect of trumpet playing which is connected to breath, to vibrating lips that create the sound, and then there is this thing where the range expands endlessly – almost –, how can you do that? Because physically we are limited. We’re also limited in our minds. So we are sort of asked to explode our head/concepts, and try to resolve them and think fresh and new again. I had a problem exploring that range. I had never played in that high range. I had never thought about it.” [8] This follows the words of composer Virgil Thomson, who noted in 1971 that Dlugoszewski’s composition “virtually exhausts the technical possibilities of the instrument without becoming didactic.” [9]

It is clear that as a composer she has challenged the musicians playing her work, at times writing music that is almost impossible to perform. But at the same time, it is obvious that her exploration of music has been an investigation into impossible forms. Her compositions deal with unconventionality, the “avoidance of fixed pitch through sliding tone, glissandos and a preference for extreme dynamic ranges.” Many of her works became utmost provocations, and an exploration of immediacy that propels to experience music directly – sound or music for their own sake. Her work was of concrete quality, challenging what she called “naive realisms”. Her expanded sonic experiments allude to technique, but it is also undeniably her own technique, unique to her compositional imagination, instrument preparation and interpretation. These preparations included a score and detailed instructions on engaging with the material objects brought into a conversation with an instrument (piano, percussion, trumpet or a collection of instrumentations). But they also included an abundance of philosophical texts and aesthetical maps, which are also being shared at the Library of MaerzMusik during the festival.

Re-Orienting A Listening.

“The most beautiful thing that can happen in music is that you actually hear a sound as if you heard it for the first time” 

 “The most beautiful thing the most immediate thing about sound is the making and hearing of a sound before your eyes”

Lucia Dlugoszewski

This project proposes a shift of paradigms of how histories are told and shaped and how we can be re-oriented in time. It attempts to re­fuse the linear historiography of contemporary classical music, which has been shaped from within the patriarchal, exclusionary and non-open systems and histories. It is necessary to take the time to listen in order to revive the works of composers who have been excluded and deemed not “serious” enough, condemned to live in shadows, footnotes and anecdotes of history itself, who have thus not been programmed and re-programmed by major contemporary music festi­vals historically and today.

This year’s programme for “Contemplations into the Radical Others” brings Dlugoszewski’s two worlds of dance and music to the festival. With pianist Agnese Toniutti, we present Dlugoszewski’s timbre piano techniques and her own musical idioms that she has explored that Toniutti has been exploring for many years now. Many of the scores have been reconstructed by members of Ensemble Musikfabrik and Agnese Toniutti, based on Dlugoszewski’s comments that gave a glimpse into understanding her notation deeper. We have also included thinking of new forms and collaborations and finding new relations and connections with her music, choreography and dance. With the current director of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Katherine Duke, a selection of compositions and choreographies from Dlugoszewski's time with the company will be performed in both music and dance. Choreographer and dancer Edivaldo Ernesto has been constructing new relations and movements to her music and will present two of Dlugoszewski’s most seminal works, “Space is a Diamond” and “Tender Theater Flight Nageire”. Composers Bethan Morgan-Williams, Mazyar Kashian and Elena Rykova have been commissioned to find possible inspiration from her philosophy and music. Over this time, we as the project team have also grappled with many questions: How do we reconstruct her instruments, how should these instruments be played, how can we present such a vulnerable archive, and how can we also activate both the archive in music and the series of exchanges at the Laboratory organised at the festival?

Guided by an understanding of the collective search for answers as a process, the project does not intend to present any final results. Rather, it could and should develop into a new modus operandi engrained in organisation, programming and relations made before, during and after the upcoming festival editions through that modality and making. An approach that promotes discussions and questions instead of re-creating binaries, oppositions or hierarchies.

– Kamila Metwaly

Events on Lucia Dlugoszewski

[1] Solnit, Rebecca (2023). Men explain things to me. Faber & Faber.

[2] Beal, A. C. (2022). Expanding Creativity and Collaboration (1953-1960). In: Terrible freedom: The life and work of Lucia Dlugoszewski (S. 162 ff.). University of California Press.

[3] Hughes, Allen (1971). And Miss Dlugoszewski Experimented - A lot, The New York Times.

[4] Magnetic Tape, Mathematics, and Music for the Dance, 1960, BOX-FOLDER 21:15 Erick Hawkins and Lucia Dlugoszewski Papers, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

[5] Duke, Katherine. Interview with Lucia Dlugoszewski by Katherine Duke. unpublished, 1992. 

[6] Blaauw, Marco, Christine Chapman, Sophie Emilie Beha, and Kamila Metwaly. Interview with Members of Ensemble Musikfabrik. Cologne, unpublished, 2023.

[7] Duke, Katherine. Interview with Lucia Dlugoszewski by Katherine Duke. unpublished, 1992. 

[8] Blaauw, Marco, Christine Chapman, Sophie Emilie Beha, and Kamila Metwaly. Interview with Members of Ensemble Musikfabrik. Cologne, unpublished, 2023.

[9] Thomson, Virgil und Nabokov, Nicolas (1971). American music since 1910. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.