Witold Lutosławski at the piano, photo: Lucjan Fogiel / East News
Witold Lutosławski at the piano, photo: Lucjan Fogiel / East News

Among Poland's most outstanding composers, as well as a leading figure in the realm of music of the twentieth century. He was a great authority, a patriot, an educator of many generations of musicians and listeners. He was also a model of modesty, a highly cultured individual, someone who demanded much of himself and others. 

Witold Lutosławski born in Warsaw 25/01/1913, died in Warsaw 7/02/1994.  He studied piano since the age of 6, with Helena Hoffman then with Józef Smidowicz after 1924, and with A. Taube. He studied violin with Lidia Kmitowa from 1926 to 1932. Private lessons in theory and composition with Witold Maliszewski began in 1928 and his first work, completed in 1930, was performed two years later at a Warsaw Conservatory concert: Taniec Chimery / Dance of the Chimera for piano. He also studied mathematics from 1931 to 1933, at the University of Warsaw. He continued in Maliszewski's composition class at the Conservatory after graduating in 1932, and studied piano with Jerzy Lefeld, receiving diplomas in piano performance in 1936 and in composition in 1937 (for Requiem for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra). 

He considered Symphonic Variations / Wariacje symfoniczne to be his composing debut, begun in 1936 and premiered in 1938. The Second World War interrupted Lutoslawski's artistic career, and he spent the occupation in Warsaw earning a living playing piano in the cafés Sztuka i Moda and U Aktorek, with the composer Andrzej PanufnikVariations on a Theme of Paganini for two pianos (1941) is his only surviving work from this period.

Lutosławski married Maria Danuta Bogusławska, née Dygat, in 1946. They settled permamently in Warsaw, where he was on the Polish Composers' Union board of directors and a co-organiser of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, which debuted in 1956. Composition courses and workshops he participated in include the Berkshire Music Centre in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in 1962, during which he met the composers Edgar Varese and Milton Babbitt, the Summer School of Music in Darlington, England, in 1963 and 1964, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm in 1966, at the University of Austin, Texas, in 1966, and in Arhus, Denmark, in 1968. He gave guest lectures on his own work during the 1970s and 1980s, and never took a permanent position in a music academy.

Witold Lutosławski. Guide to Warsaw

Lutoslawski's compositions include classics of 20th-century music, alongside works of Bela Bartok, Sergei Prokofiev, Olivier Messiaen and the century's major composers. Musicologists divide his work into periods. Early work of his neo-classical period include Symphonic Variations (1938), Symphony No. 1 (1947) and Overture for strings (1949). Little Suite (1950) and Concert for Orchestra (1954) show Lutoslawski's interest in Polish folklore. His dodecaphonic period using the serial technique began with Five Songs, settings Kazimiera Illakowiczowna's texts (1957), and includes Musique Funebre (1958). Venetian Games (1961) began Lutoslawski's next period, with controlled aleatorism introducing chance elements into a compostion's rhythmical structure while strict organisation of dynamic levels is maintained. The Symphony No. 2 (1967) and Livre pour Orchestre (1968) summarise developments in this two-phase formal model in which the introductory part is followed by development of the composition's main idea. In Mi-Parti (1976) added a structural concept typical for Lutoslawski, with interlocking themes creating a "chain" structure, a formal principle evident in three numbered compositions titled Łańcuch / Chain.

Lutosławski remains that rare composer with a distinctly defined, individual style in his works, despite differences in his various periods and constant development of his musical language. He found his path among aesthetic crossroads of the 20th century's second half, and pursued it with determination and a refined, evolving artistic sensibility. His music balances form and content, intellect and emotion. He belonged to no "school" of composition, did not succumb to trends and fashions. While not upholding traditions or joining avantgarde revolutions, he was both avantgarde and traditional and holds an enduring place among the 20th century's great composers.

He began his conducting career with the pre-premiere in 1963 of Three Poems of Henri Michaux for choir and orchestra (1961-63), then traveled widely as a conductor, visiting France (1964), Czechoslovakia (1965), Holland (1969), Norway and Austria (1969). He conducted actively for the rest of his life, including engagements with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestre de Paris, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the WOSPRiT, currently known as the NOSPR.

International recognition for his work included the Polish Composers' Union award (1959, 1973), First Prize of the Polish Minister of Culture and Art (1962), First State Prize (1955, 1964, 1978), first prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris (1959, 1962, 1964, 1968), the Sergej Kussewitzky prize (1964, 1976, 1986), the Gottfried von Herder prize (1967), the L. Sonning prize (1967), the Maurice Ravel prize (1971), the Jean Sibelius prize (1973), the E. von Siemens prize (1983), the Charles Grawemeyer prize (1985) and the Queen Sofia of Spain prize (1985). The Committee of Independent Culture of Solidarity Trade Union honoured him with the Artistic Prize in 1983. He was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London in 1985, received a gold medal and the title of musician of the year 1991 from the Incorporated Society of Musicians in Great Britain, the medal of Stockholm's Concert Hall Foundation in 1992, and the Polar Music Prize and Kyoto Prize in the field of art in 1993. Lutosławski was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, the highest state prize in Poland, in 1994. His honorary membership in musical associations and academies of art and science include the International Society for Contemporary Music, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Free Academy of the Arts in Hamburg, German Academy of the Arts in Berlin, Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, Royal Academy of Music in London and the Union of Polish Composers. Honorary doctorates include those of the universities of Warsaw, Toruń, Chicago, Lancaster, Glasgow, Cambridge, Durham, the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and McGill University in Montreal. The National Philharmonic in Warsaw has been organising the Lutosławski International Competition for Composers since 1990.

The New York Times published an obituary upon his death in February 1994, praising his contributions to modern classical music, 

Mr. Lutoslawski prized beauty in music and made a point of saying so even when beauty in new music was out of fashion. His works are distinguished by long-lined melodies, an ingenious use of orchestral structure and harmonies that vary from comfortable lushness to pungent acidity. Yet it would be wrong to think of them as neo-Romantic. In creating what he called his "sound language," Mr. Lutoslawski drew freely on avant-garde techniques, spicing his works with a light atonality and limited improvisation.

Witold Lutosławski, Symphony No.4, fragment by culturepl

In December 2011 BBC4 Radio broadcast Alan Hall's programme about the wartime friendship of Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutosławski. In October 2012 it won a Prix Europa award for Best European Radio Music Programme of the Year 2012. It can be streamed live at It can also be streamed live at www.fallingtree.co.uk/listen/warsaw_variations

In December 2012 the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed a weekend series of concerts conducted by Conductor Laureate  Esa-Pekka Salonen. The performance of his First Symphony will be recorded and released early 2013 by Sony Classics as part of a Salonen/L.A. Phil Lutosławski symphony set, made possible thanks to additional support from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. The Second, Third and Fourth symphonies have already been recorded and will also feature in the set. The record is part of the year-long international festivities surrounding the Lutosławski Year in 2013, launched in Warsaw with a concert conducted by Antoni Wit. 

100th anniversary of Witold Lutosławski's birth 2013

Major Compositions

  • Wariacje symfoniczne / Symphonic Variations (1936-38)
  • Lacrimosa for soprano and organ (with the possibility of using a four-voice mixed choir) (1937)
  • Wariacje na temat Paganiniego / Variations on a Theme by Paganini for two pianos (1941)
  • Songs of the Underground / Piesni walki podziemnej for voice and piano (1942-44)
  • Folk Melodies / Melodie ludowe for piano (1945)
  • Twenty Carols for voice and piano (1946)
  • Symphony No. 1 for orchestra (1941-47)
  • Uwertura smyczkowa / Overture for Strings for string orchestra (1949)
  • Koncert na orkiestrę / Concerto for Orchestra for orchestra (1950-54)
  • Mała suita / Little Suite for chamber orchestra (1950)
  • Recitative e Arioso for violin and piano (1951)
  • Tryptyk Śląski / Silesian Triptych for soprano and symphony orchestra (1951)
  • Bukoliki / Bucolics for piano (1952)
  • Five Folk Melodies for string orchestra (1952)
  • Muzyka żałobna / Musique funebre for string orchestra (1954-58)
  • Preludia taneczne / Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano (1954)
  • Pięć pieśni / Five Songs (settings of texts by Kazimiera Illakowiczowna) for female voice and piano (1956-57)
  • Pięć pieśni / Five Songs (settings of texts by Kazimiera Illakowiczowna) [version II] for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra (1958)
  • Trzy postludia / Three Postludes for orchestra (1958-60)
  • Jeux Venitiens for chamber orchestra (1961)
  • Trois Poèmes d'Henri Michaux for choir and orchestra (1961-63)
  • Kwartet smyczkowy / String Quartet (1964)
  • Symphony No. 2 for orchestra (1965-67)
  • Paroles Tissées for tenor and chamber orchestra (1965)
  • Livre pour Orchestre for orchestra (1968)
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1969-70)
  • Preludia i fuga / Preludes and Fugue for 13 solo strings (1970-72)
  • Sacher Variation for cello (1975)
  • Les espaces du sommeil for baritone and orchestra (1975)
  • Mi-Parti for symphony orchestra (1976)
  • Wariacje na temat Paganiniego / Variations on a Theme by Paganini for piano and orchestra (1977-78)
  • Novelette for orchestra (1978-79)
  • Double Concerto for oboe, harp, chamber orchestra (1979-80)
  • Epitaphium / Epitaph for oboe and piano (1979)
  • Grave: Metamorphoses for cello and piano (1981)
  • Symphony No. 3 for orchestra (1981-83)
  • Chain 1 for an ensemble of fourteen (1983)
  • Partita for violin and piano (1984)
  • Chain 2: Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra (1983-85)
  • Twenty Carols [version II] for soprano, female choir, chamber orchestra (1984-89)
  • Chain 3 for orchestra (1985-86)
  • Fanfare for Louisville for winds and percussion (1986)
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1987-88)
  • Fanfare for Cube for brass quintet (1987)
  • Symphony No. 4 for orchestra (1988-1992)
  • Slides / Przezrocza for 11 soloists (1988)
  • Partita [version II] for 1 violin and orchestra (1988)
  • Chantefleurs et Chantefables for soprano and orchestra (1990)
  • Chantefleurs et Chantefables, song cycle for soprano and orchestra (1989-1990)
  • Interludium / Interlude for orchestra (1989-90)
  • Fanfare for Lancaster for brass ensemble and side drum (1989)
  • Prelude for G.S.M.D. for orchestra (1989)
  • Tarantella for baritone and piano (1990)
  • Subito for violin and piano (1992)
  • Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic for brass instruments and percussion (1993)


Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, November 2001
 

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