Witold Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski
Music is – after all – not only composing sounds, but also, and perhaps above all, composing people’s reactions to them.

W. Lutosławski, Life and MusicGreat Polish composer, conductor and pianist, decorated with the Order of the White Eagle. He was born on 25 January 1913 in Warsaw to a landed gentry family with their property in Drozdowo on the Narew River. He was the youngest son of Józef Lutosławski, an accomplished amateur pianist, and Maria Lutosławska. His interest in the arts manifested itself already in his childhood – he grew up in the tradition of family music making surrounded by extraordinary personalities. He began learning to play the piano at the age of six, and soon after that he made his first composing attempts – it was then that he wrote the Prelude for Piano (1922). He continued his education under the tutelage of Józef Śmidowicz and Artur Taube, while studying composition and theory of music with Witold Maliszewski. Under the latter’s supervision, he composed his first piece of music to be performed in public – Chimera’s Dance for piano. Then he started studies at the Warsaw Conservatory and belonged to Maliszewski’s composition class and Jerzy Lefeld’s piano class. He himself considered the Symphonic Variations (1938) as his proper debut as a composer.

He wrote in a turbulent time for Poland, as the outbreak of World War II frustrated all plans of the young, up-and-coming composer. Lutosławski spent the years of the German occupation in Warsaw. He earned his living playing in cafes, where he performed in a duet with Andrzej Panufnik. After the war, he devoted himself to the reconstruction of Polish musical life, joined the activities of the Polish Composers’ Union and the organisation of the “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music. In the early period of his career, he turned to Neoclassicism, and at that time he received the first significant composition award for the Concerto for Orchestra (1954), based on themes taken from folk music. Later, he began to intensively shape an idiomatic composing language. He created the foundations of his own twelve-note technique, in opposition to the traditional Schönberg dodecaphony, which was expressed, among others in the Musique funebre (1958), dedicated to the memory of Béla Bartók. He also used the technique of aleatorism, creating a special type of it, known as controlled aleatorism. A new way of organizing the sound material appeared at the beginning of the 1960s in the score for the composition Venetian Games (1961). His masterpieces include the Symphony No. 3 and the Piano Concerto written for Krystian Zimerman. The last of his symphonies is considered to be the culmination of all his oeuvre.

An innovative approach and exploring sonic possibilities, an original treatment of form, as well as excellent instrumentation skills ensured Lutosławski a place in the pantheon of the greatest Polish composers of all time. On the one hand, he continued the tradition, and on the other, he boldly drew on the achievements of the 20th-century avant-garde. The personality of Witold Lutosławski and the immense value of his musical legacy continue to inspire generations of artists and music lovers. For these reasons, in order to honour the memory of the master who died on 7 February 1994, the Wrocław Philharmonic was named after him. Twenty years later, ever since the foundation of the National Forum of Music, he remains the patron of the NFM, which, together with CD Accord, produces a unique recording series devoted to his complete works: Witold Lutosławski. Opera omnia. The recordings feature renowned Polish and international artists, including Aleksandra Kurzak, Agata Zubel, Jacek Kaspszyk, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Garrick Ohlsson, and Jean Deroyer, as well as NFM ensembles under the direction of Andrzej Kosendiak.

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