Witold Lutoslawski (January 25, 1913 – February 7, 1994) was one of the major European composers of the 20th century, and one of the pre-eminent Polish musicians during his last three decades. During his lifetime, Lutoslawski earned many international awards and prizes, including the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour.

During his youth, Lutoslawski studied piano and composition in Warsaw. His early works were influenced by Polish folk music. His style demonstrates a wide range of rich atmospheric textures. He began to develop his own characteristic composition techniques in the late 1950s. His music from this period onwards incorporates his own methods of building harmonies from small groups of musical intervals. It also uses aleatoric processes, in which the rhythmic coordination of parts is subject to an element of chance. His compositions (of which he was a notable conductor) include four symphonies, a Concerto for Orchestra, and several instrumental concertos and orchestral song cycles.

Family and early years
Lutoslawski's life is documented in both Stucky (1981) and Rae (1999).

Lutoslawski's parents were both born into the Polish landed nobility. His family owned estates in the area of Drozdowo. His father Józef was involved in the Polish National Democratic Party ("Endecja"), and the Lutoslawski family became intimate with its founder, Roman Dmowski (Witold Lutoslawski's middle name was Roman). Józef Lutoslawski studied in Zürich, where in 1904 he met and married a fellow student, Maria Olszewska, who later became Lutoslawski's mother. Józef pursued his studies in London, where he acted as correspondent for the National-Democratic newspaper, Goniec. He continued to be involved in National Democracy politics after returning to Warsaw in 1905, and took over the management of the family estates in 1908. After Józef's death, when Lutoslawski was only five, other members of the family played an important part in his early life. They included Józef's half-brother Wincenty Lutoslawski, a multilingual philosopher who used literary analysis to establish the chronology of Plato's writings; Wicenty was married to the Spanish poet Sophia Pérez Eguia y Casanova, and Józef's other brothers were also members of the intelligentsia.

Witold Roman Lutoslawski, the youngest of three brothers, was born in Warsaw shortly before the outbreak of World War I. In 1915, with Russia at war with Germany, Prussian forces drove towards Warsaw. The Lutoslawskis travelled east to Moscow, where Józef remained politically active, organising Polish Legions ready for any action that might liberate Poland (which was divided according to the 1815 Congress of Vienna—Warsaw was part of Tsarist Russia). Dmowski's strategy was for Russia to guarantee security for a new Polish state. However, in 1917, the February Revolution forced the Tsar to abdicate, and the October Revolution started a new Soviet government that made peace with Germany. Józef's activities were now in conflict with the Bolsheviks, who arrested him and his brother Marian. Thus, although fighting stopped on the Eastern Front in 1917, the Lutoslawskis were prevented from returning home. The brothers were interred in Butyrskaya prison in central Moscow, where Lutoslawski—by then aged five—visited his father. Józef and Marian were executed by a firing squad in September 1918, some days before their scheduled trial.

After the war, the family returned to the newly independent Poland, only to find their estates ruined. Lutoslawski started piano lessons in Warsaw for two years from the age of six. After the Polish-Soviet War the family left Warsaw to return to Drozdowo, but after a few years of running the estates with limited success, his mother returned to Warsaw. In 1924 Lutoslawski entered secondary school while continuing piano lessons. A performance of Karol Szymanowski's Third Symphony deeply affected him. In 1926 he started violin lessons, and in 1927 as a part-time student he entered the Warsaw Conservatory where Szymanowski was both professor and director. He started to compose, but could not manage both his school and conservatory studies, and so discontinued the latter. In 1931 he enrolled at Warsaw University to study mathematics, and in 1932 he formally joined the composition classes at the Conservatory. His teacher was Witold Maliszewski, Polish composer, a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. and founder of Odessa conservatory (1913), where his student was famous Ukrainian composer Nikolai Vilinsky. He was given a strong grounding in musical structures, particularly movements in sonata form. In 1932 he gave up the violin, and in 1933 he discontinued his mathematics studies to concentrate on the piano and composition. He gained a diploma for piano performance from the Conservatory in 1936, after presenting a virtuoso program including Schumann's Toccata and Beethoven's fourth piano concerto. His diploma for composition was awarded by the same institution in 1937.

World War II
Military service followed—Lutoslawski was trained in signalling and radio operating. He completed his Symphonic Variations in 1939, and the composer was encouraged by the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg, who conducted their first performance. Lutoslawski's plans to travel to Paris for further musical study were dashed in September 1939, when Germany invaded western Poland and Russia invaded eastern Poland. Lutoslawski was mobilised with the radio unit at Kraków, and he was soon captured by German soldiers, but he escaped while being marched to prison camp, and walked 400 km back to Warsaw. Lutoslawski's brother was captured by Russian soldiers, and later died in a Siberian labour camp.

To earn a living, Lutoslawski joined a cabaret group playing popular dances. He also formed a piano duo with friend and fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik, and they performed together in Warsaw cafés. Their repertoire consisted of a wide range of music in their own arrangements, including the first incarnation of Lutoslawski's Paganini Variations, a highly original transcription of the 24th Caprice for solo violin by Niccolò Paganini. Defiantly, they even sometimes played Polish music (the Nazis banned Polish music in Poland—including Chopin), and composed Resistance songs. Listening in cafés was the only way in which the Poles of German-occupied Warsaw could hear live music; putting on concerts was impossible since the occupying forces prohibited all organised gatherings.[1] In café Aria, where they played, Lutoslawski met his future wife Maria Danuta Boguslawska, a sister of the writer Stanislaw Dygat.

Lutoslawski left Warsaw with his mother a few days before the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, salvaging only a few scores and sketches—the rest of his music was lost during the destruction of the city, as were the family's Drozdowo estates. Of the 200 or so arrangements that Lutoslawski and Panufnik had worked on for their piano duo, only Lutoslawski's Paganini Variations survived. Lutoslawski returned to the ruins of Warsaw after the Polish-Soviet treaty in April.

Postwar years
During the postwar years, Lutoslawski worked on his first symphony—sketches of which he had salvaged from Warsaw—which he had started in 1941 and which was first performed in 1948, conducted by Fitelberg. To provide for his family, he also composed music that he termed functional, such as the Warsaw Suite (written to accompany a silent film depicting the city's reconstruction), sets of Polish Carols, and the study pieces for piano, Melodie Ludowe ("Folk Melodies").

In 1945, Lutoslawski was elected as secretary and treasurer of the newly constituted Union of Polish Composers (ZKP—Zwiazek Kompozytorów Polskich). In 1946, he married Danuta Boguslawska. The marriage was a lasting one, and Danuta's drafting skills were of great value to the composer: she became his copyist, and she solved some of the notational challenges of his later works.

In 1947, the Stalinist political climate led to the adoption and imposition by the ruling Polish United Workers' Party of the tenets of Socialist realism, and the authorities' condemnation of modern music which was deemed to be non-conformist. This artistic censorship, which ultimately came from Stalin personally, was to some degree prevalent over the whole Eastern bloc, and was reinforced by the 1948 Zhdanov decree. By 1948, the ZKP was taken over by musicians willing to follow the party line on musical matters, and Lutoslawski resigned from the committee. He was implacably opposed to the ideas of Socialist realism.[2] His First Symphony was proscribed as "formalist", and he found himself shunned by the Soviet authorities, a situation that continued throughout the era of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko. In 1954, the climate of musical oppression drove his friend Andrzej Panufnik to defect to the United Kingdom. Against this background, he was happy to compose pieces for which there was social need, but in 1954 this earned Lutoslawski—much to the composer's chagrin—the Prime Minister's Prize, for a set of children's songs. As he commented, "[...] it was for those functional compositions of mine that the authorities decorated me [...] I realised that I was not writing indifferent little pieces, only to make a living, but was carrying on an artistic creative activity in the eyes of the outside world."[3]

It was his substantial and original Concerto for Orchestra of 1954 that established Lutoslawski as an important composer of art music. The work, commissioned in 1950 by the conductor Witold Rowicki for the newly reconstituted Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, earned the composer two state prizes in the following year.

Witold Lutoslawski conducting.Stalin's death in 1953 allowed a certain relaxation of the cultural totalitarianism in Russia and its satellite states. By 1956, political events had led to a partial thawing of the musical climate, and the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music was founded. Originally intended to be a biennial festival, it has been held annually ever since 1958 (except under Martial law in 1982 when, in protest, the ZKP refused to organise it). The year 1958 saw the first performance of his Muzyka zalobna (Musique funèbre, or "Music of mourning"), which was written to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Béla Bartók, but which took the composer four years to complete; this work brought international recognition, the annual ZKP prize and the UNESCO prize in 1959. This work, together with the Five songs of 1956–57, saw the significant development of Lutoslawski's harmonic and contrapuntal thinking as he introduced his twelve-note system, the fruits of many years of thought and experiment.[4] He established another feature of his compositional technique, which became a Lutoslawski signature, when he began introducing randomness into the exact synchronisation of various parts of the musical ensemble in Jeux vénitiens ("Venetian games"). These harmonic and temporal techniques became part of every subsequent work, and integral to his style.

In a departure from his usually serious compositions, the years 1957–63 saw Lutoslawski also composing light music under the pseudonym Derwid. Mostly waltzes, tangos, foxtrots and slow-foxtrots for voice and piano, these pieces are in the genre of Polish actors' songs. Their place in Lutoslawski's output may be seen as less incongruous given his own performances of cabaret music during the war, and in the light of his relationship by marriage to the famous Polish cabaret singer Kalina Jedrusik (who was his wife's sister-in-law).

In 1963, Lutoslawski fulfilled a commission for the Music Biennale Zagreb, his Trois poèmes d'Henri Michaux for chorus and orchestra. It was the first work he had written for a commission from abroad, and brought him further international acclaim. It earned him a second State Prize for music (Lutoslawski was not cynical about the award this time), and Lutoslawski gained an agreement for the international publication of his music with Chester Music, then part of the Hansen publishing house. His String Quartet was first performed in Stockholm in 1965, followed the same year by the first performance of his orchestral song-cycle Paroles tissées. This shortened title was suggested by the poet Jean-François Chabrun, who had originally published the poems as Quatre tapisseries pour la Châtelaine de Vergi. The song cycle is dedicated to the tenor Peter Pears, who first performed it at the 1965 Aldeburgh Festival with the composer conducting. The Aldeburgh Festival was founded and organised by Benjamin Britten, with whom the composer formed a lasting friendship.

Shortly after this, Lutoslawski started work on his Second Symphony, which had two premieres: Pierre Boulez conducted the second movement, Direct, in 1966, and when the first movement, Hésitant, was finished in 1967, the composer conducted a complete performance in Katowice. The Second Symphony is very different from a conventional classical symphony in structure, but Lutoslawski used all of his technical innovations up to that point to build a large-scale, dramatic work worthy of the name. In 1968, the work earned Lutoslawski first prize from UNESCO's International Rostrum of Composers, his third such award, which confirmed his growing international reputation. In 1967 Lutoslawski was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honour.

International renown
The Second Symphony, and Livre pour orchestre and the Cello Concerto which followed, were composed during a particularly traumatic period in Lutoslawski’s life. His mother died in 1967, and the period 1967–70 saw a great deal of unrest in Poland. This sprang first from the suppression of the theatre production Dziady, which sparked a summer of protests; later, in 1968, the use of Polish troops to suppress the liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring, and the Gdansk Shipyards strike of 1970—which led to a violent clampdown by the authorities, both caused significant political and social tension in Poland. Lutoslawski did not support the Soviet regime, and these events have been postulated as reasons for the increase in antagonistic effects in his work, particularly the Cello Concerto of 1968–70 for Rostropovich and the Royal Philharmonic Society. Indeed, Rostropovich's own opposition to the Soviet regime in Russia was just coming to a head (he shortly afterwards declared his support for the dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). Lutoslawski himself did not hold the view that such influences had a direct effect on his music, although he acknowledged that they impinged on his creative world to some degree. In any case, the Cello Concerto was a great success, earning both Lutoslawski and Rostropovich accolades. At the work's première, Arthur Bliss presented Rostropovich with the Royal Philharmonic Society's gold medal.

In 1973, Lutoslawski attended a recital given by the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with the pianist Sviatoslav Richter in Warsaw; he met the singer after the concert and this inspired him to write his extended orchestral song Les espaces du sommeil ("The spaces of sleep"). This work, Preludes and Fugue, Mi-Parti (a French expression that roughly translates as "divided into two equal but different parts"), Novelette, and a short piece for cello in honour of Paul Sacher's seventieth birthday, occupied Lutoslawski throughout the 1970s, while in the background he was working away at a projected third symphony and a concertante piece for the oboist Heinz Holliger. These latter pieces were proving difficult to complete as Lutoslawski struggled to introduce greater fluency into his sound world and to reconcile tensions between the harmonic and melodic aspects of his style, and between foreground and background. The Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra—commissioned by Paul Sacher—was finally finished in 1980, and the Third Symphony in 1983. In 1977 he received the Order of the Builders of People's Poland.

During this time, Poland was undergoing yet more upheaval: in 1978, John Paul II was elected Pope, providing a national figurehead of world importance; in 1980, the influential movement Solidarnosc was created, led by Lech Walesa; and in 1981, martial law was declared by General Wojciech Jaruzelski. From 1981–89, Lutoslawski refused all professional engagements in Poland as a gesture of solidarity with the artists' boycott. He refused to enter the Culture Ministry to meet any of the ministers, and was careful not be photographed in their company. In 1983, as a gesture of support, he sent a recording of the first performance (in Chicago) of the Third Symphony to Gdansk to be played to strikers in a local church. In 1983, he was awarded the Solidarity prize, of which Lutoslawski was reported to be more proud than any other of his honours.

Final years
Witold Lutoslawski in 1993.Through the mid-1980s, Lutoslawski composed three pieces called Lancuch ("Chain"), which refers to the way the music is constructed from contrasting strands which overlap like the links of a chain. Chain 2 was written for Anne-Sophie Mutter (commissioned by Paul Sacher), and for Mutter he also orchestrated his slightly earlier Partita for violin and piano, providing a new linking Interlude, so that when played together the Partita, Interlude and Chain 2 form his longest work.

The Third Symphony earned Lutoslawski the first Grawemeyer Prize from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, awarded in 1985. The significance of the prize lay not just in its prestige—other eminent nominations have included Elliott Carter and Michael Tippett—but in the size of its financial award (then US$150,000). The intention of the award is to remove recipients' financial concerns for a period to allow them to concentrate on serious composition. In a gesture of altruism, Lutoslawski announced that he would use the fund to set up a scholarship to enable young Polish composers to study abroad; Lutoslawski also directed that his fee from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for Chain 3 should go to this scholarship fund.

In 1987 Lutoslawski was presented (by Michael Tippett) with the rarely-awarded Royal Philharmonic Society's Gold Medal during a concert in which Lutoslawski conducted his Third Symphony; also that year a major celebration of his work was made at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. In addition, he was awarded honorary doctorates at several universities worldwide, including Cambridge.[5]

Lutoslawski was at this time writing his Piano Concerto for Krystian Zimerman, commissioned by the Salzburg Festival. His earliest plans to write a piano concerto dated from 1938; he was himself in his younger days a virtuoso pianist. It was a performance of this work and the Third Symphony at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1988 that marked the composer's return to the conductor's podium in Poland, after substantive talks had been arranged between the government and the opposition.

Lutoslawski also, around 1990, worked on a fourth symphony and his orchestral song-cycle Chantefleurs et chantefables for soprano. The latter was first performed at a Prom concert in London in 1991, and the Fourth Symphony in 1993 with the composer conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In between, and after initial reluctance, Lutoslawski took on the presidency of the newly reconstituted "Polish Cultural Council". This had been set up after the reforms in 1989 in Poland brought about by the almost total support for Solidarity in the elections of that year, and the subsequent end of communist rule and the reinstatement of Poland as an independent republic rather than the communist state of the People's Republic of Poland.

1993 Lutoslawski continued his busy schedule, travelling to the United States, England, Finland, Germany, Canada and Japan, and sketching a violin concerto, but by the first week of 1994 it was clear that cancer had taken hold, and after an operation the composer weakened quickly and died on February 7. He had, a few weeks before, been awarded Poland's highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle (only the second person to receive this since the collapse of communism in Poland — the first had been Pope John Paul II). He was cremated; his devoted wife Danuta died shortly afterwards.

This biography was most recently edited by...
holdik12 - 23 Dec 2019
piotrborkowski - 1 Jun 2010
piotrborkowski - 1 Jun 2010