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 a small group of musical intervals. It also uses aleatory processes, in which the rhythmic coordination of parts is subject to an element of chance. His works (of which he was a notable conductor) include four symphonies, a Concerto for Orchestra, and several concertos and song cycles. During World War II, Lutosławski made a living by playing the piano in Warsaw bars.
For a time after the war, Stalinist authorities banned his compositions for being "formalist"—accessible only to the perceived elite. In the 1980s, Lutosławski used his stature to support the Solidarity movement, which won the 1989 legislative election and broke the Soviet hold over Poland. Biography Family and early years Lutosławski's parents were both born into the Polish landed gentry. His family owned estates in the area of Drozdowo. His father Józef was involved in the Polish National Democratic Party (Endecja), and the Lutosławski family became intimate with its founder, Roman Dmowski (Witold Lutosławski's middle name was Roman).
Until World War I, Poland was divided according to the 1815 Congress of Vienna, and Warsaw was part of Tsarist Russia. Józef Lutosławski studied in Zürich, where in 1904 he met and married a fellow student, Maria Olszewska, who later became Lutosławski's mother. Józef pursued his studies in London, where he acted as correspondent for the Endecja newspaper, Gońca. 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 1909. After Józef's death, when Lutosławski was only five, other members of the family played an important part in his early life.
They included Józef's half-brother Wicenty Lutosławski, 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. Józef's other brothers were also members of the intelligentsia. Witold Roman Lutosławski 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 Lutosławskis fled east to Moscow, where Józef remained politically active, organising Polish Legions ready for any action that might liberate Poland. Dmowski's strategy was for Imperial 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 Lutosławskis were prevented from returning home. The brothers were sent to the notorious Butyrskaya prison in central Moscow, where Lutosławski—by then aged five—visited his father. Józef and Marian were executed by a firing squad in September 1918, without trial. After the war, the family returned to Warsaw, capital of the newly independent Second Polish Republic, only to find their estates ruined. Lutosławski started piano lessons for two years from the age of six.
In the Polish-Soviet War, however, Drozdowo again came into the firing line, and after a few years of running the estates with limited success, his mother returned to Warsaw. In 1924 Lutosławski 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 formally entered composition classes at the Conservatory. His teacher was Witold Maliszewski, a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He was given a strong grounding in musical structures, particularly movements in sonata form.
In 1933 he gave up his mathematics and violin studies to concentrate on 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—Lutosławski was trained in signalling and radio operating. Although he had intended to travel to Paris for further musical study, in September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland and Russia invaded eastern Poland.
Lutosławski was mobilised with the radio unit at Kraków, and was soon captured by German soldiers, but escaped while being marched to prison camp, and walked 400 km back to Warsaw. Lutosławski's brother was captured by Russian soldiers, and later died in a labour camp. To earn a living, Lutosławski 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 bars. Their repertoire consisted of a wide range of music in their own arrangements, including the first incarnation of Lutosławski's Paganini Variations, a highly original transformation of the original 24th Caprice for solo violin by Niccolò Paganini.
Defiantly, they even sometimes played banned Polish music. 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. Lutosławski's mother had been in East Poland at the outbreak of the war, but was spirited to Warsaw by friends. Lutosławski left Warsaw with his mother just 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 Lutosławski and Panufnik had worked on for their piano duo, only Lutosławski's Paganini Variations survived.
Lutosławski returned to the ruins of Warsaw after the Polish-Soviet treaty in April. Postwar years During the postwar years, Lutosławski worked on his first symphony—sketches of which he had salvaged from Warsaw—which was first performed in 1948. 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, Lutosławski was elected as secretary and treasurer of the newly constituted Union of Polish Composers (ZKP—Związek Kompozytorów Polskich). In 1946, he married Maria Danuta Bogusławska, an architecture student. Lutosławski had met her brother, the writer Stanisław Dygat, before the war, and both Stanisław and Maria had listened to the piano duo performances during the war.
The marriage was a lasting one, and Maria's drafting skills were of great value to the composer: she became his copyist, and solved some of the notational challenges of his later works. In 1947, the Stalinist political climate led to the suppression by the ruling Polish United Workers' Party of music in a specifically Polish idiom, including the music of Chopin. 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. Composers were required to write music following the principles of Socialist realism. By 1948, the ZKP was taken over by musicians willing to follow the party line on musical matters, and Lutosławski was dropped from the committee.
He was implacably opposed to the ideas of Socialist realism. 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 Lutosławski—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." It was his substantial and original Concerto for Orchestra of 1954 that established Lutosławski as an important composer of art music. The work earned the composer two state prizes in the following year. Maturity 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 żałobna (Musique funèbre, or "Music of mourning"), written to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Béla Bartók; 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 Lutosławski's harmonic and contrapuntal thinking by introducing the twelve-note system that he had developed. He established another feature of his compositional technique, which became a Lutosławski 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 Lutosławski 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 Lutosławski'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 Jędrusik (who was his wife's sister-in-law). In 1963, Lutosławski fulfilled a commission for the Zagreb music Biennale, 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 (there was no cynicism towards the award this time), and Lutosławski gained an agreement for the international publication of his music with Chester Music, then part of the Hansen publishing house. With his String Quartet (1964), Lutosławski (or rather his wife, Danuta) solved the problem of how to notate his requirement for a lack of synchronicity between the parts.
Originally Lutosławski produced only the four instrumental parts, refusing to bind them in a full score, because he was concerned that this would imply that he wanted notes in vertical alignment to coincide, as is the case with conventionally notated classical ensemble music. Danuta solved this by cutting up the parts and sticking them together in boxes (which Lutosławski called mobiles), with instructions on how to signal in performance when all of the players should proceed to the next mobile. In his orchestral music, these problems were not so difficult, because the instructions on how and when to proceed are given by the conductor. The 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, Lutosławski 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 Lutosławski 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 Lutosławski first prize from UNESCO's Tribune internationale des compositeurs, his third such award, which confirmed his growing international reputation.
In 1967 Lutosławski had also been awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honour. International renown The Second Symphony, the Livre pour orchestre, and the Cello Concerto which followed, were composed during a particularly traumatic period in Lutosławski’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 Gdańsk Shipyards strike of 1970—which led to a violent clampdown by the authorities, both caused significant political and social tension in Poland. Lutosławski 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). Lutosławski 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 Lutosławski and Rostropovich accolades. In 1973, Lutosławski attended a recital given by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sviatoslav Richter in Warsaw; this inspired him to write his extended orchestral song Les espaces du sommeil ("The spaces of sleep"). This work, Mi-Parti (a French expression roughly translated as "divided into two equal but different parts"), and a short piece for cello in honour of Paul Sacher's seventieth birthday, continued to keep Lutosławski busy, 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 Lutosławski struggled to introduce greater fluency into his sound world. The Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra—commissioned by Paul Sacher—was finally finished in 1980, and the Third Symphony in 1983. 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 Solidarność was created, led by Lech Wałęsa; and in 1981, martial law was declared by General Wojciech Jaruzelski. From 1981–89, Lutosławski 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, he sent a recording of the first performance (in Chicago) of the Third Symphony to Gdańsk to be played to strikers in a local church, a gesture of support understood by both sides. In 1983, he was awarded the Solidarity prize, of which Lutosławski was reported to be more proud than any other of his honours. The Third Symphony earned Lutosławski the first Grawemeyer Prize from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. 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, Lutosławski announced that he would use the fund to set up a scholarship to enable young Polish composers to study abroad; Lutosławski also directed that his fee from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for Chain 3 should go to this scholarship fund. Final years Witold Lutosławski in 1993.Through the mid-1980s Lutosławski hit upon ways of simplifying his style while retaining the freedoms he had gained in his techniques to date. He composed three pieces called Łańcuch ("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. In 1987 Lutosławski was presented (by Michael Tippett) with the Royal Philharmonic Society's Gold Medal during a concert in which Lutosławski was conducting 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. Lutosławski was at this time writing his Piano Concerto for Krystian Zimerman, commissioned by the Salzburg Festival.
He had had plans to write a piano concerto since 1938, being himself in his younger days a virtuoso pianist. It was this work that marked the composer's return to the conductor's podium in Poland in 1988, after substantive talks had been arranged between the government and the opposition. The monument to Witold Lutosławski and his wife Danuta in Powązki CemeteryLutosławski 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 in Los Angeles. In between, and after initial reluctance, Lutosławski 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. In 1993 Lutosławski continued his busy schedule, travelling to England, Germany, and Japan, and sketching a violin concerto, but by Christmas 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. Music Witold Lutosławski conducting.Lutosławski described musical composition as a search for listeners who think and feel the same way he did — he once called it "fishing for souls". Folk influence Lutosławski's works up until and including the Dance Preludes clearly show the influence of Polish folk music, both harmonically and melodically. Part of his art was to transform folk music, rather than quoting it exactly.
In some cases, folk music is unrecognisable as such without careful analysis, for example, in the Concerto for Orchestra. As Lutosławski developed the techniques of his mature compositions, he stopped using folk material expicitly, although its influence remained as subtle features until the end. As he said, "[in those days] I could not compose as I wished, so I composed as I was able", and about this change of direction he said, "I was simply not so interested in it [using folk music]". Pitch organisation In Muzyka żałobna (1958) Lutosławski introduced his own brand of twelve-tone music, marking a departure from the explicit use of folk music. His twelve-tone technique allowed him to build harmony and melody from specific intervals (in Muzyka żałobna, augmented fourths and semitones).
This system also gave him the means to write the dense chords he wanted without resorting to tone clusters, and enabled him to build towards these dense chords (which often include all twelve notes of the chromatic scale) at climactic moments. Lutosławski's twelve-note techniques were thus completely different in conception from Arnold Schoenberg's tone-row system, although Muzyka żałobna does happen to be based on a tone row. The twelve-note intervallic technique had its genesis in earlier works such as Concerto for Orchestra. Aleatory technique A page from the Third Symphony (1983)Although Muzyka żałobna was internationally acclaimed, his new harmonic techniques led to something of a crisis for Lutosławski, during which he still could not see how to express his musical ideas. Then he happened to hear some music by John Cage.
Although he was not influenced by the sound or the philosophy of Cage's music, Cage's explorations of aleatory music set off a train of thought which resulted in Lutosławski finding a way to retain the harmonic structures he wanted while introducing the freedom for which he was searching. His Three Postludes were hastily rounded off (he originally intended to write four) and he moved on to compose works in which he explored these new ideas. In works from Jeux vénitiens, the parts of the ensemble are not to be synchronised exactly. At cues from the conductor each instrumentalist may be instructed to move straight on to the next section, to finish their current section before moving on, or to stop. In this way the random element implied by the term aleatory is carefully directed by the composer, who controls the architecture and harmonic progression of the piece precisely.
Lutosławski notated the music exactly, there is no improvisation, no choice of parts is given to any instrumentalist, and there is thus no doubt about how the musical performance is to be realised. The combination of Lutosławski's aleatory techniques and his harmonic discoveries allowed him to build up complex musical textures. The aleatoric style of Lutosławski's mature period is clearly illustrated by the excerpt from the score of his Third Symphony. The wind and brass instruments, on the top half of the page, are each given a short fragment of music followed by a wavy line; this indicates that they should each play their fragment again and again in their own time, resulting in an atmospheric texture devoid of pulse and with a cloud-like sense of melody and rhythm. After the brass and wind figuration is established, the conductor gives four successive beats for the string section, notated on the lower half of the page.
At each beat (signified by a downward arrow on the score) first the violins, then the violas, then the cellos and finally the basses enter with downward motifs, themselves repeated and unsynchronised apart from their entries. In some works of this period, this controlled freedom given to the individual musicians is contrasted with sections where the orchestra is asked to synchronise their parts conventionally, in passages notated with a common time signature. Late style In his later works Lutosławski evolved a more harmonically mobile, less monumental style, in which less of the music is played with an ad libitum coordination. This development resulted from the demands of his late chamber works, such as Epitaph, Grave and Partita for just two instrumentalists; however it may also be seen in orchestral works such as Piano Concerto, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, and the Fourth Symphony, which require mostly conventional coordination. Lutosławski's formidable technical developments grew out of his creative imperative; that he left a lasting body of major compositions is a testament to his resolution of purpose in the face of the anti-formalist authorities under which he formulated his methods. A detailed and thorough discussion of Lutosławski's music and technique can be found in both Stucky (1981) and Rae (1999). Works Main article: List of compositions by Witold Lutosławski A complete list in chronological order can be found at The Polish Music Center's detailed list of Lutosławski's works. References Charles Bodman Rae (1999). The Music of Lutosławski, (third edn.). Faber & Faber, London.
ISBN 0-7119-6910-8. Steven Stucky (1981). Lutosławski and his music. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
ISBN 0-521-22799-2. Contains an enormous relevant bibliography. Bernard Jacobson (1996). A Polish Renaissance.
Phaidon, London. ISBN 0-7148-3251-0. Bálint András Varga ed., Lutosławski profile, Chester Music, London (1974). Andrzej Panufnik (1987).
Composing Myself. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-58880-7. Notes ^ Panufnik, 1987: see particularly Chapter 8, Occupation, for an account of Panufnik and Lutosławski's duo in German-occupied Warsaw ^ Varga, 1976 ^ Lutosławski's notebook, in Varga, 1976.
Also quoted and discussed in Jacobson, 1996 p. 100. "[…] I have a strong desire to communicate something, through my music, to the people. I am not working to get many 'fans' for myself; I do not want to convince, I want to find.
I would like to find people who in the depths of their souls feel the same way as I do. That can only be achieved through the greatest artistic sincerity in every detail of music, from the minutest technical aspects to the most secret depths. I know that this standpoint deprives me of many potential listeners, but those who remain mean an immeasurable treasure for me. […] I regard creative activity as a kind of soul-fishing, and the 'catch' is the best medicine for loneliness, that most human of sufferings." ^ Rae's description of this development is discussed in Jacobson, 1996, pp.
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