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Witold Lutoslawski

Witold Lutoslawski

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) was the leader of the group of Polish composers who came into prominence in the 1950s. His work was performed and honored worldwide throughout his lifetime.

Witold Lutoslawski was born in Warsaw, Poland, and spent all of his formative years there. He received his musical education at the Warsaw Conservatory and also attended the university as a mathematics student. During World War II he served in the military radio section of the occupying German army in Warsaw.

Lutoslawski was active in reorganizing Polish cultural life after the war. He formed the Union of Polish Composers and the Society for the Publication of Polish Music, and he helped to organize the first Warsaw Festival in 1956. These annual festivals served as a showcase for Poland's young composers, whose number and originality astounded the musical world. Before the war Poland had not been strong in creative musicians, and during the war it had been cut off from the rest of Europe.

Musical Work and Influence

Lutoslawski's early compositions show the influences that helped to form his style. His Symphonic Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1938) for two pianos is a brilliant piece, strongly influenced by Igor Stravinsky's neoclassicism in its sharp dissonance and use of jazz. Lutoslawski's First Symphony (1947) is also a neoclassic work. His Concerto for Orchestra (1954) shows a new influence: the music of Béla Bartók. It has a strong folk-music basis, not in the manner of the 19th-century nationalists but in Bartók's forthright dissonant manner. The brilliance of the orchestral writing equals that found in Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. Lutoslawski acknowledged his debt to Bartók in one of his most powerful compositions, Trauermusik (1958; Mourning Music). In this piece he uses a modified twelve-tone technique, showing his awareness of Arnold Schoenberg and the second Viennese school of composers, but this was not to be a permanent influence. "My music," Lutoslawski said, "has no direct relationship to the traditions of the Viennese school. I am much more strongly tied to Claude Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartók, and Varèse."

In Venetian Games (1961), Three Poems by Henri Michaux (1963), and the Second Symphony (1969) Lutoslawski uses controlled aleatory effects, giving the individual orchestra members freedom to play some passages as they choose with respect to notes and rhythm. In Poems, written for 23 instruments and a chorus of 20, each singer has an individual part, which they speak, whisper, moan, and shout as well as sing. Lutoslawski's use of such devices is always for expressive purposes. No matter how experimental and advanced these works are, his musical vitality, combined with his discipline of traditional craftsmanship, gives his compositions a seriousness, dignity, and power of communication rarely found among contemporary composers.

Award and Honors

Lutoslawski won a UNESCO prize in composition in 1959 and was elected to the presidency of the International Society for Contemporary Music that year. He taught at the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Dartmouth Congregation of the Arts in Hanover, New Hampshire, the Dartington Summer School in England, and in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1985 he was invited to the dedication ceremony of the Polish Music Reference Center at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. During his two-week stay there, he presented five original manuscripts to the Center.

He and his work were recognized many times in his lifetime. Lutoslawski's awards included the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in 1985 for his Third Symphony; the 1993 Kyoto (Japan) Prize in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; the Grammy Award, Cecilia Prize, Koussevitsky Award and Grammaphone Award, all in 1986, for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Recording of his Third Symphony, and Britain's Classical Music Award in January, 1997, for his Fourth Symphony. He also received several honorary degrees.

Upon presenting the Kyoto Prize, the Inamori Foundation said, "His works have had a powerful effect on the postwar musical world. A new method of atonality, the distinctive aleatoric music, and development of contemporary forms of musical expression have made him a master of music in the 20th century."

Lutoslawski died Feb. 7, 1994, in Warsaw, at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife, Danuta.

Further Reading

Ove Nordwall, ed., Lutoslawski (1968), contains analyses of each of Lutoslawski's compositions up to 1967 as well as a biographical sketch, a complete catalog of his works, and an essay by the composer; see also David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-century Music (1968); and Peter S. Hansen, An Introduction to Twentieth Century Music (3d ed. 1971).

Additional Sources

Wilk, Wanda, "Poland Loses a Great Son, A Great Loss to the World," Polish-American Journal. April 1, 1994.

Kaczynski, Tadeusz, Conversations with Witold Lutoslawski, London: Chester Music, c1984.

Stucky, Steven, Lutoslawski and His Music, New York: Cambridge University Press, c1981. □

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Lutosławski, Witold

Lutosławski, Witold (b Warsaw, 1913; d Warsaw, 1994). Polish composer, pianist, and conductor. Prisoner-of-war of Germans 1939 but escaped and worked as pianist in Warsaw cafés 1940–5. His earlier works were comp. under the restraints imposed by official insistence on a style based on folk-song, but the Concerto for Orchestra (1950–4) is a successful example from this period. Secretly he developed his own method of 12-note chords, entirely different from Schoenberg's which he disliked. This method was used in his Funeral Music for str. and his 2nd sym. In Gry weneckie (Venetian Games) of 1960–1, he employed aleatory procedures within strictly defined limits. His later works combine this technique with more traditional forms such as ostinato and harmonic patterns. The mus. texture is all-important.

When conditions in Poland were relaxed after 1956, he travelled to the USA and Britain to teach and give seminars and soon acquired a high reputation in the West. Many prizes and honours came his way and he was acclaimed for a succession of works such as Paroles tissées, commissioned by Peter Pears, Livre pour Orchestre, Mi-Parti, the str. qt., and the vc. conc. written for Rostropovich. In his later works, such as the superb 3rd and 4th Syms., the pf. conc., and the song-cycle Chantefables et Chantefleurs, it became even more apparent that his music derived from Debussy and early Stravinsky through Bartók to Messiaen. The craftsmanship of his mus. is impeccable and he was an outstanding cond. of it, as his many recordings testify. Prin. comps.:ORCH.: Symphonic Variations (1938); syms: No.1 (1941–7), No.2 (1965–7), No.3 (1972–83), No.4 (1991–2); Overture, str. (1949); Little Suite, chamber orch. (1950, rev. 1951 for full orch.); 5 Folk-Songs, str. (1952, from Folk Melodies for pf.); Concerto for Orchestra (1950–4); Muzyka źalobna (Funeral Music), str. (1958); 3 Postludes (1958–63); Gry weneckie (Venetian Games) (1960–1); Livre pour orchestre (1968); Cello Concerto (1969–70); Preludes and Fugue, 13 solo strings (1972); Mi-Parti (1976); Variations on a Theme of Paganini, version for pf. and orch. (1978, see 2 PIANOS); Novelette (1978–9); Conc. for ob., hp., chamber orch. (1979–80); Chain I, chamber orch. (1983), Chain II, dialogue, vn., orch. (1985), Chain III (1986); pf. conc. (1988); Partita, vn., orch. (vers. of chamber work, 1984) (1988); Slides, 11 soloists (1988); Interludium, chamber orch. (1989).VOICE(S) & ORCH.: 2 Fragments from a Requiem, v., ch., orch. (1937); Silesian Triptych, sop., orch. (1951); 3 Poems of Henri Michaux, ch., wind, 2 pf., hp., perc. (1963); Paroles tissées, ten., 20 solo instr. (1965); Les espaces du sommeil (The spaces of sleep), bar., orch. (1975); Chantefables et Chantefleurs, sop., orch. (1990).CHAMBER MUSIC: 30 small pieces for woodwind (1943–4); wind trio (1954); Dance Preludes, cl., pf. (1954, rev. 1955 for cl., small orch., 1959 for nonet); str. qt. (1964); Epitaph, ob., pf. (1979); Grave, vc., pf. (1981); Partita, vn., pf. (1984), vn., orch. (1988).2 PIANOS: Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1941); vers. for pf., orch. (1978).PIANO: sonata (1934); Folk Melodies (1945, Nos. 9–12 rev. 1954 for 4 vn. as 4 Silesian Folk-Songs; 5 of them arr. for str. as 5 Folk-Songs, 1952); Invention (1983).VOICE(S) & PIANO: 20 Polish Carols (1946); 5 Songs (1957, rev. 1958, mez., 30 instr.); Tarantella, bar., pf. (1990).BRASS: Mini Overture (1981).

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Lutosławski, Witold

Lutosławski, Witold (1913–94) Polish composer. He gained international recognition with his Concerto for Orchestra (1954). Lutosławski later experimented with serialism, notably in Funeral Music (1958), and aleatory techniques, as in Venetian Games (1961).

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