Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Witold Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski

*25 I 1913 Warszawa, †7 II 1994 Warszawa

He began to study the piano at the age of six; he studied with Helena Hoffman, after 1924 with Józef Smidowicz, and then with A. Taube. During the years 1926-32, he also studied the violin with Lidia Kmitowa. For four years, beginning in 1928, he took private lessons in theory and composition with Witold Maliszewski. In 1930, under Maliszewski's tutelage, he composed his first work, which was performed two years later at a public concert at the Warsaw Conservatory - "Taniec Chimery / Dance of the Chimera" for piano. In 1932, he matriculated at that same conservatory, where he continued in Maliszewski's composition class and studied the piano with Jerzy Lefeld. (He received his diploma in piano performance in 1936, and in composition - for his composition "Requiem" for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra - in 1937.) During the years 1931-1933, he was also a mathematics student at the University of Warsaw.

He considered his debut as a composer to be the 1938 performance of "Symphonic Variations / Wariacje symfoniczne" (1936-38). The Second World War, however, interrupted Lutoslawski's promising artistic career. He spent the occupation in Warsaw. He earned a living as a pianist in the "Sztuka i Moda" and "U Aktorek" cafés, playing together with Andrzej Panufnik. The only work that has survived from that period is "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" for two pianos (1941).

After the war, Lutoslawski settled permanently in Warsaw. In 1946, he married Maria Danuta Bogusławska, née Dygat. He was active in the Polish Composer's Union, and continued to participate as a member of that organisation's board of directors and a co-organiser of the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music. He never took a permanent position at any music academy. He participated in many composition courses and workshops: in 1962, at the Berkshire Music Centre in Tanglewood (Massachusetts), during which he met Edgar Varese and Milton Babbitt; in 1963 and 1964 - at the Summer School of Music in Darlington (England); in 1966 - at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (Kungliga Svenska Musikaliska Akademien) in Stockholm; in 1966 - at the University of Austin (Texas), and in 1968 - in Arhus (Denmark). During the 1970s and 1980s, he gave guest lectures on his own work.

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

Lutoslawski's work received wide recognition, including the award of the Polish Composer's Union (1959, 1973); First Prize of the Minister of Culture and Art (1962); the 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); the Queen Sofia of Spain prize (1985). In 1983, he was honoured with the Artistic Prize of the Committee of Independent Culture of Solidarity Trade Union. In 1985, he was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, and in 1992 received a gold medal and the title of musician of the year 1991 from the Incorporated Society of Musicians in Great Britain and the medal of Stockholm's Concert Hall Foundation, and in 1993, the "Polar Music Prize" and "Kyoto Prize" in the field of art. In 1994, Lutoslawski was awarded the highest state prize in Poland - the Order of the White Eagle. He has also been awarded honorary membership in numerous musical associations, academies of art and science, including the International Society for Contemporary Music, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (Kungliga Svenska Musikaliska Akademien), Free Academy of the Arts (Freie Akademie der Künste) in Hamburg, German Academy of the Arts (Deutsche Akademie der Künste) in Berlin, Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der Schönen Künste) in Munich, American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, Royal Academy of Music in London and the Union of Polish Composers. Many universities have granted Lutoslawski honorary doctorates, including the universities of Warsaw, Torun, Chicago, Lancaster, Glasgow, Cambridge, Durham, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and McGill University in Montreal. Since 1990, the National Philharmonic in Warsaw has been organising the Lutoslawski International Competition for Composers.

Witold Lutoslawski, along with Fryderyk Chopin and Karol Szymanowski - is one of the greatest of all Polish composers. He is a classic of twentieth century music, alongside Bela Bartok, Sergei Prokofiev and Olivier Messiaen.

Musicologists have divided his work into several periods. The early works, such as "Symphonic Variations" (1938), "Symphony no. 1" (1947) and "Overture for strings" (1949) are considered neo-classical. His "Little Suite" (1950) and "Concert for Orchestra" (1954) clearly show Lutoslawski's interest in Polish folklore. His "Five Songs", settings of texts by Kazimiera Illakowiczowna (1957) begin his dodecaphonic period, which is characterised by his use of the serial technique, as he did for example in "Musique Funebre" (1958). In the next period, which began with his "Venetian Games" (1961), Lutoslawski's compositional technique was marked by the use of controlled aleatorism, by which is meant the introduction of an element of chance into the rhythmical structure while the strict organisation of the level of sounds is maintained. "The Symphony No. 2" (1967) and "Livre pour Orchestre" (1968) represent a summary of his attempts up to that point to develop his own formal model. This is based on the consequences of two phases of development, of which the first is the introductory part, followed in the second by the actual development of the main idea of the composition. In the work "Mi-Parti" (1976), one more structural concept of typical for Lutoslawski, based on the introduction of several interlocking themes that create a "chain" structure. This formal principal is clearly present in three consecutively numbered compositions titled "Łańcuch / Chain".

Despite all the differences between the works from the various periods of his career, and the fact that he was constantly developing his musical language, Witold Lutoslawski remains in our times a rare example of a composer who has a distinctly defined, very individual style in his compositions. He never belonged to any "school" of composition, he did not succumb to trends and fashions, did not uphold traditions and did not participate in any avantgarde revolutions. He was however both avantgarde, and traditional. Among the aesthetic crossroads of the second half of the twentieth century, he found his own path that he pursued with determination, led by his unfailing artistic sense. His music is a model of the ideal balance between form and content, intellect and emotion. His perfection has secured for Lutoslawski a permanent place among the greatest composers of the twentieth century.


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