Witold Lutoslawski was born on January 25th, 1913 in Warsaw. He is widely regarded as representative of the new Polish mode of expression, mediating between serial and aleatoric techniques.
As Lutoslawski was to remember later, he developed a keen interest in music as a child. At only six years of age he asked to be taught to play the piano; later he added the violin and was trained as a composer. Finally he studied piano and composition with Witold Maliszewski, himself a student of Rimski-Korsakow’s, at the Warsaw Conservatory. Amongst his first noteworthy pieces are the "Sinfonic Variations" of 1938. His plans to study in Paris however were thwarted by the onset of the Second World War. After his escape from German imprisonment he made his way back to Warsaw working as pianist. Together with his composer colleague Andrzej Panufnik he founded a piano duo, playing in Warsaw Cafés – the only possible way to perform publicly during the war years.
Until about 1945, his works were influenced by Igor Strawinsky’s neo-classicism; followed by a phase during which he turned towards folk music and the works of Béla Bartok. From the mid-fifties he experimented increasingly with serial and aleatoric techniques which brought him into contact with the work and ideas of John Cage (“Jeux vénetiens” for small orchestra, 1961).
After a period in Stalinist Poland which disapproved of his emancipated style, thus forcing him to eke out a living by writing utility music for film, radio and the stage, acceptance of his work increased during the sixties. During the second half of his life, Lutoslawski was also active as conductor and teacher.
Witold Lutoslawski’s oeuvre centres around works with and for orchestras.
He wrote four symphonies (1947, 1967, 1983, 1992), three “Postludia” (1960), a Concerto for Violoncello (1970), a piece for percussion and strings “Mi-Parti” (1976), the cycle “Chain” for chamber orchestra (1983, 1985, 1986), and a Piano Concerto (1988). Amongst his chamber music pieces, his string quartet (1964) was most widely recognised internationally. He received various prestigious commissions and international invitations to concerts, from 1963 also as conductor of his own works; and he gave lectures and taught master classes in composition.
He is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern conducting due to his proclivity for working “ad libitum” with his orchestras, that’s to say spontaneously devising tempo and rhythm.
He died on February 7th, 1994, shortly after his 81st birthday.