The Kennedy Center

Lutoslawskiwas Witold


Witold Lutoslawskiwas born in Warsaw on Jan. 25, 1913.  At the age of six he started to have piano lessons with Helena Hoffman, he was encouraged to compose, and, by the age of nine, had produced his first piano piece.
In 1927 Lutos?awski wrote a Poème for piano, on the strength of which he was accepted as a private composition pupil of Maliszewski. His teaching in the area of musical form was to prove one of the strongest and most enduring influences on Lutos?awski. The most significant piece from the student years is the Piano Sonata, completed in December 1934.
After his graduation in 1937, Lutos?awski found himself back in uniform as an officer in the signals and radio unit. He remained in Warsaw until 1944, earning his living by performing in cafés.
With the absence of musical life in Warsaw in 1945, cultural and artistic activity transferred to Kraków where Lutos?awski held the position of music director at Polish Radio.  He composed a large quantity of ‘functional music' of various kinds, including children's songs. In August 1949 his First Symphony became the first significant Polish composition to be branded as ‘formalist' and thus proscribed. It was not performed again in Poland until the late 1950s.
Lutos?awski changed his style as a result of the post-Stalin ‘thaw'. He applied the elements of his new harmonic language in concert pieces in the late 1950s, such as the Five I??akowicz Songs, and in Muzyka ?a?obna (Musique funèbre, 1954–8).
The Concerto for Orchestra established Lutos?awski's reputation in Poland as the leading composer of his generation. Four years later, his Musique funèbre brought him international acclaim, an acclaim that was further enhanced in 1961 by Jeux vénitiens, the first piece to adopt his particular approach to aleatory techniques. From 1963 he was increasingly active conducting his own works in concert performances.
The decade from the late 1970s to the late 80s witnessed the birth, suppression and ultimate victory of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Lutos?awski was one of the most high-profile figures to observe the artists' boycott of the state media, and he remained true to it throughout the decade by refusing to conduct his music in Poland, declining to meet government ministers and refusing offers of state prizes and other financial inducements. The integrity of his stance was recognized by the award of the Solidarity Prize in 1983.
Lutoslawaki died in Warsaw on Feb. 7, 1994.