Witold Lutosławski

(1913—1994) Polish composer

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(b Warsaw, 1913; dWarsaw, 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.:


Symphonic Variations

(1938); syms: No.1 (1941–7), No.2 (1965–7), No.3 (1972–83), No.4 (1991–2);


, str. (1949);

Little SuiteFolk‐SongsFolk Melodies

, chamber orch. (1950, rev. 1951 for full orch.); 5 , str. (1952, from for pf.);

Concerto for Orchestra


Muzyka źalobnaPostludes

(Funeral Music), str. (1958); 3 (1958–63);

Gry weneckie

(Venetian Games) (1960–1);

Livre pour orchestre


Cello Concerto


Preludes and Fugue

, 13 solo strings (1972);



Variations on a Theme of Paganini

, version for pf. and orch. (1978, see 2 pianos);


(1978–9); Conc. for ob., hp., chamber orch. (1979–80);

Chain IChain IIChain III

, chamber orch. (1983), , dialogue, vn., orch. (1985), (1986); pf. conc. (1988);


, vn., orch. (vers. of chamber work, 1984) (1988);


, 11 soloists (1988);


, chamber orch. (1989).

voice(s) & orch.:

Fragments from a Requiem

2 , v., ch., orch. (1937);

Silesian TriptychPoems of Henri Michaux

, sop., orch. (1951); 3 , 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);


, ob., pf. (1979);


, vc., pf. (1981);


, vn., pf. (1984), vn., orch. (1988).

2 pianos:

Variations on a Theme of Paganini

(1941); vers. for pf., orch. (1978).



Subjects: Music.

Reference entries

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