Polish composer and conductor. His output includes three symphonies, Paroles tissées/Teased Words (1965) for tenor and chamber orchestra, dedicated to the singer Peter Pears, and Chain I for orchestra (1981). For 30 years he conducted most of the world's leading orchestras in his own compositions, and was greatly influential both within and beyond his native land.
His early major compositions, such as Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1941) for two pianos and First Symphony (1941–47), drew some criticism from the communist government. After 1956, under a more liberal regime, he adopted avant-garde techniques, including improvisatory and aleatoric (chance) forms, in Venetian Games (1961).
Lutosławski was born in Warsaw while it was still part of the Russian Empire. He spent part of his early childhood in Moscow – the family moved there in 1915 to escape from the German Army – where his father was arrested by the Bolsheviks and summarily executed in 1918. He returned to Warsaw and began piano and violin lessons. From the age of 15 he also studied composition with Witold Maliszewski, who was teaching at the Warsaw Conservatory. At the same time he studied mathematics at Warsaw University. Military service in 1937 and World War II interrupted his career.
His First Symphony occupied him on and off 1941–47, but it was condemned at its first performance in 1949. He had made no concessions either to the Nazis or to the Stalinist regime. Only his ‘functional’ music – film and theatre music or pieces based on folk melodies – received a hearing.
In his ‘serious’ music he worked to produce a new musical language based on 12-note harmony, first revealed in his Musique funèbre (1958). He was taken with the idea of aleatoric operations in 1960 after hearing music by the US composer John Cage. Venetian Games was the first piece in which he used this technique, after which came the String Quartet (1964), Livre pour orchèstre (1968), the Cello Concerto (1970), and many other compositions.
Lutosławski was sensitive to poetry, and also composed vocal works, including Les Espaces du sommeil/Spaces of Sleep (1975) and Chantefleurs et chantefables (1990), the latter to verses by the French surrealist poet Robert Denos.
WorksOrchestral four symphonies (1941–92), Concerto for Orchestra (1954), Venetian Games for small orchestra (1961), cello concerto (1970), Mi-parti for orchestra (1976), concerto for oboe, harp, and chamber orchestra (1982), Chain I for chamber orchestra (1981), Chain II for violin and orchestra (1984), Chain III (1986), piano concerto (1988).
VocalParoles tissées for tenor and chamber orchestra (1965), Les Espaces du sommeil for baritone and orchestra (1975), Chantefleurs et chantefables for soprano and orchestra (1990).
Chamber string quartet (1964), Grave for cello and piano (1981), Variations on a Theme of Paganini for two pianos (1941).