Witold Lutoslawski

Born 25 January 1913. Died 7 February 1994.
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Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1 and Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 4

Stephen Johnson explores music by Szymanowski and Lutoslawski.

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Witold Lutoslawski hoped to continue his studies in Paris after graduating in piano and composition from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1937. But military service intervened, during which he was captured by the Germans before escaping to Warsaw (his brother was not so fortunate, and died in Siberia).

His Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1941) for two pianos, was written for himself and his composer-contemporary Andrzej Panufnik, with whom he played in Warsaw’s cafés. In 1949 Lutoslawski’s First Symphony (1947) was banned, and in the following years his output included much folk music, including children’s songs, until the extrovert Concerto for Orchestra (1950–54) established his national reputation. His fondness of aleatoric, or chance, principles, was first explored in Jeux vénitiens (1961) and in many works of the 1960s.

After the Symphony No. 2 (1965–7) and the Cello Concerto (1969–70) he developed a more melodic style in the Double Concerto for oboe and harp (1980) and Symphony No. 3 (1981–3). He died a year after the premiere in Los Angeles of his Symphony No. 4.

Profile by Edward Bhesania © BBC

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