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Witold Lutoslawski centenary

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 19 January 2013

Tom Service presents a special edition marking the centenary of the birth of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, Witold Lutoslawski.

  • Witold Lutoslawski

    In Music Matters this week we mark the centenary of Witold Lutoslawski, who was born in Warsaw on the 25th January 1913. Indisputably one of the major composers of the twentieth century, he showed prodigious musical talent from an early age. His composition studies ended at a politically dark time for Poland, so his plans for further study were replaced by military training, imprisonment by the Nazis, and escape back to Warsaw, where he and his compatriot Andrzej Panufnik played their own compositions and transcriptions in cafes throughout the city. After the war, the Stalinist regime banned his first symphony as 'formalist', but he continued to compose and in 1958 his Musique Funèbre established his international reputation.

    Tom Service travels to Warsaw and meets Lutoslawski's step-son Marcin in the composer’s study at their family home. Surrounded by the objects from a daily life of musical work, Marcin describes a man of few words, someone who regarded what he did with music as a separate journey of exploration from the tumult of the rest of his life. At Polish Radio, we find out how he accommodated the wishes of the regime writing public music like patriotic jingles and mass songs, while privately finding a compositional voice that was truly, individually, his own. Grzegorz Michalski, President of the Lutoslawski Society, reveals that though supposedly apolitical the composer was involved in the pro-democracy movement Solidarity towards the end of his life, and suggests there really could be a link between the intensity and violent contrasts of a piece like the Third Symphony and Poland's recent history.

    Composer Steven Stucky, conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and musicologist Nicholas Reyland discuss Lutoslawski’s unique compositional voice and, in his own words, his 'fishing for souls': searching for listeners who could hear and who would be moved by the coherence, conflict, and coruscating beauty of his music. Plus pianist Krystian Zimerman, for whom Lutoslawski wrote his Piano Concerto, and a young Polish composer on how Lutoslawski still inspires the latest generation of musicians.



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