Witold Lutosławski

1913 - 1994



Although undoubtedly one the of most important composers of the twentieth century, Lutosławski was relatively unknown outside Poland until the 1960s. His Symphony No 1 was banned during the Stalinist era, the consequence of which was that he developed a fresh, tonal style, such as in the Concerto for Orchestra. From the 1950s,, he adopted serialism and aleatoric techniques as the state loosened its grip on artistic creativity. The improvement of East-West relations brought him numerous international commissions and major awards. He never lost his creative genius, completing one of his greatest works, his Symphony No 4, just shortly before he died.
Critical Acclaim

Lutosławski has long been acknowledged as one of the most significant composers of the 20th century. His works have earned a place in the orchestral repertory unequalled by those of any other contemporary composer, and for the last 30 years he has been much in demand as conductor of his own work with all the leading orchestras in Europe, North America and the Far East. Although he is often described as 'a Polish composer', a narrowly nationalistic label is inappropriate for a creative artist whose musical roots are more cosmopolitan and more widely European. - Charles Bodman Rae, The Independent

(Symphony No 3) ...so dazzling in its originality, so powerful in its use of the orchestra’s resources and so remarkable in its ability to communicate. ... a challenging, completely intensive journey in sound which consistently surprises us and grabs us up in its visceral sweep. - Joe Cunniff, The Chicago Leader


Witold Lutosławski was indisputably one of the major composers of the twentieth century. Born in Warsaw in 1913, he showed prodigious musical and intellectual talent from an early age. His composition studies in Warsaw ended at a politically difficult time for Poland so his plans for further study in Paris were replaced by a period which included military training, imprisonment by the Germans and escape back to Warsaw, where he and his compatriot Andrzej Panufnik played in cafes their own compositions and transcriptions. After the war, the Stalinist regime banned his first symphony (1941-47) as 'formalist', but he continued to compose and in 1958 his Musique Funèbre, in memory of Bartok, established his international reputation. His own personal aleatoric technique whereby the performers have freedom within certain controlled parameters was first demonstrated in his Jeux Venitiens (1961) and is to be found in almost all the later music Over the years, Witold Lutosławski was frequently inspired by particular ensembles and artists including the London Sinfonietta, Sir Peter Pears, Heinz and Ursula Holliger, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mstislav Rostropovich and Anne-Sophie Mutter. His Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and received its world premiere in February 1993 under the baton of the composer. A powerful work, it reflected his increasing concern with expansive melody. Among many international prizes awarded to this most modest man were the UNESCO Prize (1959,1968), the French order of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (1982), Grawemeyer Award (1985), Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal (1986), in the last year of his life, the Swedish Polar Music Prize and the Inamori Foundation Prize, Kyoto, for his outstanding contribution to contemporary European music, and, posthumously, the International Music Award for best large-scale composition for the fourth symphony. Lutosławski's contribution to the musical world was enormous and his loss in February 1994, at the age of 81, will continue to be deeply felt.

© Chester Music

Lutosławski 100

Below are a series of videos taken from the Philharmonia Orchestra website celebrating the Lutosławski Centenary Woven Words  

Early Life
This film focuses on the composer's early life and beginnings in music. Series Advisor, Steven Stucky and Philharmonia Orchestra Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen travelled to Poland to discover how tragic and traumatic events in Lutosławski's early life shaped his compositions and personality.  
World War II
This film focuses on the composer's struggle for survival in Warsaw during World War II. Series Advisor, Steven Stucky and Philharmonia Orchestra Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen traveled to Poland to find out more. Lutosławski expert Charles Bodman Rae also helps bring this terrifying moment in history to life. 
Stalinist Years
Series Advisor, Steven Stucky and Philharmonia Orchestra Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen visited Polska Radio in Warsaw to talk about Lutosławski's work during Soviet rule. They view manuscripts of his compositions for radio and also pop music, which he composed under the pseudonym, Derwid.
Series Advisor, Steven Stucky and Philharmonia Orchestra Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen visit the Filharmonia Narodowa (National Concert Hall) in Warsaw and talk about the composer's later life. In his later years, Lutosławski flourished and finally found his distinctive musical voice. 



9th May 2021

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Eva Ollikainen
Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, United Kingdom

13th May 2021Streamed event

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Elim Chan
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow , United Kingdom

18th May 2021

Bath Festival Orchestra
Green Park Station, Bath, Bath, United Kingdom

8th June 2021

Antoin Herrera Lopez, Voice
Sinfonieorchester Basel
Basel, Switzerland

15th June 2021Streamed event

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Tarmo Peltokoski
Bremen, Germany


  • Salonen Selects Lutosławski
    • Salonen Selects Lutosławski
    • Esa Pekka Salonen recollects: "Witold was somehow surprised when I announced that I wanted to conduct the Second Symphony. He asked if I really liked it. .... "