From The YouTube Music Archives VII: Witold Lutosławski Conducting the London Sinfonietta

Born on January 25 in 1913, Witold Lutosławski was one of the major European composers of the 20th century. He was possibly the most significant Polish composer since Chopin, and was the pre-eminent musician of his country during the last three decades of the century. He served heroically as a communications director during World War II, and his music gives witness to the turmoil in Poland during the decades he composed.

Lutosławski studied piano and composition in Warsaw, and his early works were overtly influenced by Polish folk music. His style demonstrates a wide range of rich atmospheric textures. He began to develop his own characteristic composition techniques in the late 1950s. His music from this period onwards incorporates his own methods of building harmonies from a small group of musical intervals. It also exhibits aleatory processes, in which the rhythmic coordination of parts is subject to an element of chance. His works (of which he was a notable conductor) include four symphonies, a Concerto for Orchestra, and several concertos and song cycles. In Jeux Vénitiens (1961), Lutoslawski took his first step into a “limited aleatory music”, after hearing a performance of John Cage’s Concerto for Piano in 1960. Lutoslawski’s elegant String Quartet (1964) utilizes four rhythmically independent strands simultaneously, yielding wonderfully dense and elastic textures. In the Livre pour orchestra (1968) the work’s four main sections are connected by controlled aleatory passages. Most of his subsequent works were orchestral, fully chromatic, orchestrated in a manner suggesting Debussy and Ravel, and consistently develop an opposition between aleatory and metrical textures.

Here are three short pieces for flute and harp, as recorded by Katherine Kemmlar (flute) and Anne Benjamin (harp).
[Magia][Andante con moto][Presto]

This Mini-Overture, performed here by the Triton Brass Quintet, is a short and yet powerful work from 1982.

Here is a sample of the the Double Concerto, commissioned by the Swiss conductor and new music patron Paul Sacher for the oboist Heinz Holliger, at whose request an obligato harp part for his wife Ursula was included. Completed in 1980, the work was first performed in August that year, when the Holligers were joined by the Collegium Musicum and Sacher. The orchestra consists of two percussionists and twelve strings which, though the number can be increased in larger venues, enables the composer to use them as an ensemble of soloists.

It’s about the strangest music ever written. Very strange and very beautiful.

In my opinion his Third Symphony is one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century. I couldn’t find an mp3 of it online, but you can purchase a CD here. Here also is a fine article on Lutosławski’s First Symphony, one of his more accessible works. And here, lastly, is the concert performance from YouTube (a little more than ten minutes long) of Lutoslawski conducting his Chain No. 3, performed by the London Sinfonietta (this post was compiled from several sources, including a very fine entry at wikipedia).


  1. Big Jon, Bully says


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