- Absolute music On many occasions Lutosławski argued for autonomous music – music that speaks only about itself. Works such as the Cello Concerto, or Symphony No. 3, however, encourage their interpreters to look for biographical and political references. We should not mistake programmatic assumptions with the composer’s experiences that influenced his work at a given moment – Lutosławski often stressed that even if he did attach some extra-musical content to the music he created, this content was of ephemeral nature and marginal significance.
- Action, musical This term is often used by Lutosławski to describe the plot, as it were, of his compositions, interpreted only in musical terms (see the entry Absolute music). It is about the way of allocating and linking sonic events within a work – the musical strands – which has a direct impact on listeners, focusing attention in the perception process.
- Aesthetics It can be reconstructed on the basis of Lutosławski’s interviews, lectures and his own writings – for example the so-called Notebook of Ideas. It is the composer’s ideological legacy, an important source of information for performers of and commentators on his music.
- Aleatory technique A compositional technique that is a distinctive feature of Lutosławski’s oeuvre beginning with the Venetian Games (1961). It denotes deliberate action on the part of the composer, aimed at leaving space in his works for chance or for choices made by interpreters. The technique allowed the composer to find an original method for organising texture and rhythm, a method giving performers some freedom in playing their parts and making their progression in time independent of the playing of the rest of the ensemble, which results in extremely interesting sonic and expressive effects. It must be remembered that Lutosławski's aleatorism is not synonymous with improvising or dicing, therefore referred to as "controlled" or "limited".
- Bartók, Béla The dedicatee of Funeral Music, the piece which brought Lutosławski international fame. For the composer, Bartók’s music was a source of inspiration and many ideas, including the placement of the climax in accordance with the golden-ratio principle guiding the aesthetic proportion of the movements in a piece.
- Cafes The work of a cafe musician was a way to earn one’s living and survive in the early 1940s during the German occupation. Initially, Lutosławski performed as an accompanist in cabaret ensembles. Later he and Andrzej Panufnik, his friend and fellow composer, created an extraordinary piano duo with a repertoire including their arrangements of great classics. These were the circumstances in which Lutosławski wrote his famous Variations on a Theme by Paganini, which remains a “hit” of chamber piano music to this day. The duo went down in the history of such Warsaw establishments as the Ziemiańska, U Aktorek and the Aria, where Lutosławski met his future wife, Danuta Bogusławska, who attended his recitals with her brother, the novelist Stanisław Dygat, who was Lutosławski’s friend.
- Cage, John It was Cage’s Piano Concerto that prompted Lutosławski to introduce an element of chance into his own compositions and create his controlled aleatory technique. As a thank-you gesture for this inspiration, which came via a radio broadcast, Lutosławski sent the composer of 4’33’’ the manuscript of Venetian Games (1961).
- Chain A model of shaping a musical performance, consisting of sections of a work overlapping like links in a chain. The chain technique par excellence can be found in three compositions bearing that title – Chain 1 (1983), Chain 2 (1985) and Chain 3 (1986), although its elements appear in other works by Lutosławski including the Piano Concerto (1988).
- Chance Paradoxically, the significant role of chance in Lutosławski’s oeuvre was a matter of a chance tuning of the radio dial (see the entries Cage, John and Venetian Games).
- Chord-aggregate A chord comprising several overlapping simple chords. A quality characteristic of Lutosławski’s harmonics in his mature works. The composer liked to divide various chords comprising a chord-aggregate between various registers or harmonic bands, in order to produce the required sound quality in the instrument groups. Following the principle of “there should be no unimportant sounds in music”, Lutosławski always used these ideas with concrete sounds in mind.
- Drozdowo In this small village in the Podlasie region of what is now northeast Poland, the Lutosławskis had their family estate. Although Witold was born in Warsaw, it was in Drozdowo that he was baptised and spent his early childhood. As a small boy, he would sometimes sit on the lap of Roman Dmowski, the leader of the conservative national party, who sometimes visited the family.
- Evolution of style According to Lutosławski, experimentation is a necessity for artists, unlike revolution, which is destructive and hampers development. He strived continually through an evolution to develop his own, fully satisfying musical language. Stylistic breakthroughs in his work are marked by Five Songs after poems by Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna, in his organisation of the sonic material, Venetian Games, introducing the aleatory technique, and the Epitaph for oboe and piano, with its new approach to melody.
- Folklore Treated by the composer in a sentimental manner until 1949; after the proclamation of the doctrine of socialist realism in music, it became a virtually mandatory component of any work and a way to avoid being condemned as a “formalist” (see the entry Formalism). The last work in which Lutosławski used folk material is his Concerto for Orchestra (1954), which is also an important turning point in his creative life.
- Form, two-part Beginning with Symphony No. 2, in which the composer introduced the movements Hésitant (a preparatory, literally “hesitant” part) and Direct (the main part, characterised by directness), this form appears – though without the above terminology – in many other works by Lutosławski. It is a principle that shapes the perception of listeners and the dramaturgy of the work.
- Formalism According to the doctrine of socialist realism in art, this constituted the most serious charge against a musical work, tantamount to its removal from the repertoire. This was what happened toLutosławski’s Symphony No. 1, for example. The authorities decided that it was devoid of content in favour of pure form), which meant it did not serve society the way a musical work should.
- Functional music Lutosławski’s main source of income in the post-war period. At that time he wrote popular songs under the pseudonym Derwid and incidental music for theatre and radio, as well as songs for children and small piano pieces, mostly drawing on folklore and composed for educational purposes – Folk Melodies, the Bucolics. Lutosławski’s compositions for children are still commonly used in musical education.
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- Innovation When it comes to both form and sound (see the entries Aleatory technique, Chain),innovation in Lutosławski work was never an end in itself, but consisted in striving to achieve lasting values. As a result, the composer became a 20th-century classic as an innovator during his lifetime, and was fully aware of this.
- Mathematics Its presence in Lutosławski’s life was not limited to his two years of studies at the University of Warsaw – rationalism and systemic approach constantly determined his compositional work. The composer’s interest in mathematics gave rise to his fascination with interval structures and operations involving twelve-note series.
- Mobile The term was used by the composer to describe various segments of the String Quartet, which are characterised by flickering mobility and aleatory changeability. The term, which Lutosławski borrowed from art, brings to mind mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder.
- Musical past Lutosławski was not indifferent to tradition and treated it with due respect – especially when it came to Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Haydn and Debussy. Without this relationship, it would have been impossible for him to lay the foundations of his oeuvre: their music, as the composer stated, enlivened his imagination.
- Orchestra Lutosławski wrote four symphonies and many other works for his favourite, large-scale medium. What is idiomatic of the composer’s technique is his ability to isolate characteristic “thinner” textures out of the entire ensemble (tutti). Lutosławski was a master of the orchestra, not only as composer, but also as a conductor of his works.
- Private life Always surrounded by a wall of discretion. He shared it with his wife Danuta, who had studied architecture and who made certain that her husband had good working conditions, sometimes also copying his scores. The composer liked to spend his free time sailing on Polish lakes on his small boat and, in his later years, taking a rest in a holiday home in Norway with the family of the architect Marcin Bogusławski, Danuta’s son from her first marriage and the composer’s stepson.
- Socialist realism Proclaimed in Polish music after the Łagów Congress in 1949. Slogans such as fighting against the “bourgeois” and “degenerate” formalist art sanctioned a return to music that would be comprehensible, accessible to the masses, socially “useful”. Guardians of the doctrine included Władysław Sokorski and Zofia Lissa. In his paper “The Role of Truth in Art”, delivered by Lutosławski at the Congress of Polish Culture in Warsaw in 1981, the composer stressed the destructive role and dire consequences of the Stalinist period for Polish music in those days.
- Surrealism Surrealist poetry inspired Lutosławski’s remarkable vocal-instrumental pieces. In these, the composer used works by Jean-François Chabrun (Paroles tissées), Henri Michaux (Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux) and Robert Desnos (Les espaces du sommeil ).
- Twelve-note system In Lutosławski’s case it is not identical with Schönberg’s dodecaphony, from which the composer as a rule dissociated himself. The composer of the Funeral Music used the twelve-note system to construct horizontal and vertical passages; his technique had a structural and expressive meaning, which was a result of numerous experiments at the pre-composition stage, and which can be seen in sketches left by the composer.
- Venetian Games The work constitutes an aleatory breakthrough in Lutosławski’s oeuvre and a milestone in his international career. The title Venetian Games came from the place of its world premiere in 1961, at the Venice Biennale, as well as an original approach to the shaping of musical performance, which includes an element of chance (see: Aleatory technique).
- Warsaw Autumn The festival was rightly called by Polish artists a “window onto the world”, a true celebration of contemporary music and an invaluable forum for exchange of thought. For many years Lutosławski took part in the work of the festival’s programme committee; in addition, successive editions of the Warsaw Autumn featured premieres of his compositions.