1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Early years
3. Formalism in the Soviet Union
4. Polish folk music influences
5. The Lutosławski signature
6. Experimentation
1993 Laureate


The Polish composer and conductor Witold Lutoslawski is awarded The Polar Music Prize, 1993. The Award Committee's motivation is as follows: In Witold Lutoslawski, the Committee's choice has fallen upon one of the pioneers of contemporary European art music.


Lutoslawski on stage with Wynton Marsalis (representing Dizzy Gillespie) at the prize ceremony.

Stockholm, May 1993

The 2nd Polar Music Prize Ceremony was held at Berwaldhallen in the month of May. The evening continued with a banquet in Vinterträdgården at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel.

HM King Carl XVI Gustaf presented the Prize to the two Laureates Witold Lutoslawski and Dizzy Gillespie.

The citation for Witold Lutoslawski was read by the Swedish Opera singer Elisabeth Söderström.

Unfortunately, due to health conditions Dizzy Gillespie could not attend the ceremony in Stockholm. The Prize was received by Wynton Marsalis in his place.

Special arrangements of the Laureates’ music was performed by Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and a sparkling array of artists.

Sara Trobäck performing "Appassionato op 17:2 Josef Zuk" at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony

Front row at the ceremony

The 1993 Polar Music Prize Laureates and the Swedish Royal Family at the prize ceremony in Stockholm. Far left Lutoslawski's wife Danuta Lutoslawska, and Gudrun and Stig Anderson to the right.

Peter Jablonski and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra performing Lutoslawski’s "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" at the prize ceremony.

Early years

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1913, the young Witold Lutoslawski showed great musical talent from an early age, writing his first compositions in 1922. He went on to study violin, piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory, graduating with diplomas in the latter two subjects in 1937. During World War II, the German occupiers greatly repressed Polish cultural expressions and restricted large gatherings; Lutoslawski supported himself during these difficult years by performing with different musical groups in less formal settings such as cafés.

Warsaw in the early 20th century. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Polish folk music - a great influence on many of Lutoslawski's early works.

Formalism in the Soviet Union

Formalism is an artistic concept wherein a work’s artistic value is based on its compositional elements and form instead of its context and content. In post-war Poland, as throughout the Soviet Union, the Stalinist regime insisted that composers and artists adopt Socialist realism in order to convey the ideas and goals of the regime in a “realistic” light. Painters were expected to depict happy, muscular workers in factories and on collective farms, while composers were expected to compose glorious hymns and vivid, happy music to reflect the desired sense of progress and collective spirit of the proletariat. The Zhdanov decree of 1948 specifically targeted formalism in music, persecuting a number of prominent Soviet composers whose works did not conform to the Soviet cultural policy.

This included Lutosławski who had performances of his works banned in Poland because they were considered to be formalist. To sustain himself, Lutosławski turned to writing what he called "functional music" for radio, film and theatre, as well as arranging folk songs and composing music for children. Another Polar Music Prize Laureate, Mstislav Rostropovich, was an outspoken critic of the anti-formalism campaign and eventually collaborated artistically with Lutosławski.

Soviet politician Andrei Zhdanov (far left), who developed the Zhdanov Doctrine. Here with Stalin and Molotov signing the Teriyaki pact. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Khachaturian. Three of the Soviet composers who were persecuted during the anti-formalism campaign. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Polish folk music influences

Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra marked an important culmination of his early Polish folk music influences and established him as an important composer of art music. The conductor Witold Rowicki originally commissioned the work in 1950 for the newly reconstituted Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which performed the piece for the first time on November 26, 1954.

Witold Lutoslawski circa 1953. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Witold Rowicki (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra

The Lutosławski signature

In the years following Concerto for Orchestra, Lutoslawski expanded greatly upon his compositional style, departing significantly from his earlier folkloristic pieces to instead explore new harmonic and contrapuntal ideas and develop what would become his twelve-tone system. This new composition style is most evident in his pieces 5 Songs from 1956-57 and Muzyka żałobna (also know as Musique funèbre or Funeral Music) from 1958.

He continued to explore new compositional techniques, and with 1961’s Jeux Vénitiens, he introduced chance into his music by loosening the time relationships between sounds. These different compositional techniques became important cornerstones of the signature compositional style that would come to define his subsequent works.

Lutoslawski at home in Warsaw. (Source: courtesy of W. Pniewski and L. Kowalski)

Lutoslawski's signature works.

Lutosławski conducting "Chain I", London Sinfonietta.


Lutoslawski’s oeuvre is filled with examples of experimentation that helped contribute towards a renewal of the contemporary orchestral vocabulary, something that has made his music an indispensable part of today’s orchestral and chamber music repertoire. Moreover, his uncompromising stance and moral courage in times of severe intellectual repression, helped maintain Polish music’s relevance on the international stage.

One of Lutoslawski's many awards was the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Kronos Quartet's recording of Lutosławski's String Quartet.

Lutosławski with the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik in 1990. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All pictures from the ceremony and the banquet by © Polar Music Prize.

In memoriam Witold Lutosławski. 1913–1994

Witold Lutosławski by Betty Freeman, 1993 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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