CLASSICAL MUSIC / In search of the ideal: Thoughts and memories of Witold Lutoslawski, who died this week

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Lutoslawski on composing:

'Our role is to offer a message from the ideal world - the world of our dreams, our notion of the ideal. Otherwise its listener has no access to that world. Art isn't autobiography, it is much more important than that. What it really means is that I just compose what I want. My advice to younger composers is just the same - compose what you want to hear. Then you will be giving something authentic - you are giving yourself.'

John Casken on Lutoslawski:

'His unique poetic vision showed that the contemporary need not exclude the expressive and lyrical, the passionate and the sparklingly witty. The sheer beauty of the sound and his ability to sculpt his sounds into dramatic shapes, always with a clear structural purpose in mind, was a model for us all. He always stressed the need for harmony, a strong singing quality, and a clear, dramatic, formal idea if the music is to have a lasting quality for the listener. 'It's important,' he said, 'what you as a composer feel after hearing your work, not for the first time but for the 21st time. What's interesting is how your work grows old.' Lutoslawski's work, for me, will never grow old.'

John Drummond on Lutoslawski:

'He probably gave me more joy to work with than any composer I've known. We must have done six or seven pre-concert talks. 'The same old questions,' I said to him before the last one; but it was never the same old answers. There was that extraordinary way in which he hugged himself when he laughed - he closed his eyes and looked just like a Siamese cat. He had an absolute deep affection for the Proms as an institution which rather surprised me - the warmth of the occasion he loved. There was to be a piece for the BBC Singers for the centenary of the Proms; he had called to say he'd got the words. For last year he offered us the British premiere of his Fourth Symphony. With commissions too, he would decide to write a piece and then say 'would you like it?' Maybe it's a rare thing to be able to choose your commissioner, but he had 50 years of struggle before he could achieve that kind of position.'

Paul Patterson on Lutoslawski:

'In his own way he was a giant, but a very approachable, very gentle sort. He was genuinely interested in what other people were doing. At the composers' competition in Poland that he put his name to, they would get 400 scores from all over the world and he insisted the jury all looked at all of them. He would listen to what other people had to say and not try to influence them. Last time I got to know more: how he used the money from a big international award, about pounds 150,000, to send Polish children for medical operations in the West. I already knew he paid for composers to study in London at the Royal Academy of Music.'

Lutoslawski on death:

'I am quite prepared to die at any moment. That does not influence my daily work in any way. Inhabitants of this earth have the curious custom of working as if it was never going to end. The main thing is what relationship we have formed to the notion of time. The creative artist should work concentrating only on the present - and go on working as long as he can.'

Interviews with Lutoslawski by Stephen Johnson (Independent, 27 August 1993) and Balint Andras Varga (profile published by Chester Music). The composer John Casken studied with Lutoslawski. John Drummond is director of the BBC Henry Wood Proms. Paul Patterson is professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music

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