Obituary: Danuta Lutoslawska

Maria Danuta Dygat: born Felin, Poland 10 September 1911; married Jan Boguslawski (one son; marriage dissolved 1946), 1946 Witold Lutoslawski (died 1994); died Warsaw 23 April 1994.

'ONE of these days she will finish one of my pieces before I do]' Thus quipped the late Witold Lutoslawski on his close professional relationship with his wife, Danuta Lutoslawska.

As the companion of one of the greatest European composers of the 20th century, it was inevitable that her life would be dominated by his creative life and work. But her role was not only that of providing background support in the personal and domestic spheres. For more than 45 years she devoted herself to a close collaboration with her husband as the draughtswoman and copyist of the full scores of almost all his major works. Lutoslawski's fastidious attention to the detail of his craft is well known, but the invaluable contribution made by Danuta Lutoslawska has too often been overlooked or taken for granted.

She was born Danuta Dygat, into a distinguished family that (like Chopin's) was French on the father's side and Polish on the mother's. Her father was a prominent architect, Antoni Dygat (1886-1949), whose work can still be seen in Warsaw, in for example, the pre-war Mint on the northern side of the Nowe Miasto, where the Polish currency is stil printed. She too trained as an architect, although she discontinued her studies at Warsaw Polytechnic on her first marriage, to Jan Boguslawski, also an architect (as is their son, Marcin Boguslawski, who practises in Oslo). This marriage was dissolved just after the end of the Second World War.

She met Lutoslawski during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, when her brother Stanislaw Dygat (a leading literary figure after the war) took her to hear the piano duo of Witold Lutoslawski and Andrzej Panufnik. His association with her brother was to remain a close one, and seemed to provide him with the friendship that he lacked after the deaths of his father and brother.

From the time of her second marriage in 1946 until her sight began to weaken some four years ago, she maintained a regular regime of working in a room adjacent to Lutoslawski's composing studio. As he finished each page of a full score in his pencil manuscript it would be passed next door to be recopied in ink, in her immaculate hand, on to transparencies from which the publishers could print. After 1960 this work entered a critical new phase (using a new type of rhythmic notation) in which it was essential for him to have complete control over the final page image of his scores. In some cases, Danuta not only copied but also solved problems of design associated with this so-called 'aleatory technique': for example, the score of the String Quartet (1964), which was devised and executed by her.

From the mid-1960s Lutoslawski was in constant demand internationally as conductor of his orchestral works, and never more so than during the Indian summer of the last 15 years. He and his wife were inseparable, always travelling together to these engagements.

The post-war years were hard. From 1946 to 1967 they lived in a small flat in the Saska Kepa district of Warsaw, on the east bank of the Vistula, together with their respective mothers and their son/stepson. It was only in the 1960s that Lutoslawski's royalties from the West began to accrue, enabling them to buy the spacious, detached house in Warsaw-Zoliborz in which they spent the rest of their years. It was here that she maintained a vigil for the 11 weeks that separated her husband's death and her own. She kept busy, though, sorting through his final manuscripts and sketches in order to leave his affairs in order.

I visited her several times during those last weeks. She was undoubtedly grief-stricken to an acute degree and had no wish to live longer. In spite of the obvious signs of sorrow, she still had the elegant bearing and striking looks that seemed to have remained unchanged for so many years. Tomorrow her remains will be interred with her husband's, in the old Powazki cemetery in Warsaw.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments