Léonie Sonning Awards 1967

Witold Lutoslawski

The Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 50,000 at a concert held on Monday, 14 August 1967 in Tivoli Concert Hall.

The music prize was presented by Head of Music Mogens Andersen, Danmarks Radio and the principal of The Royal Danish Academy of Music, Svend Westergaard.

The programme

Peder Holm Three orchestral pieces (first performance)
Matyas Seiber/John Dankworth Improvisations for jazz band and symphony orchestra (1958)
Soloist: Sahib Shihab, alto saxophone
Witold Lutoslawski Paroles Tisées for tenor, string orchestra, harp and piano (1965)
Soloist: Jørgen Hviid, tenor

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Witold Lutoslawski


Witold Lutoslawski Concerto for orchestra (1950-54)

Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Jan Krenz


It was Head of Programmes Mogens Andersen, from Danmarks Radio, who had been asked to give a speech to Lutoslawski. He referred to Lutoslawski as "a dear guest" and he motivated the award by stating that the works of the composer "combine to a high degree the original with the universal. When one listens to Lutoslawski’s music, one gets a profound impression of his great artistic stature and his ability to find and exploit unknown possibilities."

After the speech, Svend Westergaard, principle of the academy of music, handed over the music prize of DKK 50,000, read out the motivation on the diploma, and Lutoslawski expressed his thanks:

"It is not only a great honour but also a very great pleasure for me to receive the Sonning Music Prize. It is a great honour for a composer to know there are people who find my music not completely unnecessary. This is an important and valuable moment in my life. I thank you for both – for the honour and the happiness."

The written motivation for the prize no longer exists, but the applause, as the press reports, was exceedingly enthusiastic.

Witold Lutoslawski and Denmark

Lutoslawski was (and is) absolutely one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, but when he received the music prize, there had been several other potential candidates. In B.T. the headline was "Prophetic vision or mere chance that Lutoslawski gets the Sonning Prize?" And as Jens Brincker wrote in the newspaper: "The initiative would seem, to put it mildly, courageous – maybe even rash – when one considers that composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, Britten or [...] Kzrysztof Penderecki are not yet on the list."

Lutoslawski felt very welcome in Copenhagen. The first time he was here, he was 34 years old – that was in 1947, when there was a festival of modern music in Copenhagen. He was back in Denmark again in February 1966, when the Radio Choir and Radio Symphony Orchestra performed his Three Poems by Henri Michaux. Lutoslawski conducted the choir and Jan Krenz the orchestra.

In 1967, when he received the music prize, things were really moving for the Polish composer. His music spread out over all of Europe – much of it had been broadcast on Danmarks Radio – he was to hold lectures in Spain, conduct his own Henri Michaux music and Memorial to Béla Bartók at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome. And on 10 June, his Symphony no. 2 had its first performance in Krakow.

Over the years, Lutoslawski often wrote music for known ensembles or soloists, such as London Sinfonietta, Peter Pears, Heinz Holliger, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Mstislav Rostropovich. He was so impressed by Anne-Sophie Mutter’s violin playing at the first performance of Chain 2 in 1984 that he instrumentated a work for her that originally was for violin and piano – it became Partita (1988)

His piano concerto from 1990 was written for another recipient of the Sonning Music Prize, Krystian Zimerman.

In 1968, Lutoslawski returned to Denmark to hold a seminar in composition for Danish composers, and in March 1990 he took part in an orchestral seminar with students of the academy of music in Odense. He was 77 years old at the time, and as a conductor he proved a huge success with the many young musicians.

Selected Music by Witold Lutoslawski

The daily press

The newspaper reviews mainly confined themselves to Lutoslawski’s Paroles Tisées, and in Berlingske Tidende the composer Poul Rovsing Olsen described the music as follows:

"When one listen yesterday evening to his most recent work ‘Paroles Tisées’, which he conducted himself – one was stuck yet again by the dreamlike beauty, the discreet sensuality, that is a prominent feature of his music. And by the flexibility of his style. For the textual declamation lay far closer to Britten than Boulez, i.e. it was ideally shaped for the singer to whom the work is dedicated – the English tenor Peter Pears. The widely and rightly praised technical mastery of Lutoslawski unfolded in many ways in this almost idyllic chamber piece. The many improvisational touches – all finely controlled – are just one example of Lutoslawski’s talent for attaining precise effects using unorthodox means."

Robert Naur wrote in Politiken: "The result of this procedure – quite rebellious for those with a classical cast of mind – is, with a composer of Lutoslawski’s refinement of sound, spontaneously beautiful. The freedom with responsibility which he accords his musicians does not spring from irresolution. It serves a very special artistic effect, one that is spiritually related to the distilled sound that characterises Debussy. ‘Paroles Tisées’ is a gentle work, in no way insistent, and the Polish maestro has here proved that Apollo’s heritage can be managed using technical effects of our own age, ones usually employed for brutality and chaos.

If his gentle, watercolour-like ‘Paroles Tisées’ is a piece by a master, then this Concerto for Orchestra is a masterpiece, as good as anything in the 1950s, that so grotesquely fragmented decade for music. The art of orchestral writing, movements as from dancing bodies, a melody from the Polish people, are formed into a single work of irresistible power. Lutoslawski was nearly the end of a more traditional path with this work. It was a rounding off which shows what strong forces lie in all of the musical new departure."