Having qualified for the Stefan Batory Grammar School, an elite Warsaw institution for boys, Lutosławski started to attend. At the same time, he attended the music school, where he took up the piano and later the violin. At the age of 15 he began to study composition under Witold Maliszewski.

Lutosławski matriculated in 1931 and enrolled in a Math degree course, which he quit two years later for music. Persuaded by Maliszewski that an aspiring composer should be able to play the piano, he gave up the violin and joined Jerzy Lefeld's course at the Warsaw Conservatory.

He scored his first success as a 20-year-old student: the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra performed his composition, Harun Al-Rashid. A year later another work, his Piano Sonata, won critical acclaim. In the coming years this piece had several public performances, including one attended by Karol Szymanowski.

After five years, in 1937, Lutosławski graduated in Composition from the Maliszewski course. He was awarded the diploma for works that he did not value much. He was truly absorbed in writing orchestral variations, too ‘modern’ to be accepted by the diploma panel. He considered the premiere of these Symphonic Variations in the summer of 1939 as his composing debut.