In the Avant-garde

At the age of fifty the composer entered a stage of intensive creativity and technical innovation. The works from this period aroused general interest since many were commissioned by festivals such as the Venice Biennale, the Contemporary Music Festival in Zagreb, and the Styrian Autumn Festival. Some were commissioned or for cyclical events devoted to new music, such as Nutida Musik in Stockholm or Das Neue Werk in Hamburg.

His Jeux vénitiens caused a sensation: he used the ad libitum technique, which he termed ‘controlled aleatorism’. It became Lutosławski’s trademark and the technique soon spread among composers.

The novelty of Trois poemes d’Henri Michaux consisted of a choral part independent of the orchestra. This demanded two conductors: one for the choir and one for the ensemble. Instrumental and choral parts were notated using both traditional (metrical) notation and Lutosławski’s aleatoric system. It was at the first performance of Trois poemes in Zagreb, that Lutosławski made his public conducting debut. Slavko Zlatić conducted the choir.

In String Quartet Lutosławski used the ad libitum technique so extensively that the musical notation bore no resemblance to a traditional score. Preludes and Fugue was also an experimental work: in this piece conductor must decide on the sequence and even the length of the preludes.

While audiences widely admired Lutosławski’s works and enthusiasts of the avant-garde acclaimed his innovations, only a few people realized that while working on the String Quartet he was still forced to earn his living with dance songs which he released under the pseudonym, Derwid. It was only with subsequent assignments and especially with the increasing number of performances of his works in the late 1960s that his situation was eased. As the composer gained greater financial independence, he found freedom to create music he could call his own.