Witold Lutosławski was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. His well-known Variations on a Theme by Paganini for two pianos are in the repertoire of almost every respectable piano duo.
Unfortunately, apart from the short piece An Overheard Tune, featured here, Lutosławski left no other work for two pianists to posterity. During the Second World War, Lutosławski played many of his own compositions in cafés, in duo with Andrzej Panufnik, in order to make a living. In July 1944 he had to flee from Warsaw, his home town, just a few days before the Uprising, and was only able to save a small number of his scores from extinction. He didn’t return to Warsaw until April of the following year.
Among all the solo piano works Lutosławski must have composed up to the end of World War II, only the Sonata (1934) and the Two Etudes (1940/41) are still preserved today. Lutosławski was an excellent pianist, but after the war he only wrote a very small number of pieces for the instrument. They all pertain to his early post-war period, before he turned to twelve-tone pitch organisation and aleatory technique.
What most impresses and thrills me in Lutosławski’s piano output is his immense degree of creativity while heeding every detail with painstaking attention; his wonderful way of associating traditional forms with innovative, bold sonorities and structures, while managing to preserve a great degree of independence that makes this music sound effortless and lively.
Whereas Lutosławski’s earliest compositions – the Sonata and the Two Etudes – are brimming with technical challenges for the pianist, the next pieces he wrote are cycles of brief miniatures in which he explores each note and each rest to attain a maximum degree of expression.
After having enrolled in mathematics in Warsaw University in 1931, Lutosławski studied piano and composition at Warsaw Conservatory from 1932 on; his teachers were Jerzy Lefeld and Witold Maliszewski (a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov). (Excerpt from the liner notes by the soloist Corinna Simon)