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Reviewed by:
  • Lutosławski's Worlds ed. by Lisa Jakelski and Nicholas Reyland
  • Daniel Elphick
Lutosławski's Worlds. Edited by Lisa Jakelski and Nicholas Reyland. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2018. [xix, 402 p. ISBN 9781783271986 (hardcover), £60; ISBN 9781787442214 (ebook), price varies.] Figures, tables, music examples, list of contributors, acknowledgements, bibliography, index.

Some composers' legacies are haunted by their biographies. Discussion of figures like Dmitrii Shostakovich frequently center around issues of their political ties or the supposed meanings hidden within their works. This has led to recent calls from scholars including Pauline Fairclough and David Fanning, who have moved to a return to that most problematic of concepts, "the music itself." Such is not the case for all composers, of course; indeed, the world of Witold Lutosławski studies has, until very recently, had almost exactly the opposite problem.

As the composer died relatively recently (in 1994), many scholars had personal ties with the man, which inevitably affected the way that they wrote about his music. Familiar Englishlanguage studies on the composer include those by Charles Bodman Rae (The Music of Lutosławski [London: Faber, 1994]) and Steven Stucky (Lutosławski and his Music [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981]) and edited by Zbigniew Skowron (Lutosławski Studies [New York: Oxford University Press, 2001]). Beyond these, there are numerous books of conversations as well as collections of documentary sources. Even in some of these cases, scholars replicated Lutosławski's own viewpoint that his music should be understood in isolation from his biography. The composer went further than this and often denied that any links existed at all. For a Shostakovich scholar, this state of affairs seemed almost idyllic, with no tedious debates where Cold Warriors might bicker. As it turns out, the grass isn't always greener, and many Lutosławski scholars have long yearned for a closer intertwining of life and works. Lutosławski's Worlds, a culmination of talks following the Lutosławski centenary in 2013, makes for provoking reading.

Lisa Jakelski and Nicholas Reyland introduce the volume with a call for "nothing less than a wholesale rethinking of the interrelationships between Lutosławski's life and works" (p. 2). The book is the product of an innovative 2015 conference, where papers from Polish, American, and British scholars were shared in advance rather than "presented" in the traditional format. The contributors then met to discuss and debate their essays, with an eye to revising texts for publication in the present volume. The result is an exciting and provocative collection, which is made all the more insightful for the spirit of debate and discussion that led to its production. While there are five groupings, the essays roughly divide along the lines of documentary studies, analysis, politics and biography, and legacy.

Several essays here throw light on previously under-explored aspects of the composer's output. For instance, Danuta Gwizdalanka explores how Lutosławski wrote popular songs under the pseudonym "Derwid," partly to supplement his income. Gwizdalanka provides a thorough overview of the surviving songs and their contexts. Such songs were revived in the 2013 centenary; the composer would, presumably, have been displeased. A similarly under-explored body of work is highlighted in Wioleta Muras's catalog of Lutosławski's sizeable output for theater and radio. Based on impressive archival work, Muras helps to plug a gap in historical knowledge of the composer and features a good number of music examples from long-forgotten [End Page 131] scores. A further trio of essays illuminates particular treasures from the archive of the composer. Stanisław Bȩdkowski focuses on a wide array of documents in the Lutosławski Correspondence Collection in the Paul Sacher Stiftung (Basel, Switzerland), piecing together tiny snippets of critical commentary on contemporary composers. While this falls short of "Lutosławski as critic," it does present a previously unknown aspect of the composer. Zbigniew Skowron focuses on a single extraordinary document, the composer's "artistic diary." Skowron shows how this small diary illustrates the composer's artistic development over several years, and Skowron's insightful commentary shows that the diary provides a unique illustration of Lutosławski's changing ideas on music. (The full text of the...