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His family owned estates in the area of Drozdowo. He continued to be involved in National Democracy politics after returning to Warsaw in , and took over the management of the family estates in In , with Russia at war with Germany, Prussian forces drove towards Warsaw. However, in , the February Revolution forced the Tsar to abdicate, and the October Revolution started a new Soviet government that made peace with Germany.
The brothers were interned in Butyrskaya prison in central Moscow, where Witold—by then aged five—visited his father. After the war, the family returned to the newly independent Poland , only to find their estates ruined.
After the Polish-Soviet War the family left Warsaw to return to Drozdowo, but after a few years of running the estates with limited success, his mother returned to Warsaw. She worked as a physician, and translated books for children from English. In he started violin lessons at the Warsaw Music School. His only composition teacher was Witold Maliszewski , a renowned Polish composer who had been a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In he gave up the violin, and in he discontinued his mathematics studies to concentrate on the piano and composition.
His diploma for composition was awarded by the same institution in He completed his Symphonic Variations in , and the work was premiered by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg , and this performance was broadcast on radio on 9 March His plans for further musical study were dashed in September , when Germany invaded western Poland and Russia invaded eastern Poland.
Defiantly, they even sometimes played Polish music the Nazis banned Polish music in Poland—including Chopin , and composed Resistance songs. This artistic censorship, which ultimately came from Stalin personally, was to some degree prevalent over the whole Eastern bloc , and was reinforced by the Zhdanov decree. He was implacably opposed to the ideas of Socialist realism. In , the climate of musical oppression drove his friend Andrzej Panufnik to defect to the United Kingdom.
He commented: "[I]t was for those functional compositions of mine that the authorities decorated me I realised that I was not writing indifferent little pieces, only to make a living, but was carrying on an artistic creative activity in the eyes of the outside world. The work, commissioned in by the conductor Witold Rowicki for the newly reconstituted Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, earned the composer two state prizes in the following year.
By , political events had led to a partial thawing of the musical climate, and the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music was founded. Conceived as a biennial festival, it has been held annually ever since except under Martial law in when, in protest, the ZKP refused to organise it. This work brought international recognition, the annual ZKP prize and the International Rostrum of Composers prize in It was the first work he had written for a commission from abroad, and brought him further international acclaim.
The song cycle is dedicated to the tenor Peter Pears , who first performed it at the Aldeburgh Festival with the composer conducting. The Aldeburgh Festival was founded and organised by Benjamin Britten , with whom the composer formed a lasting friendship. His mother died in , and in —70 there was a great deal of unrest in Poland. The Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra —commissioned by Paul Sacher—was finally finished in , and the Third Symphony in In he received the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
He refused to enter the Culture Ministry to meet any of the ministers, and was careful not be photographed in their company. He also bought a house in Oslo and had a cabin in the Norwegian countryside.
He and his wife would stay here several times a year to be near her son from an earlier marriage, who was a Norwegian citizen. Chain 2 was written for Anne-Sophie Mutter commissioned by Paul Sacher , and for Mutter he also orchestrated his slightly earlier Partita for violin and piano, providing a new linking Interlude, so that when played together the Partita, Interlude and Chain 2 form his longest work.
In addition, he was awarded honorary doctorates at several universities worldwide, including Cambridge. His earliest plans to write a piano concerto dated from ; he was himself in his younger days a virtuoso pianist. The latter was first performed at a Prom concert in London in , and the Fourth Symphony in with the composer conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
He continued his busy schedule, travelling to the United States, England, Finland, Canada and Japan, and sketching a violin concerto, but by the first week of it was clear that cancer had taken hold, and after an operation the composer weakened quickly and died on 7 February at the age of eighty-one. He was cremated; his wife Danuta died shortly afterwards.
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