Riga Polytechnic was founded in 1862 – the first technical institution of higher education in the tsarist empire. It trained future agronomists, chemists, engineers, mechanics and architects, and lessons were conducted in German. Poles, opposed to the Russification of Poland, willingly travelled to Riga; Witold Lutosławski’s three uncles, Wincenty, Marian and Jan, trained at Riga Polytechnic, and the little brother Kazimierz attended secondary school there.
Witold found himself in Riga in May 1935, and he probably did not even see the building of that almost ‘family’ polytechnic. He travelled to the city with a group of students from the Warsaw Conservatory, invited there for a ceremony organised by the Society for Polish-Latvian Rapprochement. On 4 May, in the Grand Hall of the local conservatory, they gave a concert in which Lutosławski performed his latest work, the Piano Sonata.
‘It just so happened that on the day our group arrived in Riga, a monographic Karol Szymanowski concert was taking place at the local theatre – he recalled years later – We couldn’t go to the concert, because we had to practise the concert programme before our performance, after a long and tiring journey. Nonetheless, we were invited to a reception at the Polish consulate in Riga in honour of Karol Szymanowski. When Artur Taube, our group’s minder, introduced me to Szymanowski, I heard the words: “Ah, so you’re the young man who accompanies my ‘Arethusa’ by heart”… I remember the entire stay in Riga as an extremely pleasant time. Szymanowski was enormously kind to our little group, came to our concert, we followed him around the city and went to Riga Radio, where he was recording his works with Wacław Niemczyk and his sister, Stanislava.