A Mecca for ‘Lutosologists’ is Cathedral Square in Basle. Here, in the Paul Sacher Archive, Lutosławski sketches, manuscripts of works and correspondence have been held since 1990. Witold Lutosławski is the only Polish composer whose legacy has been deposited in the Basle archive, next to the manuscripts of Stravinsky, Bartók, Webern and other outstanding twentieth-century composers.
Lutosławski – unaware that his legacy would one day be kept here – can be pictured standing here for the first time in May 1968, when he was invited to deliver a lecture on a subject that was almost automatically associated with him: ‘The element of chance in composing’. The idea set out in the composer’s words was illustrated by Jeux vénitiens, which he then conducted in person for the first time. With composition students of Basle Music Academy, meanwhile, he participated in a seminar devoted to another issue that interested him a great deal at that time: ‘The possibilities for writing a large closed form’. In June 1970, when he was again invited to the Music Academy, he shared with the listeners his reflections on a work which he regarded as an important composition in his life, precisely on account of its form, namely Albert Roussel’s Third Symphony. On the list of his lectures, however, that was an exceptional theme.
Lutosławski travelled to Basle in 1970 for the annual World Music Days, which remained a special festival over the course of his enduring contacts with the International Society for Contemporary Music. A long-standing member of that society, he had led its Polish section and a year earlier had been made an honorary member. Yet his compositions had never previously been performed in festivals organised by the ISCM. During the post-war years, the works submitted by Poland had failed to receive the approval of the international jury that compiled the concert programmes. Since the fifties, Lutosławski had been a member of the jury, and so he had not put forward his scores. Consequently, the organisers of the festival in Basle included his String Quartet on the programme, availing themselves of a paragraph in the statute entitling the organisers to select several works not proposed by the national sections. In that way, Lutosławski’s music was heard in the World Music Days – after a delay of almost a quarter of a century.
Basle and Mulhouse airports
In the dim and distant past, before the age of smartphones or even computers, sending recordings of music quickly over a thousand kilometres – the distance between Warsaw and Basle – was only possible thanks to the kindness of an aeroplane crew. So in 1988 Krystian Zimerman’s wife sent recordings of successive parts of Lutosławski’s new piano concerto every day on an aeroplane flying to Warsaw, where the composer picked them up from the airport. That is how the pianist near Basle and the composer and conductor in Warsaw prepared for the work’s first performance in Salzburg.