Since 1930, festivals of modern music have been held in Venice. Lutosławski’s name first appeared on the programme of the inaugural concert of the 22nd Festival Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea on 11 September 1959. The theatre orchestra of La Fenice under the baton of Nino Sanzogno performed Musique funèbre, and that was the first Italian performance of this work, completed barely a year before.
Two years later, the Chamber Orchestra of the Cracow Philharmonic was invited to the exceptionally long (three-week) 24th edition of the festival, moved to the spring. The orchestra’s director, Andrzej Markowski, wanted to give a few premiere performances for the festival audiences, and one of the composers he approached with a request for a new score was Lutosławski. Thus arose Jeux vénitiens, its title referring to the location of the first performance. The concert took place on 24 April 1961 atthe Teatro La Fenice, and it proved a memorable moment in the history of twentieth-century music: the moment when controlled aleatory technique was born.
Lutosławski employed that new technique again, in a much larger ensemble, comprising chorus and orchestra, in his new work, Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux, which he started writing on his return from Venice. The Trois poèmes were first performed in 1963 at the new music biennial in Zagreb, but they were also performed soon afterwards in Venice, as well, in the autumn of 1964, when the organisers returned to the traditional period for the festival. The composer conducted the chorus.
Danuta and Witold Lutosławski made their last trip to Venice for a pleasant private occasion. In June 1993, Anne-Sophie Mutter invited them there to help celebrate her thirtieth birthday.