According to Witold Lutosławski, his musical imagination derived chiefly from the symphonies of two of the Viennese Classics: Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. In Haydn’s symphonies, he considered the relations between the successive movements as exemplary, whilst in the symphonies of Beethoven he admired the ‘subtle ways in which the listener is led in a particular direction before some slight change is introduced, after which it turns out that we are heading in a completely different direction’.
He had a different attitude towards the ‘second Vienna school’, accusing it of turning its back on the listener and replacing ‘playing’ with its expectations with dogmas based on theoretical tenets. In actual fact, Arnold Schönberg became a rival to Lutosławski during his first contact with Viennese musicians. In 1956, at the festival of new music that would soon come to be known as the Warsaw Autumn, the Wiener Symphoniker performed Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra. The Symphoniker was conducted by Michael Gielen and the piano part was played by Alfred Brendel. The interpretation was far from perfect, but in any case the audience listened to the familiar work by its compatriot with only moderate interest, since the sensation of the programme was Schönberg’s Piano Concerto, not previously heard in Poland.
The Concerto for Orchestra fared much better in Vienna itself seven years later, when a recording of the work was submitted by Danish Radio to a competition organised by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The composition and the recording were so highly regarded that they were given the main prize.
In 1973, the Wiener Symphoniker invited Lutosławski to a concert, in which he made his conducting debut in that city. Three years later, he again appeared at the Wiener Konzerthaus, which was just ten months younger than the composer, opened in the year of his birth (1913). On the evening of Thursday 8 April 1976, the audience included Krzysztof Meyer, who observed with considerable mirth the reactions of the music lover sitting next to him. The Viennese concert-goer listened to Jeux vénitiens and the Cello Concerto, in an excellent interpretation by Heinrich Schiff, with distinct interest and also satisfaction, as he did not fail to inform Meyer, but he could not understand why the composer, conducting those works, had not prepared for the concert and every so often put down his baton leaving the orchestra to its own devices. As one can easily surmise, that happened in the aleatory episodes, which were unfamiliar and incomprehensible to Konzerthaus patrons.
During the eighties, Lutosławski conducted concerts of his music in Vienna on three occasions, but with the radio orchestra.