Włodzimierz Kotoński

From Unearthing The Music

Włodzimierz Kotoński, photo: Andrzej Zborski / Fotonova / East News

Włodzimierz Kotoński was a composer and teacher and pioneer of electronic music in Poland. Born in Warsaw on 23rd August 1925. Died on 4th September 2014.

Composition studies: from Rytel to Darmstadt

Kotoński studied composition at the Warsaw National Higher School of Music (nowadays the Academy of Music) in the class of Piotr Rytel in 1945-51 and, by a private arrangement, with Tadeusz Szeligowski in 1950-51. He also learned the piano from M. Klimont-Jacynowa. In the 1950s Kotoński conducted research on Polish folk music at the National Institute of Art, and presented the findings in his book Góralski i zbójnicki (PWM, Krakow 1956). In 1957-61 Kotoński took part in the International Summer School of New Music in Darmstadt, and it was at that time that he embarked upon experimenting with electronic sound transformation. His search for a new sound resulted in Poland's first-ever electronic composition, Etiuda konkretna (na jedno uderzenie w talerz) (The Concrete Etude (for one strike of the cymbals)).

I belonged to a group of young people immune to seduction of socialist realism – said Włodzimierz Kotoński during the Polish National Radio 2 programme – Yet, I have to admit that as a young man, I wrote a few pieces with folklore rhythms but these were nothing more than my first exercises in instrumentation. From the very beginning I was thinking about more complex music, with unhampered rhythms. I went abroad for the first time to the Luzern Festival, where there was almost no contemporary music but we met Arthur Rubinstein and convinced him to come to Poland. At first he was rather reluctant but once he heard about the ‘Polish Thaw’ and once we assured him that he would not get arrested or booed he came in 1958.

Pioneer of the electronic music

A classic of electroacoustic music, Kotoński was the first contributor to the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio. Established in 1957, the Studio was a major world center of tape-recorded music. Kotoński was the first person in Poland to compose an autonomous work for tape, the Concrete Etude (for one strike of the cymbals). This 2 minutes and 41 seconds long composition was based on a recording of a single strike of a soft stick against a medium-sized cymbal. The sound, selected from a number of similar recordings, was subjected to complex transformations. The resulting extensive material was used to create a work whose every element had a carefully planned structure. Kotoński's Etude was one of the purest examples of concrete music - the art looking for new means of expression and adopting the latest developments in electroacoustics for artistic purposes. Etude was first performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1960, to be later repeated at a number of events in Poland and abroad. It has also made it to the textbooks, where Kotoński is named as one of Poland's top creators of the new music. Kotoński has composed many other works for tape as well as has used either pre-recorded or live electronic sounds in compositions for traditional instruments.

Since 1958 Kotoński has contributed regularly to the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio. He has also worked in other centers of electronic music, including the studio of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne in 1966-67, Groupe de Recherches Musicales ORTF in Paris in 1970, the studio of Sudwestfunk Baden-Baden in Freiburg (SWF) in 1979, Stiftelsen Elektroakustik Musik i Sverige in Stockholm (EMS) in 1984, and Groupe de Musique Experimentale de Bourges (GMEB) in 1986. In 1970-71 Kotoński was a scholar at Berlin's Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst.

Educator and editor

Since 1967 Kotoński has lectured composition at the Warsaw Academy of Music as an associated professor since 1972 and professor since 1983. He is also in charge of the Academy's Electronic Music Studio. Kotoński's composition students have included Paweł Szymanski, Hanna Kulenty, Stanisław Krupowicz, Tadeusz Wielecki, Edward Sielicki and Jacek Grudzien. As a visiting professor, Kotoński lectured on composition and electronic music at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Music in 1971, the State University of New York in Buffalo in 1978, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1982, Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1990, and in Seoul in 1994-95. In 1974-76 Kotoński was the Head Music Editor of the Polish Radio and the Head Music Director of the Polish Radio and Television. In 1983 he was appointed President of the Polish Society of Contemporary Music, the Polish section of ISCM/SIMC, a post he held until 1989.

Włodzimierz Kotoński, photo source:

Kotoński is the holder of the Minister of Culture and Art's award (1973), the Union of Polish Composers' award (1976) and the Chairman of Radio and Television Committee's award (1979). In 1963 came out his book Instrumenty perkusyjne we wspolczesnej orkiestrze (Percussion Instruments in a Modern Orchestra, PWM, Krakow 1963), 2nd edition - 1981; Hungarian translation A modern zenekar utohangszerei, Zenemukiado, Budapest 1967; German translation Slaginstrumente im modernen Orchester, Schott, Mainz 1968). Kotoński's Muzyka elektroniczna (Electronic Music) and Leksykon współczesnej perkusji / A Lexicon of Modern Percussion were published by PWM, Krakow, in 1989 and 1999, respectively.

Włodzimierz Kotoński composed film scores for animated films and documentaries, including masterpieces such as Walerian Borowczyk‘s Dom and Jan Lenica’s Maze.

Major works:

  • Poemat, for orchestra (1949)
  • Tańce góralskie, for orchestra (1950)
  • Quartettino, four for horns (1950)
  • Preludium i passacaglia, for orchestra (1953)
  • Sześć miniatur, for clarinet and piano (1957)
  • Muzyka kameralna, for 21 instruments and percussion (1958)
  • Musique en relief, for 6 orchestral groups (1959)
  • The Concrete Etude (for one strike of the cymbals), (1959)
  • Trio, for flute, guitar and percussion (1960)
  • Concerto per quattro, for harp, harpsichord, guitar, piano and chamber orchestra(1960)
  • Canto per complesso da camera (1961)
  • Selection I, for 4-member jazz combo (1962)
  • Pezzo per flauto e pianoforte (1962)
  • Musica per fiati e timpani (1963)
  • Mikrostruktury, for tape (1963)
  • Monochromia, for oboe (1964)
  • Kwintet, for the winds (1964)
  • Concerto per quattro [version II] for harp, harpsichord, guitar, piano and chamber orchestra (1965)
  • A battere, for guitar, viola, harpsichord and percussion (1966)
  • Pour quatre, for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano (1968)
  • Muzyka na 16 talerzy i smyczki (1969)
  • AELA, electronic music (1970)
  • Multiplay, for 6 brass instruments (1971)
  • Concerto per oboe, for oboe, 6 brass instruments and orchestra (1972)
  • Promenada I, for four performsers (1973)
  • Promenada II, for 3 sythesizers, clarinet, trombone and cello(1973)
  • Harfa Eola, for soprano and four instrumentalists (1973)
  • Musical Games for wind quintet (1973)
  • Róża wiatrów, for orchestra (1976)
  • Muzyka wiosenna na for flute, oboe, violin and sythesizer (1978)
  • Pełnia lata for clarinet, piano, cello and electronic sounds (1979)
  • Bora for orchestra (1979)
  • Sirocco for orchestra (1980)
  • Pieśń jesienna for harpsichord and tape (1981)
  • Terra incognita for orchestra (1984)
  • Sceny liryczne for 9 instruments (1986)
  • Tlaloc for harpsichord and purcussion (1986)
  • Ptaki, for clarinet, cello and piano (1988)
  • Cadenze e arie for guitar solo (1988)
  • Antiphonae for tape (1989)
  • Bucolica (Morton Feldman in memoriam) for flute solo (1989)
  • Trzy etiudy rytmiczne for piano (1990)
  • La gioia for string orchestra and 9 string instruments (1991)
  • Tierra caliente for tape (1992)
  • Motu proprio for basoon and tape (1992)
  • Sonant fir quartet trombone (1992)
  • 7 Haiku for female voice and 5 instruments (1993)
  • Koncert for electric guitars and instrumental ensemble (1993)
  • Podróż zimowa for flute, oboe, clarinet, harpsichord, violin, cello and tape (1995)
  • Symfonia nr 1 (1995)
  • Mijikayo for Japanese instruments ensemble (1996)
  • Speculum vitae for tape and orchestra (1996)
  • Koncert for violin and orchestra (1996)
  • Trzy pieśni niemieckie for bariton and guitar (1997)
  • Trzy pieśni for baritone and guitar (1997)
  • Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for amplified harpsichord and guitar(1998)
  • Sekstet for wind quintet and piano (1998)
  • Zmienne struktury for claritnet, trombone, piano and cello(2000)
  • Symfonia nr 2 (2001)
  • Kwartet smyczkowy nr 1 (2002)
  • Wilanowskie pejzaże for string quartet and flute (2002)
  • Concerto per clarinetto e orchestra (2002-2003)
  • Madrygały polskie for soprano and old instruments (2004)
  • Symfonia nr 3 'Góry' for choir and orchestra (2005-2006)