He earned many international awards and prizes. His compositions include four symphonies, a Concerto for Orchestra, a string quartet, several instrumental concertos and orchestral song cycles.
During his youth, Lutosławski studied piano and composition in Warsaw. His early works were influenced by Polish folk music. His style demonstrates a wide range of rich atmospheric textures. He began to develop his own characteristic composition techniques in the late 1950s. His music from this period onwards incorporates his own methods of building harmonies from small groups of musical intervals. It also uses aleatoric processes, in which the rhythmic coordination of parts is subject to an element of chance.
During World War II, after escaping German capture, Lutosławski made a living by playing the piano in Warsaw bars. After the war, Stalinist authorities banned his First Symphony for being "formalist"—allegedly accessible only to an elite. Lutosławski believed such anti-formalism was an unjustified retrograde step, and he resolutely strove to maintain his artistic integrity. In the 1980s, Lutosławski gave artistic support to the Solidarity movement. Near the end of his life, he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour.