The present paper surveys the history of the Warsaw Autumn festival focusing on changes in the Festival programming. I discuss the circumstances of organising a cyclic contemporary music festival of international status in Poland. I point out the relations between programming policies and the current political situation, which in the early years of the Festival forced organisers to maintain balance between Western and Soviet music as well as the music from the so-called “people’s democracies” (i.e. the Soviet bloc). Initial strong emphasis on the presentation of 20th-century classics was gradually replaced by an attempt to reflect different tendencies and new phenomena, also those combining music with other arts. Despite changes and adjustments in the programming policy, the central aim of the Festival’s founders – that of presenting contemporary music in all its diversity, without overdue emphasis on any particular trend – has consistently been pursued. The idea of introducing leitmotifs, different for each Festival edition (such as: music involving human voice, mainly electronic, etc.) – is not inconsistent with this general aim since the selected works represent different aesthetics, and the “main theme” is not the only topic of any given edition of the Warsaw Autumn.