(born 1913 in Warsaw; died 1994 in Warsaw)

Partita (1984)

1. Allegro giusto
2. Ad libitum
3. Largo
4. Ad libitum
5. Presto

Partita by Lutosławski is a masterpiece for violin and piano. It contains everything one can imagine in a deeply-moving musical work: the life within this music is so powerful that both to play it and to listen to it is an overwhelming experience.

Lutosławski composed Partita in 1984 on a commission from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on behalf of its then Music Director, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and pianist Marc Neikrug. The composer himself commented that it "belongs with my most important compositions." Partita was originally intended as a double concerto for violin and piano with orchestra but, because of time constraints, it was completed in its current version. The work was premiered in January 1985 in St. Paul, Minnesota by the Zukerman/Neikrug duo and quickly became a staple work of the contemporary genre. It was further popularized when the composer made a version for violin and orchestra at the request of Anne Sophie Mutter in 1988.

Trained both as a pianist and violinist, Lutosławski had a musical education that was greatly challenged by the political situation in his country. For some years, particularly between 1949 and 1955, it was not possible to present his experimental compositional works to the public but after 1956, he succeeded in incorporating such non-traditional techniques as harmonic aggregates, and aleatoric writing in his string quartet, Symphony No. 2, Trois poemes d'Henri Michaux and Livre pour Orchestre. In the remaining 14 years of his life, Lutosławski's style began to look more to the past and he incorporated more classical elements within his experimental techniques.

In the 1980s he composed Partita and two other works for the violin, an instrument he had not written for in over 30 years. At the time of his death in 1994, he was working on yet another major work for the instrument, a Violin Concerto.

Partita is in three main parts tied together by two semi-improvisatory ad libitum sections written in the aleatory technique. There are no remarkable gaps in between the portions. Throughout the entire work, passion and drama preside, and the uses of half- step motions outside a tonal context, repeated notes, and cross rhythms abound. However, the result is not a heavy cluster of sounds, atonal chords, and rhythmic confusion but fabulously independent lines that meet and part with both conviction and sensitivity.

The Allegro giusto opens with an irresistible sense of momentum, and both the piano and the violin set the tone for the mostly urgent character. Interspersed within the movement are haunting moments of song and poignant mystery, partially conveyed with uses of intentional non vibrato, glissandi, and quarter-tones.

The Ad libitum that connects the Allegro giusto and the Largo is the second movement. Here, like the other ad libitum sections recurring later in the piece, is a fine example of an aleatoric passage, where the composer has specifically instructed the players that the "violin and piano parts should not be coordinated in any way." As such, the performers each execute their parts as if playing an improvisatory cadenza. The intensity of the music continues to heighten, only to climax at the beginning of the Largo.

The emotional core of the work is indeed in this Largo movement; the inner strength of the music continues to grow while there is an added sense of the inevitable, which perhaps resembles the dynamic force of life. Another Ad libitum follows the Largo, preparing the way for the last movement where rhythmic irregularities create inner jauntiness and energy. The short middle section, which is reminiscent of Szymanowski's violin music, has memorable set of harmonics on the violin, as well as the simmering sound color of the cantabile played at the highest possible register. The final Ad libitum immediately precedes the coda section of the movement, which propels the work to a spectacular ending.

(August 2004)
  Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.