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One of the most important composers of the 20th century, Lutosławski developed a distinctive personal voice under severe constraints. As a child he witnessed the 1917 October Revolution in Moscow, as a result of which his father was arrested and executed; as an officer cadet in the Polish army, he survived capture by the Germans at the outbreak of World War II and life in occupied Warsaw; his Symphony No. 1 was labeled “formalist” and banned during the Stalin era. Through it all he kept working, assimilating influences ranging from Polish folk material to serialism and aleatory.
I composed Partita for violin and piano in the autumn of 1984 at the request of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug.
The work consists of five movements. Of these, the main movements are the first (Allegro giusto), the third (Largo) and the fifth (Presto). The second and fourth are but short interludes to be played ad libitum. A short ad libitum section also appears before the end of the last movement.
The three major movements follow, rhythmically at least, the tradition of pre-classical (18th-century) keyboard music. This, however, is no more than an allusion. Harmonically and melodically, Partita clearly belongs to the same group of my contemporaneous compositions as Symphony No. 3 and Chain 1.
Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug gave the first performance on January 18, 1985, at the Ordway Music Theatre, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
[The orchestral version (1988) was written for and dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter. She gave the first performance on January 10, 1990 in Munich with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer.]
– Witold Lutosławski