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Lutoslawski: Partita for violin

and piano/orchestra(1984)

Composed for violin and piano in 1984 at the request of the Saint Paul
Chamber Orchestra.
Later re-scored for violin and orchestra in 1988 for the German violinist Anne
Sophie Mutter.

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)
 Lutoslawski was a Polish composer, born in 1913 during two-world wars

 His works are similar to that of Boulez (1925) and Ligeti (1923) yet perhaps offer a more player-friendly, textural sound.
His music constantly developed throughout his career, and his talents as a young composer became evident in his ability
to super-impose (layering chords) different levels of sonority suggesting orchestral-thinking. He claimed that he tried to
create a sense of ‘order’ in his very first compositions. ‘Perhaps not a tonal order, yet some kind of order’.

He went on to develop a personal twelve-tone style, deciding in 1956 to embrace the full chromaticism of twelve-note
harmony, organising 12 note chords into chord aggregates and interval classes. Most of the chords are extended triads. This
was a step away from conventional, tonal functions of harmony to more abstract forms. However this is not influenced by the
likes of Schoenberg's 12 tone technique, aside from the use of the chromatic whole. He claimed that: ‘Even if I used 12 tone
rows, the use always aims for entirely different effects’.

 Lutoslawski used particular chord aggregates – mainly four-note chords in
many of his works, for example the aggregate BKB features in both the final
of ‘chain 2’ and bar 203 of Partita:

Lutoslwaski’s late style (1979 onwards)

 His late style appears to contain a focus on ‘concertante’ works. This is

evident in the development of his works such as having a chamber piece
acting as an essay for a larger work to follow: In this case Partita for violin in
piano in 1984 was later re-scored for violin and orchestra.
 Lutoslawski expressed a need to move forwards in his compositional writing.
Refining his composition style and technique independent from trends, as
other composers at the time such as Penderecki, were reversing to
elements of neo-classicism and avant-garde techniques.

The Partita

A partita is a suite, typically for a solo instrument or chamber ensemble.

 They come far and few between in contemporary music, and may bring the mind to the Baroque era:

 “The name Partita, used by Bach with reference to some of his suite works, appears here to suggest a few
allusions to baroque music, for example at the beginning of the first movement, in the main theme of the Largo
and in the finale, which resembles a gigue” (Witold Lutosławski, 1988).

 Other composers embrace this abstract concept such as Alban Berg in his opera Wozzeck, using classical forms
to label the acts such as suite, Largo, and Invention, to give the listener a sense of order and regularity to an
atonal work.

He explains in the programme that the partita itself belongs to the same group of harmony and melody as heard in
his Symphony No.3 and Chain 1. This includes elements such as abrupt juxtapositions, seamless sounds, then
suddenly abrupt, then evaporating, then sudden again. I would describe the partita as a juxtaposition of violent and
tranquil, solemn thematic material.

Each main movement (1,3,5) has four stages.

 The work consists of five movements. the
main movements are all conventionally
 The First: Allegro giusto
 The third: Largo
 The fifth: Presto
The second and fourth movements are short interludes played
‘ad libitum’- meaning at ones pleasure. These interludes give
the listener an opportunity to relax the level of concentration,
thereby refreshing the ear and the mind for what is to follow.
There are no bar lines in both parts. This gives the work a
sense of expansion.

A short ‘ad libitum’ section also appears in between the last

movement ‘Presto’ acting as a kind of cadenza, showing off the
players virtuosity as the violinist plays oscillating
demisemiquavers: In this way it appears like a functional
concerto, with the cadenza leading up to a brilliant finale.

In the recordings, I have found that in particular the last

interlude, that it sounds as if two completely different melodic
lines are being heard at the same time. So both lines juxtapose
each other, which is what he intended.

 (Play ad libitum 4)
 In terms of harmony he uses a 12 note chord made up of super-imposed minor 3rds at the beginning
of stage 2 in the first and third movement ands provides the harmony for bars 13-21 of the final
movement, re-appearing in bars 35-9.

 In general his consistent use of vertical super-imposed minor thirds helps to make sense of the
points of tension in the music and the points that are not charged which evokes an essence similar to
functional harmony.
 He also uses the full chromaticism of twelve-note harmony, using close interval pairing of semitones
1 and tones throughout the melody of the work.
Challenges of the performer:
Each Ad Libitum Interlude is instructed that ‘the violin and
piano parts should not be co-ordinated in any way.’

It is a challenge for both performers to interpret this.

This means that it requires a strong amount of

communication and awareness between the solo part and the
accompaniment especially the 4. Ad Libitum before the Presto
as the violinist is required to wait ‘after the pianist has
reached ff.’

So it is difficult to listen and be aware of the general action

whilst playing such technically difficult music, as it proceeds
without a break into the Presto. Both performers need to
know when to take the lead, and where to receive it, which
requires a high level of communication., so they can finish
each interlude at the same time.

Challenges of the performer:

 It is also a challenge to find a sense of calm amidst the storm within each
interlude as they provide such a contrast to the chaotic main movements.
(provide example of ad libitum 4)

I would say one of the main challenges of these interludes would be for a
classical performer who is used to aligning everything to be able to let go to
the sense of regular pulse and metre. It is a challenge as it is so often
reinforced in classical training to be able to play with a rhythmic sense of pulse
and direction. So in a way it is difficult to not play together with the piano, it
involves trusting to let go of that instinct to play together.

Challenges of the performer:

It is also a challenge for the violinist to be aware that the violin part often
completes the polytonal harmonic texture from the piano: Example: figure 25-
completing the harmony of the diminished seventh chord:

Technical challenges:

 1) Difficult to articulate the the different variants of the 3 note-cell theme pervading the work:
Quiet and scurrying Slow and lyrical Fast and motoric

Technical challenges:
 Micro-intervals –challenging to re-position the finger as small as possible
without producing a sound like a glissando
 Can also be heard in Ligeti’s violin concerto as part of the overtone series

Technical challenges:

 Immediate switches of character (bars 45-48)

 Being able to play flautando glissando marked piano, to a subito forte
dotted rhythm at the heel of the bow.

Technical challenges:

Technical challenges:

Technical challenges:

Comparisons with other works: Symphony No.3 (1983)
Same concept of the three-note triplet pairing of
adjacent semitones, same technique of close
semitone/tone interval pairing used throughout the
violin part in Partita.

 This adjacent semitone pattern is also reminiscent

of Bartok’s music, notably in his 4th string quartet:

Comparisons with other works: Symphony No.3 (1983)
 He applies the concept of anti-climactic harmony, which moves beyond a highpoint, attempting a climax rather
than achieving it. This is in order to reach, or transition into new significant material: (fades out)

Comparisons with other works: Symphony No.3 (1983)
This concept of anti-climactic harmony also
corresponds with sections of Partita: in bars
99-103 of Allegro Giusto the listener may think
we’ve reached the destination with the
repeated B in high register fortissimo
dynamic. Yet Lutoslowski carefully manages
this stage to ensure otherwise: A whole bars
rest interrupts the momentum of the
semiquavers and a listener familiar with his
music might expect to hear a 12 note chord
aggregate played fortissimo, however the
chord aggregate (BKB) quietly fades, ending
with a pianissimo arpeggiated diminished 7th
chord complimented by the remaining 4
notes on the violin.

Comparisons with other works: Chain 1 and 2

Lutosławski provided the following explanation of his concept of Chain form in a note provided for
the première of Chain 1 in 1983:
‘In a work composed in chain-form the music is divided into two strands. Particular sections do not
begin at the same moment in each strand, nor do they end together. In other words, in the middle of
a section in one strand a new section begins in another.’
Basically chain is a technique designed to achieve formal continuity, phrases of music are
overlapped. In chain 2 the solo part begins and ends when successive ‘lines’ of the orchestra have
already begun.
He explains in the programme notes of chain 1 that the ad libitum sections are not to be conducted-
all the rhythmic values are approximate – This concept would have applied to the ad Libitum
interludes in Partita.

1 The music of Lutoslawski: page 110

‘Even the minutest detail should satisfy the
composer’s sensitivity to the maximum
degree…there should be no indifferent
sounds in music’.

This quote by Lutoslawski resonates well with


1. The music of Lutoslawski
Author: Charles Bodman Rae
Publisher: Omnibus Press
Year of publication: 1999
2. Score: Witold Lutoslawski, Partita for violin and piano.
Publisher: Chester music
3. Recordings:
 Lutoslawski: chain 2-Partita-Stawinsky: violinkonzert- Anne Sophie Mutter-
BBC Symphony orchestra- Paul Sacher – 1988
 Mozart, Faure, Prokofiev, Lutoslawski – Marianne Thorsen, violin.
Havard Gimse, piano.
4. Symphony no.3 score: