Saint Paul (Minnesota)
One of the most frequently performed of Witold Lutosławski’s works, and in the composer’s opinion one of the most important in his entire oeuvre, is Partita for violin and piano. It was first heard on 18 January 1985, when in the composer’s presence it was performed by Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug. At that time, Zukerman was leader of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, and it was that ensemble which had earlier approached Lutosławski about writing a work for violin and… well, exactly. At this point, Lutosławski and Zukerman offer different versions of the story.
The composer, relating the circumstances surrounding the composing of Partita, implied that he wrote it for its current forces essentially due to a misunderstanding, because the chamber orchestra had turned to him with a rather vague commission and he happened to be planning to compose a work for violin and orchestra. He had even made a number of sketches by the time it turned out that the Americans were really expecting him to write a duet for violin and piano, and not an orchestral work. So he reluctantly set aside the sketches he had started and, although it was not in his plans, set about writing a work for the anticipated duet, completing it in November 1984, around six weeks before the date fixed for the first performance.
Pinchas Zukerman, however, giving an interview on the subject of Partita, claimed: ‘We originally wanted him to write it with orchestra, but he didn’t finish the orchestration in time’.
And that is how it came about that a composition for a couple of soloists resulted from an orchestra’s commission.