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Mi-parti

image
orchestration: orchestra
  3(1picc)33(1clb)3, 4331, timp, batt(3), cel, ar, pf, archi
year composed: 1975-1976
awards: Nagroda Państwowa I Stopnia (1978)
about premiere
location: Amsterdam
date: 22 X 1976
orchestra: Concertgebouw Orchester
conductor: Witold Lutosławski
edition: PWM, Chester Music
listen

Mi-parti was composed in the years 1975-1976 on a city of Amsterdam commission for the orchestra Concertgebouw, which also gave its world premiere, first on October 22 in Rotterdam, 1976, and two days later in Amsterdam, both under the direction of the composer. Lutosławski has said that "The title Mi-parti (according to Quillet's Dictionary: ‘composé de deux parties égales mais différentes' - composed of two equal but non-identical parts) does not refer to the form of the piece, but rather to the manner of musical idea development. Here, the musical phrases are often made up of two sections, and the repetition of the second one includes a new element. The beginning module of the piece is based on a cycle of eight vertical 12-tone aggregates. In the course of the musical action's development this cycle advances upwards in semitone steps. The next module, characterized by increasing motion, leads to a climactic point. Its motion stops at an ‘icy' chord played pianissimo by brass instruments. Slowly, the ‘iciness' transforms itself into ‘warmth' with the gradual entrance of three solo violins. A cantilena of twelve violins ad libitum leads up the scale and stops at the note c unisono".

The composition is written in one movement, which is made up of successive segments, each built from a series of various phrases. Expositions of the phrases introduced by the bass clarinet and paired French horns, clarinets, oboes, and flutes, take up the first three segments. The three subsequent segments create a thickening sonic material by polyphonically exposing the musical material's variants shown heretofore in a guise that is more chamber-like than symphonic. Here, the sonic material grows to a symphonic tutti in fortissimo dynamics, relieved in a codal cantilena played by the strings and closed off with a final, 12-tone chord.

The music begins once, and then another time, to start developing at the third attempt. What strikes the listener in the three connected sections is a greater melodiousness of the line than before, as well as the euphony of the harmony. It seems that in this work in particular there develops in Lutosławski a nostalgia for creating a new melodiousness for the twentieth century's third quarter, a thought which will become more pronounced in his idea of ‘supple textures' applied in, for example, his Epitaph, as well as the almost Romanticizing portions of compositions such as the Symphony no. 3, Partita, and Symphony no. 4. What is interesting, though not unusual in Lutosławski's output, is that the orchestra is rather frequently divided into chamber-like groups, in which an often-used procedure is the combining of instruments that are treated in solo fashion into duos (as if ‘mi parti'...). The discussed composition also realizes the idea of bi-partite form with the first movement introducing three episodes that feature a special, well-exposed role of wind instruments; and the second movement, composed of three phases, being suffused with the vital force of textural changes based on a 12-tone series, after which "the motion stops on an ‘icy' chord of the wind instruments playing pianissimo". However, the entire work closes with a ‘warm' and remarkably beautiful sonority.

The composition, sometimes referred to as a ‘masterwork' and placed among Lutosławski's most prominent achievements, contains elements which would soon reveal themselves to be the beginning of new aesthetic qualities in his music from the 80s. Repeating the same figures but modifying them so as to contain the beginning of subsequent figures makes Lutosławski approach the development of his so-called ‘chain' technique. Marking off melodic motives from the harmonic background foreshadows the later crystallization of the so-called ‘supple textures' technique, from which dates Lutosławski's ‘rehabilitation' of the role of melody in a wish to turn it into one of his chief expressional means. Special attention in this composition, and particularly in the long coda that follows the climax, is called for by the euphonic sonority. The climactic point in Mi-parti occurs rather early in the context of Lutosławski's music as a whole - as early as in the two-thirds of its duration. In the soft gentleness of the coda (in the words of the composer: "warmth", as the opposite of "iciness") one can see a foreshadowing of the adagio and euphonic portions of works such as the Symphony no. 3 and no. 4, as well as the Partita.

ach / trans. mk