Mi-parti for orchestra
orchestra of the Concertgebouw is one of the best in the world, specializing in
performances of French music, especially that of 20th-century
classics including Debussy and Ravel. ln response to a request sent by the
orchestra to Lutosławski in the 1970s, the composer wrote Mi-parti, a
piece that draws on this repertoire with its “soft”, euphonic sound, and can
very much equal it in sonic sophistication.
The composer could not find a title for his new work for quite a long time. Browsing through a French-language dictionary, he eventually came across the term mi-parti. It denotes a whole comprising two equal but not identical parts. Lutosławski’s explanation of the connection between the title and his music was rather convoluted and not very convincing. We should probably assume that this connection, if it does exist, is of no great significance. What is certain is that the title is not a good description of the form of the piece – for it consists not of two but of three parts.
The first part is an introduction. Against a background of changing chords in the strings, winds weave capricious melodies. Individual lines overlap, creating after a while a dense weave. Thus there emerge three episodes comprising this part. Each successive episode is shorter than the preceding one, and the order in which the “voices” of wind instruments emerge undergoes regular changes. Toward the end of the third episode, tension unexpectedly rises – then the second part begins. It is filled with a lively dialogue between various instrument groups. Successive lines in this dialogue overlap, in accordance with the composer’s “chain principle”: the second begins before the first ends, the third before the end of the second, and so on. Partners in this conversation “interrupt each other in mid-sentence”.
Intricate playing leads to a climactic chord of all twelve notes by the entire orchestra. Immediately after that, the movement of sounds stops, immobilized by the “icy” sound of wind instruments, to use the composer’s term, which is maintained for quite some time, leading to the third part. The main role in it is played by a group of twelve solo violins, spinning a lyrical, complex melody against a background of interventions by selected instrument groups: three oboes with bells, three flutes with vibraphone or glockenspiel, tympani with celesta and harp. The melody climbs higher and higher, reaching the highest note in the last bar of the piece. Once again, Lutosławski’s music reaches the height of lyricism.