Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Partita (1993)

for orchestra

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1993
    • Duration: 17 mn
    • Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
    • Cycle: Symphonia : Sum Fluxae Pretiam Spei
Detailed formation
  • piccolo, 2 flutes (also 1 piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (also 1 Eb clarinet), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 4 percussionists, timpani, harp, piano, strings

Premiere information

  • Date: 17 February 1994

    États-Unis, Chicago, Symphony Hall


    l'Orchestre symphonique de Chicago, direction : Daniel Baremboïm.

Program note

During and after composing Partita, commissioned by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony, I kept wondering what its title should be, since my musical intention was to present the many changes and oppositions of mood that make up our experience of life. In general, my music seeks the awareness of motion we have in flying or driving of a car and not the plodding of horses or the marching of soldiers that pervades the motion patterns of older music. At the time I was reading poems of the English Jacobean poet Richard Crashaw, and was fascinated by his 157-line Latin poem Bulla (Bubble), which at one point personifies a floating bubble that has this to say:

Flos sum, scilicet, aëris,
Sidus scilicet aequoris;
Naturae jucus aureus,
Naturae vaga fabula,
Naturae breve somnium.
Nugarum decus et dolor;
Dulcis, doctaque vanitas.
Aurae filia perfidae;
Et risus facilis parens.
Sum Fluxae pretium spei;
         To be sure, I am the flower of air,
the star of the sea, as it were,
the golden wit of nature,
the rambling tale of nature,
the brief dream of nature,
the pride of trifles and grief,
sweet and learned aimlessness,
the golden daughter of treachery,
the mother of the quick smile;
I am the prize of flowering hope,

At first I thought of this last line as a title, but then decided on a more conventional one, Partita, which in modern Italian can mean ‘game,’ because like all games this piece adheres rather strictly to certain laid down rules within which it presents a large expanse of action and expression.

Elliott Carter.