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March 6, 2013

Framing Classics with Anne-Sophie Mutter

By Garrett Schumann

Solo recitals are special events for the performers and audience members. They are personal journeys through a selection of works, handpicked by the soloist to create the most meaningful experience possible. The music on a solo recital possesses reflective multiplicity: the soloists guide the audience through the string of works, shaping our understanding of the music.

The music, in the meantime, teaches the concertgoers something about the soloist, shaping the relationship that the concertgoer builds with the performer as well as influencing the concertgoer’s connection with the music.

Anne-Sophie Mutter’s March 14th performance in Ann Arbor is particularly illustrative of this phenomenon. At first glance, the evening’s program is quite conventional, but there is an important exception in Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita.

This work was written in 1984, which makes it the most recent piece on the recital’s program, by far. Seen listed alongside Mozart’s Sonata in G major for Violin and Piano, Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major and Saint-Saëns’ Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Partita may seem incongruous, but this is not the case for a couple of reasons.

In 1985, Lutoslwaski was so impressed by Ms. Mutter’s performance of his work Chain 2 that he re-composed Partita for Violin and Orchestra and dedicated this new version to her. Although Ms. Mutter is presenting Partita with its original instrumentation, her place in the history of the work remains important. Unlike the traditional works on the program, Partita is a direct window into Ms. Mutter’s musicality, because she was a friend of its creator.

Photo: Recording cover – Anne-Sophie Mutter and Witold Lutoslawski.

On the other hand, the Mozart, Schubert and Saint-Saëns works on the program relate to Ms. Mutter’s musical sensibility. Partita, however, is as much an interpretation of Ms. Mutter’s musicality, as her performance is a commentary of Lutoslawski’s composition. This is possible because she played a role in the origins of the piece, which can only happen when soloists, such as Ms. Mutter, program a piece written within their own lifetime by a composer whom they knew. The ‘reflective multiplicity’ of the program’s contents changes dramatically, thanks to the inclusion of Partita, and a new frame emerges through which the audience can relate to Ms. Mutter and her playing.

The classic works on the program adopt a role they would never enjoy on a typical recital. While normally functioning as vehicles for a soloist’s virtuosity or sensitivity, the pieces by Mozart, Schubert and Saint-Saëns come together to create a composite image of Ms. Mutter’s musical personality, which the audience will be able to compare with the representation of her wittingly or unwittingly inscribed into Partita, as a result of the friendship between Ms. Mutter and Lutoslawski.

This is a uniquely intimate opportunity for any concertgoer, and an admirably forthcoming programming choice on the part of Ms. Mutter.


Regarded by Michael Daugherty as 'one of the greatest conversationalists of all time', Garrett Schumann received his doctorate in music composition from the University of Michigan in May 2015. In addition to his activities as a composer, Garrett is an active tweeter (@garrt) and writes on musical topics for,, and, along with his own website, Garrett is a faculty member in the Music Theory Department at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.