There's a solid tradition in the history of Western music of turning the theme of Nicolo Paganini's 24th Caprice for soloviolin into a set of variations endemic to the time and style of each individual composer; Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninov and Lutoslawsky being the most prominent names.
When asked by David Starobin to write a concerto for him, I though "well, why not have a go at it?" - bearing in mind, that not only is Paganini the most celebrated violin-wizard of all times, but he was also a more than accomplished guitarist.
There are 22 variations in all, numbers 1 to 16 all adhering strictly to the 16-bar pattern, laid down by Paganini himself. From variation 17 though, the writing becomes more symphonic and the rigid 16-bar regime is not strictly followed any more.
However, the last variation 'Finale Prestisimo' is a 6 x 16 bars "white-knuckle ride", in which the hitherto soloistic role of the guitar gives way to that of 'primus interpares', i.e. 'first among equals'.
As with another set of variations of mine Concerto on Pieces (based on a tune by Purcell), the nature and shape of the Pagannini-Variations may be compared to a stroll through a hall of mirrors: the "portrait" - the theme is gradually being distorted out of all recognition - but it's still the same "original" walking by.
- Poul Ruders, June 2000