Partita for orchestra was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestral Association and completed in December 2000 at Token Creek, Wisconsin. The initial conception as a concerto for orchestra is still traceable as an exceptional focus on various choirs within the ensemble. As the piece progressed the present shape attracted me more; a merging or collision of two baroque types in each movement. These encounters seem to me to make their ancient impulses very contemporary.
The initial Praeludium begins formally, in a ceremonial way, but embedded within it, eventually impregnating it, a wayward, improvisatory Fantasia.
The second movement is the simplest; the Ritornello or Rondo seemingly unvaried (actually elaborately recast each time) alternates with the Capriccio ideas, each a kind of game (partita).
The Aria seems to be about the difficulty of singing. It manages short flights, with large breathing spaces, until taken over by the severe gravity of the Sarabande.
The final movement is the most elaborate. The Courante begins, played by a low orchestra. A third of the way through, a high orchestra enters with the Gigue, which turns out to be the Courante played a third faster (which is a lot) and an octave higher. At the end of the piece the Gigue has caught up.
Actions like these, which I find irrestible, like the soccer games I used to play (and now watch), live uncomfortably in the sober terrain of the Concerto for Orchestra, territory so grandly inhabited already (no arena for the seductive loft of a corner kick).
— John Harbison