Britten’s final, brief composition for Rostropovich came about as a result of their mutual friendship with the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. The links between the three musicians intensified in the early 1970s when both Britten and Sacher were deeply concerned for Rostropovich’s plight in the wake of his support for Solzhenitsyn, at a time when it was hoped that the cellist would be permitted to continue to give performances of Britten’s cello music in both the UK and Switzerland. Sacher celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1976, and to mark the occasion Rostropovich asked Britten to write Tema ‘Sacher’
, a theme based on the letters of the conductor’s surname which could be used as a basis for a set of variations to be contributed by a roster of distinguished contemporary composers. (This project did not come to fruition as Rostropovich had intended: the composers concerned wrote independent pieces rather than variations, though they also based them on on the musical spelling of Sacher’s surname.) Rostropovich premiered Britten’s little theme in Zurich on 2 May 1976, just seven months before its composer’s untimely death.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013