Ritràtto began its life in 1979, as a chamber concerto of major proportions, assigned to the young Magnus Lindberg as his graduation composition project at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. It is scored for a large ensemble of eighteen musicians, comprising woodwinds, horns, percussion, piano, and strings. The first version was completed in 1980, and the score lay unperformed until 1982. At that point, with the offer of a concert in Milan, Lindberg set to work pruning the piece, reducing it from six movements and half an hour to a concentrated 13 minutes. It was completed and premiered in that form the following year.
Ritràtto means "portrait" in Italian, and the piece might be heard as portraying the early musical concerns of the young composer just starting his career. As befitting the concertante genre, the music treats every player as a virtuoso. There are flurries of notes and rhythms, usually distributed across at least a couple of independent layers. At the same time, as evidence of Lindberg's strong innate sense of dramatic form, there are clear gestures that shape the overall direction of the piece. At the centerpoint, after a passage featuring clarion calls from the horns, the music sweeps upward, the splashes of notes dispersing into silence. Tentatively, the music begins to wind up again, but this quiet moment of intensity is masterful.
Overall, Ritràtto is more florid than Lindberg's subsequent music. The extremity of gesture and violence of expression is present in this score, but much more latent than in Kraft, his first major composition to follow. The arabesques and rhythmic energy of this piece, though, mark a significant element of Lindberg's style that would remain with him throughout his career.