Krzysztof Penderecki, Poland's foremost living composer, was born in Debica on November 23, 1933. Music was not particularly emphasized during his childhood and his parents had no intention of making him a musician: it is altogether possible that this very absence of early indoctrination was a factor in creating the exploratory inventiveness, utterly uninhibited by traditional concepts, that established Penderecki by the time he was thirty as unmistakably unique and unarguably one of the most significant creative forces in the music of his time.
When the seventeen-year-old Penderecki went to Cracow to complete his education, music was still more or less a hobby; his "serious" interests were art, literature and philosophy. His hobby was important enough to him, however, to lead him to teach himself to play the violin, and soon he was composing pieces for himself—some in the virtuoso style 1 Paganini, others in the style of Bach. He developed a particular interest in the pre-Bach masters of polyphony, tried his own hand at polyphonic writing, and finally acknowledged the seriousness of his involvement by taking private lessons in composition. Before he turned twenty-one he decided on a career as a composer and enrolled in the Superior School of Music in Cracow, from which he was graduated with distinction in 1958. The following year he rose to prominence virtually overnight when he entered three different works (anonymously) in the competition of the Youth Circle of the Association of Polish Composers and walked off with the three top prizes.
One of those prize-winning compositions was the Emanations for string orchestras recorded here. The other two were the Strophes for soprano, narrator and ten instruments and Psalms of David for mixed chorus and percussion. All three works displayed some of the characteristics the composer was to develop more extensively in his later music; like the later works, none of these could have been written by anyone else.
The Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, scored for fifty-two strings, probably Penderecki's most frequently performed work, was composed in 1960 as a memorial gesture on the fifteenth anniversary of the first use of the atomic bomb and was premiered in Warsaw on May 31 of the following year as part of the first-prize award in a competition sponsored by the Polish Radio. Later in 1961 it earned the composer another award, from UNESCO's International Rostrum of Composers. The St. Luke Passion, generally regarded as Penderecki's masterpiece, was begun two years later on commission from the West German Radio in Cologne to celebrate the seven-hundredth anniversary of the Münster Cathedral, in which it was first performed on March 30, 1966.
Among Penderecki's major works since the Passion are the Dies Irae, or Auschwitz Oratorio, composed and premiered early in 1967, the music drama The Devils of Loudun, after John Whiting's dramatization of the Aldous Huxley book, premiered in Hamburg in June 1969, Utrenja ("The Entombment of Christ") for soloists, choruses and percussion, first performed in the Altenberg Cathedral April 8, 1970, Kosmogonia for soloists, chorus and orchestra (using texts ranging from the ancient Greeks to Galileo to American and Soviet space flyers), commissioned by the United Nations and premiered at the UN October 24, 1970, and the Easter oratorio The Resurrection of Christ, given at the Altenberg Cathedral on May 28, 1971.
While he has written some music for electronic instruments, Penderecki has in the main relied on unconventional use of conventional instruments (including the human voice) to achieve his unusual and striking effects. He has shown a marked fascination with the extreme tonal ranges of voices and instruments, and there are aleatoric sections in several of his works. Shouting, hooting, hissing, bowing on the rim of a cymbal and other unorthodox devices are by now familiar parts of Penderecki's musical vocabulary, generally used to underscore the intensity of feeling in works "about" something—and all of his music, in one way or another, whether vocal or instrumental, sacred or secular, seems to deal passionately with the human condition.
Much of his music deals directly with some of the most poignant and horrendous actual events in the story of man —Hiroshima, Auschwitz, the outrage of Inquisition and autoda-fe—while such a work as Kosmogonia celebrates man's loftier aspirations. Penderecki maintains that neither religious nor political feelings have been important considerations in his work, citing broader moral and philosophical concepts. "I am a Catholic, but membership in a given church is not really the point," he said a few years ago. "It's rather that I am very much concerned with these topics . . . in an essentially moral and social way, not in either a political or a sectarian religious way." His success in communicating that concern is reflected in Bernard Jacobson's observation that "Penderecki uses his chosen methods to produce drama of an intensity and a human impact unmatched by any other composer alive."
During the last few years Penderecki has become a regular visitor to the United States, where his works have been performed by virtually every major orchestra. The Devils of Loudun was given brilliantly at Santa Fe in 1970 and several of his recent works have been premiered in this country. In the fall of 1972 he began teaching at the Yale University School of Music. Shortly before his arrival at Yale, he made his conducting debut in Europe, beginning a new and obviously important phase of his career.
The six works on this record constitute examples of Penderecki's writing in various forms, spanning the period 1958-1965. All six are markedly unorthodox in both structure and content, but just as markedly typical of their composer. The earliest is Emanations, for two string orchestras, already mentioned here as one of the three compositions with which Penderecki won the top prizes in the young composers' competition of 1959. The two string groups (the instruments in the second of which are tuned a minor second higher) are pitted against each other in a strenuous contest involving such techniques as high-speed non-rhythmic tremolo, hammer effect without use of the bow, and slides to produce tone fluctuation of a third of a tone. The work was composed in 1958 and dedicated to Tadeusz Ochlewski, perhaps the most productive musical activist in Poland in recent times and the founder of the Polskie Wydawnicto Muzyczne (Polish Musical Publication) in Cracow, the country's most significant institution for the publication of music and its literature.
The Three Miniatures for violin and piano, produced in 1959, are based on verses from the cycle Of the Genealogy of Instruments, by the Polish poet Jerzy Harasymowicz. The first section, Okaryna, celebrated the homely "sweet potato." The second, Basetla, depicts the small string bass popular in dance bands. The final section, Skrzypce, is about the violin itself. Although the entire sequence is performed in less than five minutes, it parades an astonishing assortment of effects: There is exaggerated vibrato—both excessively wide and tightly controlled—and a similar range of extremes in slow and fast trills; there is some playing behind the bridge, and the pianist is called upon, in the last five bars, to pluck the wires of his own instrument. The most unusual effect is called for in the second section, in which the pianist depresses the sustaining pedal (without striking a key) while the violinist leans into the open piano to play loud, percussive notes—exciting vibrations from the piano wires on a principle similar to that of the Aeolian harp or the "sympathetic" strings of the viola d'amore.
The String Quartet No. 1, composed in 1960 and first performed by the La Salle Quartet in Cincinnati on May 11, 1962, is a tightknit but serene work in a single brief movement. The score, unconventional in its notation, bears the note: "The tempo is determined by the duration of individual one-second sections. Deviations from this tempo within the limits from 0.8" to 1.4" for each section are admissible, depending on the first violinist's choice." Special symbols indicate instructions to play on the tailpiece of the instrument, to play between the bridge and tailpiece, to strike the sounding-board with the bow-handle or fingertips, to reach for the instrument's highest note (indefinite pitch), strike the strings with the open palm or fingers, and to produce various other effects.
The Stabat Mater for three sixteen-part choruses a cappella was originally composed in 1961, but has enjoyed a double life for the last several years, for Penderecki incorporated it into his St. Luke Passion (near the end of Part II) and, while it fits seamlessly into the larger work, it continues to be performed independently as well. Penderecki did not set the entire text of the familiar thirteenth-century poem, but selected from it the lines which might be said to depict the bereavement of the Mother in the most personal and poignant terms. Words are broken into syllables which are distributed in turn to each of the three choruses, and there is something like majesty in the way silences are used to project the starkness of the scene.
Reversing the procedure just described, the Miserere was composed originally as part of the St. Luke Passion (near the end of Part I in the sequence) and published on its own some time later (1967). It is scored for boys' choir and three adult choruses a cappella.
The Sonata for Cello and Orchestra, a serial work in two movements, was composed in 1964 and dedicated to Siegfried Palm, the young German cellist who has identified himself particularly with avant-garde music. It is a display-piece in a new context, to be approached only by the most secure and most avant of pyrotechnists—an exhaustive exposition of imaginative challenges for the soloist and, indeed, for the instrument itself.
Notes by Richard Freed
Credits & Track List:
- "Emanationen," for 2 String Orchestras — 7:50 Min.
Miniatures for Violin and Piano (1959) — 4:52
- String Quartet (1960) — 6:59 Min.
(Harold Kohon, 1st Violin; Isidora Kohon, 2nd Violin; Eugenie Dengel, Viola; W. Ted Hoyle, Cello)
- Stabat Mater — 7:49 Min.
Sonata for Cello and Orchestra — 10:35 Min.
Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg Alois Springer, Conductor
- Miserere — 3:33 Min.
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Other Recordings of Music by Penderecki:
- Penderecki: Orchestral Works
- Penderecki: Orchestral Works
- Threnody to the Victims of Horoshima etc
- Penderecki, K.: St. Luke Passion (Klosinska, Kruszewski, Tesarowicz, Kolberger, Warsaw National Philharmonic, Wit)
- Penderecki, K.: Utrenja (Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)
- Penderecki: Symphony No. 3 / Threnody
- Penderecki: Symphony No. 8 / Dies Irae / Aus Den Psalmen Davids
- Penderecki, K.: Polish Requiem (A) (Klosinska, Rappe, Minkiewicz, Nowacki, Warsaw National Philharmonic, Wit)
- Penderecki: Seven Gates Of Jerusalem, 'Symphony No. 7'
- Penderecki: Polish Requiem (A) / Przebudzenie Jakuba (The Awakening Of Jacob)
- Penderecki: Symphony No.2, Te Deum & Magnificat
- Penderecki, K.: Symphony No. 7
- Penderecki, K.: Credo
- Penderecki : Symphony No.2/Te Deum/Magnificat etc
- Polish String Quartets: Penderecki, Lason, Bacewicz
- Penderecki, K.: Concerto Grosso No. 1 For 3 Cellos / Largo / Sonata For Cello And Orchestra (Monighetti, Noras, Kwiatkowski, Wit)
- Penderecki: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 And 2
- Penderecki: Te Deum / Hymne An Den Heiligen Daniel / Polymorphia / Ciaconna