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Famous Polish Composers, Part 1: Krzysztof Penderecki

Threnody to The Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki
I am dedicating these Poland-related posts to my new friend +Adam Podstawczynski

You may never have heard of Krzysztof Penderecki, but chances are that you are quite familiar with his 1960 avante-garde composition Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Ever see The Shining? The Best Part Of The Shining

The second half of the twentieth century marked a musical "Cambrian explosion" of sorts. Following the manufacture and increasing accessibility to new and improved electronic recording and playback devices, composers began exploring the possibilities of this new technology. Composers such as John Cage, Milton Babbitt, and Luciano Berio played with tape recorders, experimented with audio loops, and explored sounds in everyday, urban life. It wasn't long before composers built on these new creations, and one of the first and most famous was Krzysztof Penderecki.

While creating new sounds on old instruments may sound simple, explaining to other people how to recreate those sounds can be tricky. Penderecki created a way to graphically represent new and novel instrumental techniques by basically inventing his own musical dialect. Some of the techniques he explored include: (note- symbols are not exact)

͠ : very slow vibrato with a 1/4 tone frequency difference produced by sliding the finger

ǂ : pitch raised by 3/4 tone

ϯ : percussion effect: strike the upper sounding board of the violin with the nut (of the bow) or the findertips

Ѫ : arpeggio on four strings behind the bridge

Further, Penderecki does not rely on traditional tempo markings to denote the passage of time; rather, he measures time in seconds. Originally, he had planned on titling the piece 8'37", perhaps as a nod to John Cage: 4'33'' for piano (1952) , but after hearing the piece for the first time he decided on the title Threnody: To the Victims of Hiroshima, in an attempt to give some context to the emotionally charged sounds that he experienced.

Because he managed to push the boundaries of the human imagination through traditional art while also provoking a strong emotional response, Krzysztof Penderecki has managed to become a staple of undergraduate courses in music history. But, more importantly, Penderecki is often the first 'real' experience classically trained musicians have with what it means to "think outside the box." He provides a musical example of the same sort of thinking that made the likes of Beethoven, Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and (dare I say it) - Jesus, famous.

Next up: Richard Strauss: Death and Transfiguration (hopefully with original video), then Famous Polish Composers, Part 2: Chopin, then at some point I will finally write that one about Mahler's Kindertotenlieder that I mentioned in my first classical music post about Beethoven: https://plus.google.com/113180375618328351247/posts/GfHSg1h9rZU... I am still open to suggestions as well!!!
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5 comments
 
I have more than heard of him, I was listening to his works as far back as the early 70's. I thought that I was the only one...
 
+James Rubottom Nahhh,,,, His crazy notation has made him a bit of a short-lived celebrity to sophomore music majors everywhere! I think most of us have tried our hand at our own extended notation techniques after seeing this score. I once tried to compose a piece of music (by hand) that when viewed as a score would look like Albert Einstein... sadly I did not then, nor do I now, possess the talent or ability to do it. Though I am sure I will try again in a few years.
 
My ultimate compositional idea was a "Love Bug Sonata" where you drove at a specified speed during their mating season, removed the windshield, superimposed staves and shake-and-bake, it's ready to play. (The performance might be a bit spotty!)
 
OMG, that could be beautiful... I may try to make that happen... they are starting to show up... I could take a drive out to Land O'Lakes... a large piece of staff paper attached to a flat surface in front of my truck could do the trick...I wonder if my stepdad would be willing to lend a hand.. could be a family project :)
 
+Adam Podstawczynski I must say that while there are few well-recognized Polish composers, Penderecki and Chopin do Poland proud. I figured I could do a couple posts dedicated to your country, and maybe other people would be willing to share something about themselves that I could draw on to make these. At the moment, I have 3 more ideas to work with, but inspiration is always welcome!

I am glad that I could introduce you to this music... it is a bit out there for the beginner, but I love that you just jumped in and listened to it. That is awesome! Chopin is much more approachable - I will talk about polish dances and Polish nationalism when I write about him.

And you should see the Shining, it is a classic - though I must confess, I freak out when watching horror movies, so, needless to say I have never seen the Shining all the way through... I just can't do it.
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