The specialists in the music world have been stopping by in the Black Forest since the 1950s. There, in Donaueschingen, the New Music is cared for and mothered to this day. There were generous and lean years. But in the early sixties one would have liked to be there when a work with immense radiance came to the fore – Atmosphere by György Ligeti. Through Kubrick's film 2001: Space Odyssey this sound surface composition became world famous.
Music history likes to forget that Ligeti had a predecessor, possibly even a pioneer: the Pole Krzysztof Penderecki. The previous year he had registered in Donaueschingen with a new plant, with Anaclasis for 42 strings and six percussionists. The piece begins with a reddish string of sound in the middle of the spectrum, from which streaks run in all directions. The whole thing comes to a head and takes a course that could be called aggressive. Overall, however, the music remains at the moment when it threatens to be overwhelmed by its own force – reserved. It does not show off, does not please itself as a joker, but rather stalks on spider legs, as if it were embarking on the most careful journey of discovery into the primeval ground of sounds. At the end of Anaclasis stands a plucked, quiet piano chord.
The musical public often hid Penderecki's pioneering early work when the music of the Polish composer was mentioned. In fact, the artist has made a name for himself primarily with sacred music. His life's work consisted of the dialogue between him as a pious Catholic and his God. His existence as a composer, so to speak, took place on the ladder of heaven, which is why in Poland he was affectionately and ironically called the most pious man after Karol Wojtyla. In any case, Penderecki devotedly worked through the canon of biblical-liturgical topics, and his Luke Passion from 1966 is undoubtedly his most important classic, which makes the greatest effort so that centuries-old music history lines Christ's path of suffering to Golgotha.
Penderecki knows how to use Gregorian chant as well as twelve-tone structures; fat clusters of biting dissonances alternate with tonal fields in pure D minor. The work is a voluminous study in the late succession of Johann Sebastian Bach. Penderecki associated the spiritual empathy of his attitude with the great Thomas Cantor. You can literally experience him as a revenant of St. Christopher, who carries his religiosity like a confession through the pagan world vortex.
Penderecki, born on November 23, 1933 in Dębica in the Polish Carpathian foreland, was the son of a music-loving lawyer. He received violin and piano lessons at an early age and later studied composition at the Kraków State Academy. He caused a sensation when he anonymously submitted three pieces to the Warsaw Competition of Young Polish Composers in 1959 and won all three prizes to be awarded.
Self-sufficient brilliance and luxury of sound
With the Luke Passion Penderecki penetrated into the largely unspoiled field of modernism. While many colleagues were still looking for their location between post-serialism and aleatorik, micropolyphonie and minimal music, new simplicity and political commitment, Penderecki had already installed his navigation device: it was full to the brim with sacred images. Unlike his French colleague Olivier Messiaen, for example, he was not interested in the abstract. Penderecki loved baroque presentations, which he illustrated with music as it were. She searched and asked for the element of the scenic. Entombment, Stabat Mater, Threnos (a Hiroshima lament) Auschwitz Oratory or the Seven Gates from Jerusalem are other works in which the imagination of the listener is stimulated in many ways.
With this attitude and with his polystylistic spelling he incurred the anger of the guild. He was accused of quick effects, envious of his manual virtuosity, which actually reminds of the sometimes self-sufficient brilliance of the late Richard Strauss. Penderecki would have been flattered by this comparison. He was a high-grade conductor himself, a savvy practitioner who heard and metered the sounds he composed. Sometimes this luxury of sound bordered on the tasteful.
Like his colleague Ligeti, Penderecki was often embraced by film directors. In William Friedkins The exorcist, Kubricks Shining, Peter Weirs Fearless or scorseses shutter Island droning, shimmering, disturbing Penderecki sound surfaces slide under the pictures again and again. The fact that he, the composing Catholic, was welcome in the horror genre, did little to annoy him, because the royalties flowed freely. Krzysztof Penderecki passed away on Sunday in Kraków at the age of 86.