When Krzysztof Penderecki died in March 2020, the Polish composer left to the world not just some of the most thrilling, atmospheric and daringly inventive music of the last half-century but also a remarkable garden – situated around 60 miles from Krakow, Penderecki’s arboretum stretches for 62 acres and contains 1,700 different species of tree. ‘I walk in my garden and I am happy,’ he said in 2019. ‘I go there, to the big trees, and put my arms round one of them for a while. It is a hug that gives me a feeling of power and peace.’
So, what better way can there be to celebrate the great man’s life than with a virtual online garden? Penderecki’s Garden is a wonderfully inventive and interactive way to explore the composer’s world, his love of flora and, of course, his music.
The garden is the brainchild of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the organisation set up in 2000 to promote Polish culture in inventive, inspiring ways. As well as celebrating Polish greats in the arts through the past and marking major anniversaries, the Institute also champions the brilliant talent of today, whether it’s dazzling jazz musicians or the thrilling avant garde scene. And as one of Poland’s greatest ever musical exports, Penderecki is of course at the heart of the Institute’s work.
In Penderecki’s Garden, you will not only find guides to a number of his masterworks, you will also learn about tree species present in Krzysztof Penderecki’s wonderful garden in Lusławice, Poland. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute it also carries out other initiatives that have been inspired by his life and work. These include the recent release of a limited-edition vinyl, his 1964 Painters of Gdansk, accompanied by short works by three contemporary Polish composers. Whilst the vinyl itself is not available for purchase, you can still discover the wonderful playlist on the Culture.pl Soundcloud page here.
To accompany the website, the Institute has also been planting commemorative trees in selected places around the world, each bearing a plaque with Penderecki’s name. In co-operation with Polish Embassies and Polish Institutes, trees have already been planted earlier this year in Brussels, Ottawa, Kaunas, Leipzig and Singapore, and by the end of 2021 there will be one in Bangkok too!
The tree in Singapore was planted on 23 November, on what would have been Penderecki’s 88th birthday. The same day also saw the launch of the ‘Garden of Memory’ section on the Penderecki’s Garden website, where fans of the composer and his music can share their memories and appreciation. A new series of podcasts has also been launched here.
Time, then, to enter Penderecki’s Garden. There, you’ll find a guide to a number of its many trees. And, as you enjoy your virtual wander, here are five of the masterpieces you’ll hear along the way…
The best pieces of music by Krzysztof Penderecki
Symphony No. 8, ‘Songs of Transience’
Written for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Penderecki’s Eighth Symphony is dedicated to, yes, trees! Consisting of 12 short movements with titles such as ‘By a Lime-Tree’, ‘Do I Tell You, Beloved Trees?’ and ‘O Green Tree of Life’ this often powerful 35-minute work showcases the composer’s brilliance at composing for voices.
At just seven minutes long, Penderecki’s 1962 work for unaccompanied choir packs an extraordinary impact into its brief duration. Depicting the scene of the Virgin Mary at the cross, the piece begins with voices clustered in a mysteriously foreboding way before eventually bursting out in a glorious finale. A must-hear introduction to Penderecki’s sacred music.
Horn Concerto, ‘Winterreise’
Another work inspired by trees, in this instance the forests that Penderecki remembered from when he was young. With a title that means ‘Winter Journey’, this gorgeous 2007 work for horn and orchestra takes us deep into the woods with moments of awe-filled mystery mixed with thrilling passages as we race forward on horseback, the sound of the bugle in our ears.
St Luke Passion
Composed in the 1960s, Penderecki’s epic work for three solo voices, narrator, three choirs, boys’ choir and orchestra is hugely dramatic. Its power comes partly from a bold mix of styles, from the avant garde to its nods to the traditions of JS Bach and Palestrina from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.
Violin Concerto No. 1
Premiered by the great Isaac Stern in 1976, the First Violin Concerto marked a turn towards an almost modernist style. Frequently recalling the music of Bartók, Penderecki inserts enthralling musical effects alongside a plaintive, soaring solo violin part.