Penderecki’s epic work for three solo voices, narrator, three choirs, boys’ choir and orchestra is undeniably dramatic. Its power comes partly from a bold mix of styles, from the avant garde to its nods to the traditions of Bach and Palestrina.
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
This nine-minute scream doesn’t make for easy listening, but its clusters, almost nausea-including pitch changes, and thudding pizzicato and knocking effects are frightening evocations of nuclear annihilation. Original and brave.
The composer’s most ambitious symphony calls for tubaphones – percussion instruments made from gigantic horizontal pipes. Its Carmina Burana-esque opening gives way to music of great beauty, including the breathtaking choral De profundis.
String Quartets Nos 1 & 2 (1962/68)
Penderecki’s uncompromising chamber works explore the sonic capabilities of the quartet – bizarre but totally arresting, and important milestones in Polish music.
Premiered by Isaac Stern, the First Violin Concerto marked a turn towards a more post-Romantic, almost modernist style. Frequently recalling Bartók, Penderecki inserts enthralling musical effects alongside a plaintive, soaring solo violin part.