Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (Polish: Tren ofiarom Hiroszimy) is a musical composition for 52 string instruments, composed in 1960 by Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933). It took third prize at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composers' Competition in Katowice in 1960, and the piece swiftly attracted interest around the world and made its young composer famous. The composition won the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs UNESCO prize in 1961.
The piece—originally called 8'37" (at times also 8'26")—applies the sonoristic technique which tends to focus on specific characteristics and qualities of timbre, texture, articulation, dynamics, and motion in an attempt to create freer form, and rigors of specific counterpoint to an ensemble of strings treated to unconventional scoring. Penderecki later said, "It existed only in my imagination, in a somewhat abstract way." When he heard an actual performance, "I was struck by the emotional charge of the work...I searched for associations and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims". The piece tends to leave an impression both solemn and catastrophic, earning its classification as a threnody. On 12 October 1964, Penderecki wrote, "Let the Threnody express my firm belief that the sacrifice of Hiroshima will never be forgotten and lost."
The piece spans 52 string instruments, melding them together in sonoristic manipulation and counterpoint. The vertical component of the score is also varied. There are 24 violins divided into four sections, 10 violas divided into two sections, 10 cellos divided into two groups, and 8 basses in two sections. Threnody's sustained tone clusters, various extended techniques including a riot of varying vibrato, slapped instruments, playing on the tailpiece and behind the bridge – matched by an optical notation full of thick black lines. At times Penderecki takes an aleatoric approach, offering the players a choice of techniques or demanding irregular degrees of vibrato, but the piece is also marked by a considerable rigor in its timing indications, notated in seconds, as well as specific note clusters. The use of quarter tones, clustered pitches and sound mass accumulate in a reservoir of hypertonality.
The piece is about eight minutes long.
In film, excerpts from Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima are used in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of The Shining, Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 dystopian film Children of Men, and Wes Craven's 1991 film The People Under the Stairs. In music, Welsh alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers used a sample of Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima in their 1991 song You Love Us. The piece also inspired French musician and DJ SebastiAn's 2010 song Threnody.
- CD notes by Mieczysław Tomaszewski: Naxos 8.554491
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