Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima

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Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
by Krzysztof Penderecki
Native nameTren ofiarom Hiroszimy
Full titlePolish: Ofiarom Hiroszimy: Tren, na 52 Instrumenty Smyczkowe (English: Victims of Hiroshima: Threnody, for 52 String Instruments)
Other nameThrenody for the Victims of Hiroshima
CatalogueISWC T-905.954.212-0
Year1961 (1961)
PeriodContemporary music
GenreSonorism, avant-garde
FormOrchestral piece
DedicationVictims and Hibakusha of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
PublisherPolskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne
Date22 September 1961; 60 years ago (22 September 1961)[1][2]: 565 
LocationWarsaw Autumn Festival
ConductorAndrzej Markowski[2]: 565 
PerformersKrakow Philharmonic
Symphony Orchestra
 • 4th Place[a][2]: 202  UNESCO Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs (1961)

 • 3rd Degree
Polish Ministry of Culture and Art Award (1962)

Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, also translated as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima[4][5] (Polish: Tren Ofiarom Hiroszimy), is a musical composition for 52 string instruments composed in 1961 by Krzysztof Penderecki. Dedicated to the residents of Hiroshima killed and injured by the first-ever wartime usage of an atomic weapon, the composition won the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs UNESCO prize that same year.[6][7][a][b]


The 52 string instruments indicated in the piece's full title are 24 violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos and 8 double basses.[10] The piece's written length is about 8 minutes and 37 seconds.[11][12] Originally called 8'37",[13] the piece 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's stated intent with the composition was to "develop a new musical language".[14] 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".[15]

The 52 string instruments meld together in sonoristic manipulation and counterpoint in a manner which, according to reviewer Paul Griffiths, makes the listener "uneasy by choosing to refer to an event too terrible for string orchestral screams".[16] Threnody's sustained tone clusters and various extended techniques – including a riot of varying vibrato, slapped instruments, playing on the tailpiece and behind the bridge – are matched by an optical notation full of thick black lines.[17][18]: 94  At times Penderecki takes an aleatoric approach, offering the players a choice of techniques or demanding irregular degrees of vibrato. The piece is also marked by a considerable rigor in its timing indications, notated in seconds, as well as specific note clusters and the use of quarter tones, clustered pitches and sound mass which accumulates in a reservoir of hypertonality.[18]: 93 

It is also an example of the composer's "sensualist" Neo-Romantic style.[19]

Usage in media[edit]

Excerpts from Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima have been used in Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film Children of Men,[20][21] Wes Craven's 1991 social thriller The People Under the Stairs,[22][23] David Lynch's 2017 television series Twin Peaks,[24][25] and Gerry Anderson's 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.[26] In music, excerpts from Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima are sampled in one version of Manic Street Preachers's 1991 song You Love Us[27] and in SebastiAn's 2010 release Bird Games.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The UNESCO prize is not restricted to choosing a single winner, rather, the Rostrum may choose a variable number of winners ranked in a specialized order of selection.[3]
  2. ^ While referred to informally as the UNESCO prize, UNESCO is not involved with the selection of winners, who are instead chosen by the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs (Rostrum of International Composers, or Rostrum).[8] The Rostrum is organized by the International Music Council, an NGO which was created in 1949 as UNESCO's advisory body on matters of music.[9]


  1. ^ Gąsiorowska, Małgorzata (1 December 2017). "The Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music – Transformations of Programming Policies". Musicology Today. 14 (1): 28. doi:10.1515/muso-2017-0001.
  2. ^ a b c Bylander, Cynthia E. (1989). The Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music 1956–1961: Its Goals, Structures, Programs, and People (PhD thesis). Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University. Document No.1487673114112901 – via access
  3. ^ "International Rostrum of Composers". 15 March 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  4. ^ Krzysztof Penderecki (1988). Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima Tren ofiarom Hiroszimy (1980) ; Viola concerto (1983) (CD booklet). Conifer Records. OCLC 884553089.
  5. ^ Krzysztof Penderecki (1961). Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 strings = Threnos den opfern von Hiroschima fúr 52 saiteninstrumente (CD booklet). Deshon Music. OCLC 318270188.
  6. ^ Hiemenz, Jack (27 February 1977). "A Composer Praises God as One Who Lives in Darkness". The New York Times. Vol. 126, no. 43499.
  7. ^ "Oficjalna strona Krzysztofa Pendereckiego [en]". Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  8. ^ "International Rostrum of Composers – FAQ". RostrumPlus. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Relations with UNESCO". International Music Council. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  10. ^ Maslowiec, Anna (2008). "Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima, 1959–61" (PDF). Sonorism and the Polish Avant-Garde 1958–1964 (PhD thesis). Vol. 1. The University of Sydney, Conservatorium of Music. p. 147.
  11. ^ Penderecki, Krzysztof (1961). "Ofiarom Hiroszimy: Tren: Na 52 Instrumenty Smyczkowe = To The Victims of Hiroshima: Threnody: For 52 Stringed Instruments" (Sheet Music). Warszawa: Polskie Wydawn. Muzyczne. OCLC 269308.
  12. ^ Palisca, Claude V.; Burkholder, J. Peter (1996). Norton Anthology of Western Music (3rd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. p. 637. ISBN 978-0-393-96906-1. OCLC 439757621.
  13. ^ Thomas, Adrian (2008). Polish Music since Szymanowski. Cambridge University Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-139-44118-6.
  14. ^ Delisi, Daniel Joseph (1985). Compositional Techniques and Use of the Chorus in Five Selected Choral Works of Krzysztof Penderecki (Avant-Garde, Twentieth-Century Notation) (PhD thesis). Cincinnati, Ohio: College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. p. 11. Document No.8627596, ProQuest 303380044.
  15. ^ Ashby, Arved (2004). "Modernism goes to the movies". In Arved Ashby (ed.). The Pleasure of Modernist Music: Listening, Meaning, Intention, Ideology. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 351, 384. ISBN 978-1-58046-143-6. [Penderecki's words are] Cited by Miekzyslaw Tomaszewski in his liner notes for Penderecki: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 (Naxos 8.554491, 2000).
  16. ^ Griffiths, Paul (1976). "Review of Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Penderecki, K.". The Musical Times. 117 (1605): 915. doi:10.2307/958398. JSTOR 958398.
  17. ^ Kozak, Mariusz (1 February 2017). "Experiencing Structure in Penderecki's Threnody: Analysis, Ear-Training, and Musical Understanding". Music Theory Spectrum. 38 (2): 200–217. doi:10.1093/mts/mtw015. ISSN 0195-6167.
  18. ^ a b Kałużny, Jan A. (1963). "Krzysztof Penderecki and his Contribution to Modern Musical Notation". The Polish Review. The University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Polish Institute of Arts & Sciences of America. 8 (3): 86–95. JSTOR 25776495.
  19. ^ AllMusic
  20. ^ Pappademas, Alex (9 March 2012), "Radiohead's Runaway Guitarist", The New York Times
  21. ^ Doherty, Mike (13 March 2012), Album Reviews: Jonny Greenwood and David Byrne meet their heroes, National Post (Canada), archived from the original on 20 March 2012, retrieved 16 July 2014
  22. ^ "Classical Music in Movies : P – Classical Soundtrack and Classical Background Music". Naxos Records. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  23. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (1998). Wes Craven: The Art of Horror. Jefferson: McFarland. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-7864-1923-4. OCLC 66655309.
  24. ^ Murray, Noel (26 June 2017). "'Twin Peaks' Season 3, Episode 8: White Light White Heat". The New York Times.
  25. ^ Atad, Corey (26 June 2017). "Last Night's Terrifying 'Twin Peaks' Will Be Remembered as One of the Best Episodes of Television Ever". Esquire.
  26. ^ Robert Parrish, director (27 August 1969). Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (Motion picture). Screenplay by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Donald James. Produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Music by Barry Gray. Cinematography by John Read. Edited by Len Walter. Century 21 Cinema Productions. OCLC 905922131.
  27. ^ Power, Martin (2012). Nailed to History: The Story of the Manic Street Preachers. London: Omnibus. ISBN 978-1-78038-148-0.
  28. ^ "SebastiAn (Producer)'s 'Bird Games (Interlude)' – Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved 5 May 2017.