Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima

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Krzysztof Penderecki, Gdańsk, 2008

Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, also translated as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima[1][2] (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 won the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs UNESCO prize in 1961.[3][4]


The piece's written length is approximately 8 minutes and 37 seconds.[5][6] Originally called 8'37", 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 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.[7] 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.[8] 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 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.[9] 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.

Usage in media[edit]

In film, excerpts from Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima are used in Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film Children of Men,[10][11] Wes Craven's 1991 film The People Under the Stairs,[12][13] and David Lynch's 2017 television series Twin Peaks.[14][15] 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[16], the Danny Lohner remix of Eminem's "The Way I Am" and in SebastiAn's 2010 release Bird Games.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima Tren ofiarom Hiroszimy (1980) ; Viola concerto (1983) (CD booklet). Krzysztof Penderecki. Conifer Records. 1988. OCLC 884553089. 
  2. ^ Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 strings = Threnos den opfern von Hiroschima fúr 52 saiteninstrumente (CD booklet). Krzysztof Penderecki. Deshon Music. 1961. OCLC 318270188. 
  3. ^ Hiemenz, Jack (27 February 1977). "A Composer Praises God as One Who Lives in Darkness". The New York Times (Vol. 126, No. 43,499). NYTimes Co. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  4. ^ "Oficjalna strona Krzysztofa Pendereckiego [en]". 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Palisca, Claude V.; Burkholder, J. Peter (1996). Norton Anthology of Western Music (3rd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. p. 637. ISBN 9780393969061. OCLC 439757621. 
  7. ^ Kovalenko, Susan Chaffins (1971). The Twentieth-Century Requiem: An Emerging Concept (Ph.D. thesis). St. Louis, MO: Washington University in St. Louis. p. 4. Document No.302545568 – via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 
  8. ^ Griffiths, Paul (1976). "Review of Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Penderecki, K.". The Musical Times. 117 (1605): 915–915. doi:10.2307/958398. 
  9. ^ Kozak, Mariusz (1 February 2017). "Experiencing Structure in Penderecki’s Threnody: Analysis, Ear-Training, and Musical Understanding". Music Theory Spectrum. 38 (2): 200–217. ISSN 0195-6167. doi:10.1093/mts/mtw015. 
  10. ^ Pappademas, Alex (9 March 2012), Radiohead’s Runaway Guitarist, The New York Times, retrieved 16 July 2014 
  11. ^ Doherty, Mike (13 March 2012), Album Reviews: Jonny Greenwood and David Byrne meet their heroes, National Post (Canada), retrieved 16 July 2014 
  12. ^ "Classical Music in Movies : P - Classical Soundtrack and Classical Background Music.". Naxos Records. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (1998). Wes Craven: The Art of Horror. Jefferson: McFarland. p. 161. ISBN 9780786419234. OCLC 66655309. 
  14. ^ Murray, Noel (26 June 2017). "‘Twin Peaks’ Season 3, Episode 8: White Light White Heat". The New York Times. NYTimes Co. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  15. ^ Atad, Corey (26 June 2017). "Last Night's Terrifying 'Twin Peaks' Will Be Remembered as One of the Best Episodes of Television Ever". Esquire. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  16. ^ Power, Martin (2012). Nailed to History: The Story of the Manic Street Preachers. London: Omnibus. ISBN 9781780381480. 
  17. ^ "SebastiAn (Producer)'s 'Bird Games (Interlude)' - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved 5 May 2017.