The Sonoristic Structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki

Public Deposited

Some five years ago, during the first year of my assistantship at the Music Academy in Katowice, I required students to analyse some of Penderecki's early, so-called "sonoristic" pieces. The outcome of that assignment proved unsatisfactory, however, because the students tended to describe Penderecki's pieces as chaotic assemblages of sound phenomena rather than as works of art. Only later did I realize that the same could be said of almost all the analyses of Penderecki's sonoristic works that I had read thus far. As a rule, they merely described things that anyone could easily see by looking at the scores. Such analyses offered the reader a description of the works, not an explanation. This situation did not seem to disturb the authors. From their perspective, Penderecki's sonoristic style was obviously meant to exemplify musical chaos, and an inherent property of chaos is that it does not admit any explanation. Yet this is exactly why, for a rationalist, chaos poses the greatest challenge. Indeed, Penderecki's sonorism aroused my analytical inclinations: If I have found previous analyses of his works unsatisfactory—I asked myself—can I do any better? Provided chaos presents the greatest challenge, then there can be no greater achievement than to derive order from it, particularly when this order turns out to reside not merely in the mind of the analyst, but also in the object itself. To determine which of these two possible situations was the case with my own analyses, I visited Krzysztof Penderecki in April 1995, at his house in Cracow. I asked him whether the sonoristic system—discussed in the following pages and at that time already reconstructed by me—was an accurate model of the compositional procedures he had employed in writing his pieces of the early 1960s. The confirmation I received from the composer's own lips encouraged me to write the present book.

Last modified
  • 01/17/2019
Date created
Resource type
Rights statement