Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
Krzysztof Penderecki is an avant garde composer from Poland. Shifting formidable masses of sound across dense tone clusters and extracting new and unusual sounds out of the instruments for which he composed, his early work achieved both a sensual and cathartic effect. This piece, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1959-1961), employs fifty-two strings, which are frequently scored to be employed in unconventional ways.
The liner notes to the version I present here refer to an autobiographical aspect in Penderecki’s work that drives the emotional charge of his compositions. He’s quoted, “the problem of the great Apocalypse (Aushwitz), that great war crime, has undoubtedly been in my subconscious mind since the war when, as a child, I saw the destruction of the ghetto in my small native town of Debica.”
This threnody relates his own experience to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by lamenting the dead there. Little Boy detonated over Hiroshima at 8:15 in the morning on Monday, August 6, 1945. The bomb destroyed sixty-nine percent of the buildings in the city and killed as many as 140,000 people. President Truman said, “we have used it to sharpen the agony of war.” A Japanese radio announcer reported, “practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death.”