Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima

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Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
by Krzysztof Penderecki
Hiroshima 10km.jpg
Atomic cloud over Hiroshima, 1945
Native nameTren pamięci ofiar Hiroszimy
Full title Polish: Tren pamięci ofiar Hiroszimy na 52 instrumenty smyczkowe (Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 string instruments)
Year1961 (1961)
Period Contemporary, postmodernism
Genre Sonorism, avant-garde
Style Threnody
Form Orchestral piece
DedicationVictims and Hibakusha of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Publisher Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne
Polskie Nagrania Warszawa
Date22 September 1961;62 years ago (22 September 1961) [1] [2] :565
Location Warsaw Autumn Festival
Conductor Andrzej Markowski [2] :565
Performers Krakow Philharmonic
Symphony Orchestra
ISWC  T-905.954.212-0

Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, also translated as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima [4] [5] (Polish : Tren pamięci ofiar 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] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2]


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

Usage in media

Excerpts from Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima have been used in Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film Children of Men , [19] [20] Wes Craven's 1991 social thriller The People Under the Stairs , [21] [22] the third season of David Lynch and Mark Frost's TV series Twin Peaks , [23] [24] and Gerry Anderson's 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun . [25] 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 [26] and in SebastiAn's 2010 release Bird Games. [27]

See also


  1. 1 2 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]

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Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki was a Polish composer and conductor. His best-known works include Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Symphony No. 3, his St Luke Passion, Polish Requiem, Anaklasis and Utrenja. His oeuvre includes four operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral pieces, a variety of instrumental concertos, choral settings of mainly religious texts, as well as chamber and instrumental works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Threnody</span> Song, hymn or poem of mourning

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