Krzysztof Penderecki

Magnificat, for bass, 7 men's voices, boys' chorus, chorus & orchestra

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    Krzysztof Penderecki's Magnificat from 1974 holds a distinctive position, both within the composer's oeuvre as well as within the arena of later twentieth century religious music. As a work by a religious composer on a liturgical text, it employs entirely new modes of expression in the act of musical devotion. The Magnificat expanded on and synthesized several of his most effective ideas, while at the same time smoothing over certain experimental edges. There is a stronger sense of continuity and cohesiveness than one finds in many of his earlier works, and some structural or stylistic principles familiar to earlier music traditions are used, such as the fugue and the passacaglia. Several of Penderecki's trademark techniques remain, however, with dramatic effect. Whereas some modern composers have rendered works in archaic and unfamiliar languages in order to occlude the semantic element of the text, Penderecki finds the Latin prose of the Magnificat full of expressive potential. "There is really nothing else that means so much" as the Latin liturgy, he insists (an idea manifested elsewhere as well, in the Stabat Mater from 1963, the St. Luke Passion in 1966, and the Dies Irae from 1967). Of course, the meaning he finds in the text is embedded in familiarity and tradition rather than directly conveyed, and his delivery of the text is often obscured by his innovative textures. At the conclusion of the first of the work's seven sections, for example, each of the chorus' ten parts proceeds through the syllables "salutari meo" at a different pace while rising slowly and smoothly in pitch; this takes place above pulsing percussion and thick bands of clustered string tones. The second movement engages in a more ordered but equally complex polyphony, with instruments and voices in an angular triple fugue held together by a steady triple meter. The fugal procedure becomes even more complex as segments of the individual lines are taken up and passed off by individual performers. Likewise, polyrhythmic complexes create elegant fans whose striking appearance on the page mimics the real-time aural phenomenon. The third movement resumes something of the second's triple meter polyphonies, but only after a haunting non-metered opening gesture in which each string player enters individually, in rapid succession, and on a different pitch within a huge wall of quarter-tonal, broadband noise. This is followed by the brief recitative of the fourth movement. The fifth movement is an uneasy, irregularly paced passacaglia that alternates orchestral episodes with choral text expositions, while the sixth omits the orchestra altogether and features the choir in 13 parts a cappella. The final movement, on "Gloria patri...," is perhaps the most lucid, ultimately tethering the work's countless strands to a single, unison C on "Amen."

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Naxos 8572697
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921766
    2005 EMI Classics
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 74852