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Podcast #3

Episode 3


CULTURE - sport, how Penderecki’s music relates to other areas of Polish culture and the world more broadly  


Work: Aulodia / Ekecheiria 



Vangelis, Chariots of Fire


Hello – and welcome to our latest exploration of the music of KP and what he can tell us about Poland more broadly – I’m JP, and today we are going to the Olympic Games…



Our latest Pend Beginner’s Guide pieces are Aulodia [ow-LOW-dee-er] and Ekecheiria [eck-air-sher-EAR]





These two pieces were both attempts at the same commission – for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.


Now that immediately posed a certain constraint for KP – the music had to be discreet, because this was Germany’s first postwar Olympics. The organisers wanted it to be totally different to the pompous 1936 Olympic Ceremony held by the Nazis.


This time, folk songs would be sung; new ideas embraced; Pend’s piece would come at the high point of the ceremony – it would be premiered after the official inauguration and the running up of the flag.


For such an important moment in the ceremony, perhaps we can understand why Pend took two goes to get there…


Aulodia excerpt

KP’s first attempt at this important commission was called Aulodia [ow-LOW-dee-er], and it at once takes us to the past and the present.


In Ancient Greece many sports events featured a musical performance. There were even competitions for musicians as well as athletes – and KP used this idea as inspiration, but bringing it into the modern day.


Pend might have been writing for an ancient ceremony, but his piece was made in an electronics studio.


Aulodia - Electronics excerpt? // OPENING flute


Aulodia [ow-LOW-dee-er] starts with a single flute voice, recorded on tape; it then builds up with new layers, new loops, before dying back down to the single note.


Aulodia texture building example


In combining that ancient instrument, the flute, with electronics, Pend was reflecting the combination of old and new that the Olympics itself represents.


Still, the committee weren’t impressed. Aulodia [ow-LOW-dee-er] was rejected for the ceremony, because it was seen to be “too mela    ncholy”.


So KP went back to work – and along came this…



Ekecheiria excerpt



Ekecheiria [eck-air-sher-EAR] was likewise produced in the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio.


This time though, KP’s angle was the ancient idea of divine peace (that’s what the Greek word Ekecheiria MEANS) – so with that peace idea in mind, the new work would be a neat summary of that unifying spirit of the Olympic Games, especially THIS one in post-War Munich.


Like his first attempt, Ekecheiria [eck-air-sher-EAR] combines real acoustic sounds with electronics. And where his first piece began with a flute, this next attempt starts with a solo male voice, an instrument with an even longer history! And again, like the last attempt, this piece introduces electronic sounds, HERE - towards the end. KP is taking us from antiquity, the human voice, through to the modern age – the cutting-edge electronics of the 70s. We go from a muddle of shouting voices to a gentle halo of electronic sound – ending on a note of peace and calm.


Ekecheiria ending excerpt


Penderecki found his early musical voice in the electronics studio. This was established in Warsaw in 1957. As a student, he would go for a couple of days every month, and later worked there for 2y. KP credited that experience with shaping his early outlook on music – his fascination with noise, with sound as music, with new ways of playing an instrument.


KP said of his earlier works: “I tried to avoid the normal sound of an orchestra by only using noise…. It’s rebellious”.



Although KP’s Olympic Commissions came when he was starting to shift his style, towards something more melodic, something warmer – that fascination with SOUND and NOISE – stemming from his time in the electronics studio – remained very clear. 





To understand the draw of electronics to KP even in the 1970s, we have to go back a few decades.


Music was highly controlled in a Poland that was part of the Soviet bloc, an occupation that KP said he resisted.


Certainly in the Stalinist 1950s, access to NEW music was incredibly limited. The choirs and orchestras in Poland were all state ensembles; even someone like Stravinsky, who’d been shaking up the music world since the 1910s, wasn’t heard on Polish radio in the 40s and 50s.


So for the young KP to walk into an electronics studio in his early 20s – he’d have been hearing sounds that he’d never come across before. That meant he could invent his own music - hence his fascination with noise – human voices, screeches and other sounds…


KP said: “I was always doing something against – my avantgarde was really very avantgarde, maybe more than in other countries. Already in the time I was a student, we were rebelling. We heard some news about new music which was written in the West, in Europe; we still were in a time of the 20s or 30s as far as music was concerned; because of the electronic studio, I heard the sounds of electronics which I’d never heard before. It helped me develop my music.”


So electronics, for KP – meant FREEDOM. The freedom to explore where HE wanted to explore – and gain his own voice.


It’s appropriate then, that that great DEMOCRATIC assembly of nations and faces – the Olympics – asked HIM to write their music….


Ekecheira excerPT


And electronics didn’t just help shape his future sound, but also escape the painful PAST. KP admitted: The young people wanted to be different; to write, to forget the past, to build a future, writing different music” – so his electronics music was ALSO an attempt to move beyond the recent tragic past, being consciously different to the music that had come before – and which had become so painfully associated with the SWW. Again, for an Olympic Games likewise trying to be consciously DIFFERENT to the past – to have some electronic music provided a welcome contrast to the pompous fanfares of the 1930s NAZI Games…




Penderecki was in many ways an ideal composer for the Olympics – not least given that his own musical style and influences were so broad.

He was once asked if he would say he wrote Polish music? His reply was – no, I write, “European music”. Penderecki said that German composers and a love of BH in particular were his most important influences. 

And KP reflects the international history of Poland more broadly. In the 17th and 18th centuries Italian and German musicians were brought in by noble families to work side by side with their Polish counterparts, mainly in court orchestras. Penderecki himself lived and worked in Germany and Austria for years, as well as in the US.



KP was able to tap INto these wide cultural experienced in his music – and beyond the Olympics, his commissions were very GLOBAL. He was invited to write a piece for the 25th anniversary of the creation of the UN. The result was Kosmogonia [cosmo-GO-knee-er], premiered in 1970 – THAT used texts from ancient writers and placed them alongside the words of modern American and Soviet astronauts. It explored the idea of the cosmos – and therefore, at the height of the CW, KP was exploring what unites us.


So KP breaks DOWN borders – both stylistically and geographically.


So often, KP’s music is about coming together – here’s a man who wrote in lots of different musical styles, and drew on lots of international sources. SO it’s appropriate he’d write for such an international scene as the Olympic Games.




So where next? There are plenty of Polish composers to explore, people who like KP promoted Polish culture abroad and used music to explore this idea of peace and conciliation.


Easily the most famous is Chopin – he supposedly took an urn of Polish soil with him when he went abroad in 1830, never to return to Poland. That Polish soil was even buried with him. Despite living for so long in Paris, Chopin often wrote music based on Polish dances and forms- to the point his work was once described as “roses on cannons”- the sweet melodic and dancing quality of the music, possibly hiding a quiet political, national stance.


Chopin excerpt

In more recent times, there’s Joanna Bruzdowicz [yo-Ann-er bruise-der-vitch], born in 1943; she was the only Polish writer to be selected in a group of 12 who were invited to write a new Hymn for the Vatican. 


Promoting Polish music is a major passion of hers, leading her to produce hours of content for RADIO devoted to the subject, broadcasting in France, Germany, Italy and the US.




And one more composer to explore – someone using music to promote Polish culture and international understanding – it’s Maria Dziewulska [dji-Vell-sker] (b.1909).


I’m really passionate about music education, and so Dziewulska was a real discovery for me -  she wrote some Inventions in 1959 specifically for use in schools. She wanted to introduce young people to contemporary music, and familiarise people with the often daunting soundworld of new music. 


Like KP, she studied special effects and recording – so perhaps her outlook on new music was likewise shaped by the sounds of an electronics studio.



John Williams – Olympic Fanfare


Thanks for joining me JP in this exploration of music and sport, and how music can likewise fly the flag for a country abroad.


Next time, we’re going from an arena to a cinema, and delving into the world of film music – KP and the screen, storytelling through music….




The Adam Mickiewicz Institute is promoted by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

Podcast #3 | Adam Mickiewicz Institute


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