podcast #4

Episode 4


SARAGOSSA ORGAN – track 22– e.g. 22


Hello and welcome – I’m JP, and we’re exploring the life, work and influence of one of Poland’s most celebrated modern composers – KP. Today, we’ll hear him in a different light – his more experimental, electronic sounds will sit  alongside music of a very different language. Music like THIS…




So why the contrast?


The answer is film. And through this episode, we’ll explore how KP had a parallel career to the concert hall – writing for screen and stage. Today, expect the Napoleonic Wars, Shutter Island and Radiohead…


Saragossa Guitar – track 21

From guitars to organ to the electronics studio - our latest Beginner’s Guide recommended piece has them all. Believe it or not. It’s the eclectic score to The Saragossa Manuscript. That was a movie made in 1965; based on a novel from 1815. The story takes us to Spain during the Napoleonic wars. We meet two officers from warring sides come across a manuscript in a deserted house – the letter they find tells the story of the Spanish officer’s grandfather. So it is a story of conflict, history and conciliation – which is appropriate for 1960s Poland, battling with its own political tensions in the Soviet Bloc.


The movie was a relative success in Poland, and it was soon championed abroad by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola [copper-ler] and Martin Scorsese [score-Say-zee]. In fact, there was a poll in 2015 where The Saragossa Manuscript was ranked second on the list of the greatest ever Polish films.


And providing the music was a man who, up until this point, had been one of the bad boys of Polish classical scene. … 




The Polish Radio Experimental Studio had only recently been established in 1957 - it was one of the first electronic studios in Europe, and Penderecki was fascinated by it. He was shocked by the new sounds, and they totally changed his aesthetic. SO it was inevitably going to shape some of the music in the Saragossa soundtrack, which came only a few years later.


But, quite unexpectedly and really quite abruptly, these electronics are joined by something far more traditional, far more directly melodic – sitting alongside the electronic murmurs and rumbles, is this…




Penderecki was a violinist, and he said in interviews that the live orchestra actually interested him a lot more than electronic music. He said that once an electronic piece is completed, it stays the same every time you hear it.  Whereas orchestral music depends upon the performance and a live situation. It changes with every single performance. 


And Pend embraces that ORCHESTRAL sound in some parts of the Saragossa score.




In some ways, Penderecki is taking us BACK in time – back to the musical styles of the era in which the story is set.


There are lyrical and direct, singable melodies. The textures are far from the screams and murmurs of KP’s electronics music. 


And this sense of looking back – musically – is really well captured by the Atom String Quartet. They have recorded three excerpts from the Saragossa Manuscript score. And the excerpts they’ve chosen and the crystal clarity of the recording really serves to highlight the more traditional elements of this music. 


Fade up – from c.1m30s, cello melody entry - Aria


That’s the aria – literally, a song – highlighting this section’s lyrical, melodic focus.


The Atom String Quartet also recorded the score’s minuet, a popular dance from the 1700s. 



Saragossa Minuet III, opening


So in its more traditional segments, the Saragossa Manuscript score is a pastiche of the style of past musical eras. 


BECAUSE the film exists beyond 20th century Poland, it gives free rein to KP’s imagination –allowing him to embrace a wide range of musical styles and forms.


After all, this film is all about coming together – two warring sides united over a shared discovery, and ultimately, it’s the story of family. And that coming together happens in Penderecki’s score as well – uniting past and present. 


And maybe that’s what drew KP to the film in the first place – whether it was a concert work or a film score, as we’re quickly finding out - a recurring theme in Penderecki’s music is conflict – persecution versus freedom, argument vs reconciliation, the old versus the new.



Pend 4 – Saragossa Guitar random excerpt


The name Penderecki is often linked with quite challenging works – the avant garde sounds of his youth. But, film and the concert hall do have a lot of crossover. Today John Williams and Danny Elfman might be best known for writing film scores BUT THEY ALSO write occasionally quite thorny classical concert works. KP was no different.



KP wrote original music for 11 feature films, as well as for 25 animated movies. These projects were on the experimental side of filmmaking, these weren’t the big Hollywood blockbusters – although, as we’ll soon find out, THEY.. DO.. make an appearance as well.


The fascinating thing about a score like the Saragossa Manuscript is that KP wrote it in the SAME period as his experimental concert works – in the same few years Penderecki could be writing sth like this… 


Threnody excerpt


And also like this – 


Saragossa Orchestral 4


Two sides to the same coin – a MUSICAL polyglot [po-lee-glot]. It makes me think of what STRAVINSKY once said about the eclecticism of HIS OWN musical languages – he went through different phases in his writing, but Stravinsky said “It was like wearing different clothes”. Yes - the appearance might change, but the fundamental person underneath is still the same.


Perhaps that goes for KP as well – a varied musical wardrobe, but all from the same room…


KP Symphony No 3 Passacaglia – Naxos – opening 25s, then fade


Recognise that? Well, if you’ve seen the movie Shutter Island, it might ring a vague bell.


The concert hall and the cinema are even closer than I’ve already suggested. Because KP’s concert works were soon making an appearance on the screen.


KP’s music was in many ways IDEAL for big dramatic Hollywood movies. The anxiety you so often hear in his music was ideally suited to Hollywood horror films.



Fade up Passacaglia, fade down


KP didn’t write original music for Hollywood, but he DID give PERMISSION to prominent directors to repurpose his old music. It was given new life, and new MEANING, in the cinema…


Fade up Passacaglia, fade down


Stanley Kubrick [Cue-brick] used KP’s music in The Shining.

AND the Passacaglia of KP’s Symph no 3 was used in Shutter Island. 



Passacaglia – fade up from 3m25s, to 3m56s



So what connects THAT – to THIS?


Radiohead excerpt


Well the lead guitarist and keyboardist of Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood, who’s also a film composer, has cited KP as a major influence.


Greenwood became fascinated by Penderecki’s unconventional, percussive use of violins – treating the strings as a percussion instrument. They share a fascination with how a traditional instrument can make very UNexpected, unconventional sounds…


Jonny Greenwood – Popcorn superhet receiver, P2B, 15s


Part of Jonny Greenwood’s Popcorn superhet receiver there. KP had started musical life wanting to be a virtuoso violinist – and he would experiment in his writing for that instrument. Jonny Greenwood would later do the same. Both of them show us that the violin can be FAR from the soaring melodic instrument we’ve come to expect from the likes of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.


KP and Jonny Greenwood did actually come to work together. One of KP’s pieces - Polymorphia was used as inspiration for Greenwood.  He wrote his own work inspired by it – called ’48 Responses to Polymorphia’.


Greenwood – 48 responses to POlymorphia, opening, Es Is Genug, opening 35s, Warner


That’s taken from an album placing KP’s music SIDE BY SIDE with the work of JG. The collaboration   went far beyond recording - the pair even toured their compositions together, and KP would conduct JG’s music throughout Europe.



So as his film work and his collaborations demonstrate – KP was a man with many more sides than you might first expect…



Saragossa Percussion


Just as KP’s style changed over time, his film music shows it could also change WITHIN pieces. In the space of minutes. Music can rarely be pinned down. Especially with Penderecki. 


Saragossa Orchestral 4 [again]


So where next? If you enjoyed KP’s film music, there’s plenty more great Polish movie scores to explore. Today, the leading Poland’s film composer Zbigniew Preisner [szBIG-nee-ev Prize-ner], He has collaborated with the top Polish directors. And, just like KP, there are two sides to his coin as well – Preisner also writes classical concert works. He composed a Requiem recorded and released by Sony Poland; AND there’s also a large-scale work for soloists, choir and orchestra, called ‘Silence, Night and Dreams’ – that was released worldwide on EMI Classics in 2007. Then, again emphasising this breath of style Preisner was commissioned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour to arrange nine of his songs for an album. That album featured a 40 piece string orchestra. So Preisner shows that KP isn’t the only Polish composer to be very at home collaborating with different genres and soundworlds…


Preisner excerpt – Prayer, from 44s – Requiem for A Friend, fade from 1m17s to silence



Going back to the 1700s, there’s another storytelling composer = a really fascinating little known musician who was also, casually, a princess – Franciszka [fran-Sheesh-ker] Urszula [Oar-sher-la] Radziwill [Radj-gee-vieul]. She wrote comedies for the stage, and placed songs and choral pieces in between the acts. These pieces were being sung in Polish 30y BEFORE Poland’s first opera was written.


So Princess Radziwill [Radj-gee-vieul] – long before KP, a pioneer in Polish storytelling through music – even if she’s yet to get the credit she deserved.


Thanks for joining me JP, exploring KP – and I’d love to have you with me for the final part in my exploration. Together we’ll explore the stylistic shifting of KP further. We’re going to use his symphonies to chart his evolution from avant garde to romantic, from controversial youngster to established master… Next time we’ll ask how one man can have MANY different voices…

Saragossa Organ track 22 [again]