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Compositional Techniques in Krzysztof Pendereckis St.

Luke Passion
Krzysztof Pendereckis St. Luke Passion, premiered in 1966, was a culmination of the
composers work in the avant-garde and his more recent turn to incorporate traditional musical
elements. Pendereckis early exploratory stage was characterized by experiments in sound rather
than music intended to evoke or illustrate a subject (Robinson 13-14). This is seen in works such
as Dimensions of Time and Silence, orchestrated for mixed choir but with text that consisted of
meaningless sequences of characters, and the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which was
renamed from 837 only after its performance and the subsequent realization of its emotional
impact (Mirka 190-191). During this period, Penderecki developed many of the unconventional
techniques that would recur in his later works, including the lack of a normal meter and tempo,
extended instrumental and vocal techniques, and the designation of certain aspects of the
performance to chance. A shift in style was marked by his 1962 work, Stabat Mater, where he
combined exploratory elements with traditional notions of pitch and rhythm (Robinson 13-15).
In light of this evolution, the use of serialism, embedded tonality, text setting, form, performance
techniques, and notation will be examined in the Passion.
This massive work, consisting almost entirely of atonality, concludes on an E major triad.
It is seemingly out of place, yet the use of embedded tonality foreshadows its occurrence and
brings cohesion to the piece. This process involves hidden tonal elements that suggest triads, and
is accomplished using several methods. A pedal tone, even when held underneath tone clusters or
atonal passages, can give insight to the harmonic structure of the music. For example, in the first
movement, O Crux, the pedal progression is G-C#-D-A-E-A. There is an overall motion from
G to A in ascending fifths, which is strengthened by other elements. Upon the arrival to the A
pedal, the other voices expand to F# and C, suggesting a resolution to G (Diorio 2-6).

Unison pitches similarly provide reference points for harmonic motion, since they are
without other notes that obscure the harmony. These are especially suggestive when they
coincide with a major area in the text. The outer voice frame, or the contrapuntal relationship
between those voices, can also evoke a harmony that is not explicitly stated. In movement
twenty-four, Stabat Mater, a I-i-V-i progression is implied by these voices, which sound the
root and third for the first two chords and the root and fifth for the last two. Similarly, in
movement twenty-two, the outer voices expand from E and G to E and Ab, referencing the final
E major chord when spelled enharmonically. A series of melodic pitches can also be diatonic to a
particular scale and imply the associated harmonies. The G-A-Bb Deus meus motif is repeated
fifteen times in the third movement accompanied by a G pedal tone in almost all instances,
making its tonality clear (Diorio 3-12).
Penderecki used a less stringent form of serialism. Unlike Schoenberg, who would
exhaust all pitches before repeating one, Penderecki took fragments of tone rows, filled leaps
with other pitches, and used rows as melodies. He also brought an added level of complexity to
the procedure. The retrograde of the tone row heard from the opening of O Crux, is identical to
its inversion. He repeats the initial pitch as a thirteenth note to make the row symmetrical,
causing each half to have the same inversion-retrograde relationship as the whole. These halves
also serve as self-contained tone rows that span a tritone, sounding every pitch between the
interval. The second row heard in O Crux features vertical symmetry. When grouped in pairs,
the row consists of six half step motions that alternate between descent and ascent. The ending
pitch of the first pair and the starting pitch of the second pair span a major second, which
expands by whole step to a major third between the second and third pairs and a tritone in the
next instance. This sequence concludes with an insertion of the oft-quoted B-A-C-H motif (BbA-C-B), which results from a manipulation of the preceding pattern (Mirka 205-206).

In contrast to his earlier style, Penderecki bridges the text and music with evocative
images. Each character is accompanied by specific material. The narrator is heard with the full
orchestra, a pedal tone, or is unaccompanied. Jesuss words, sung by the baritone, mostly emerge
from a single tone row and hints at tonality, while those of secondary characters are atonal
(DiOrio 5-7). The recurrent B-A-C-H motive, stated by Penderecki to be the fundamental
motive of the whole work, is visually symbolic. When lines are drawn on the staff connecting
Bb to B and A to C, the resulting shape is that of a cross (Robinson 64, 89). Text painting is
prevalent. When cross is the textual focus, clusters of twelve pitches cross through the score.
When clamabo, I cry out, is sung in the third movement, there is a twelve-tone cluster on every
syllable of the word, which is set to a repeated sigh motive consisting of a downward half-steps.
The ascending Deus meus motive is counteracted by the descending sighs. In the fifth
movement, Penderecki orchestrates the power of darkness with low strings, timpani, bass
clarinet, and contrabassoon (DiOrio 6-10).
The form of the Passion is governed mostly by the text; it is not adherent to classical
organization. There are resemblances, however. Penderecki designates movement sixteen as a
passacaglia based on the B-A-C-H motive and its retrograde. It fulfills the categorization not in
the sense that it is a set of continuous variations but in the ostinato, which is repeated over one
hundred times. Movement eighteen resembles a five-part rondo and others are variations on two
and three-part structures (Robinson 66, 88).
The Passion is scored for three four-part mixed choruses, a two-part boys chorus, three
vocal soloists, and full romantic symphony orchestra. Unconventional techniques abound. Vocal
parts may be accompanied by no indication of pitch or rhythm, approximate indications, or
precise instructions. Textures can be polyphonic, monophonic, or composed of distributed text,
where the syllables of a word are sung by different parts. Vocal parts may also take on

instrumental roles. Humming, imitations of pizzicato, whistling, glissandi, and percussive sounds
are not infrequent. When additional density is required, the chorus may be divided into up to
forty-eight parts. The orchestral strings occasionally undergo a similar division, assigning one
player to each part in some instances. Some techniques include harmonics, ponticello, glissandi,
and playing between the bridge and the tail-piece (Robinson 57-63).
Pendereckis notation in this work is largely traditional, with the only uneven metrical
subdivisions being five and seven eighth notes to a bar. However, there are cases where new
notation had to be developed to accommodate the technique. He employs time-space notation on
occasion, where approximate rhythms are given by the shape of the note head and its location in
the bar. This is seen in indications for the fastest possible repetition of a note and flurries
where a series of rapid patterns are played by multiple parts to produce a cloud where individual
lines are indiscernible. The notation of pitch also involves approximations like the highest
available pitch on stringed instruments and blocks covering a portion of the staff that indicate all
notes in the area to be played (Robinson 60-63).
Penderecki brought the avant-garde to terms with its musical predecessors while creating
a monumental work that transformed the genre of the Passion and gave him international
acclaim. The meaningful dialogue between tonality and atonality and the application of
innovative as well as conventional techniques in illustrating text created a new way of expression
that lent the Passion its poignancy and its place among the great works of the twentieth century.
Works Cited
Robinson, Ray, and Allen Winold. A Study of the Penderecki St. Luke Passion. Federal Republic
of Germany: Moeck Verlag and Musikinstrumentenwerk, 1983. Print.
Henderson, Robert. Pendereckis St Luke Passion. The Musical Times May 1976: 108. Print.

DiOrio, Dominick. Embedded Tonality in Pendereckis St. Luke Passion. The Choral Scholar
Spring 2013: 1-16. Print.