PENDERECKI: Symphony no. 7

This oratorio-like work was
commissioned to celebrate the third millennium of Jerusalem, and in
approaching the work, Penderecki made some overt connections to the city. The
traditional seven gates of the city in the title are reflected in the
seven-movement structure of the work and, as indicated in the notes that
accompany the recording, Penderecki used the figure seven in various ways
throughout the work. By using texts from the Old Testament that call to mind
various aspects of the city, not just as a place, but a site laden that
anchors spiritual associations. (The texts for the movements are
organized as set forth in the table below.)

A close reading of the text shows that Penderecki shaped the verbal
content carefully. By selecting verses to be sung, he gave the text focus and
clarity so that the piece could contain the specific phrases that he wanted
to use, rather than carry along verses for the sake of completeness. Taken
together, the verses for the first movement are, for example, essentially a
new text, albeit one redolent of the psalter. With other movements, though,
the choices are more complicated, and suggest an internal dialogue that
places prophetic statements alongside the adulatory — or sometimes
admonishing — ones from the psalms. With the last movement, to cite
another example, it is possible to see a development of textual ideas, as
Penderecki combines verses from three prophetic books, and then returns to
the psalms, eventually bringing back the verse with which the Symphony
opened. This suggests a level of composition that bears further consideration
for the structural organization that is linked to the musical structure of
the work.

As to the style of the work, Penderecki’s Symphony no. 7 is
relatively conservative, with the nuances of texture and timbre having given
way to some of the innovations associated with his earlier pieces. To put the
Symphony in perspective, the comments of Adrian Thomas offer a point of
departure. In discussing some of Penderecki’s later symphonies, Thomas
suggests that: “Given that Penderecki’s focus is habitually on
line, timbre, tempo and dynamics, his concert music of the past quarter
century relies on plain-speaking rhetoric, on readily absorbed intervallic
and rhythmic repetitions, and on the reinterpretation of models drawn from
major symphonic composers of the pastÖ.” (Adrian Thomas, Polish
Music since Szymanowski
[Cambridge University Press, 2005] p. 251). This
prÈcis fits this work well, as it captures the stylistic elements that
operate in this work. Like the symphoniae sacrae of
seventeenth-century composers like Heinrich Sch¸tz, Penderecki used voices
and instruments to present concerted settings of texts from the Bible. The
scope of Penderecki’s effort in his Seventh Symphony differs because of
the multi-movement structure he used to create this musical reflection of the
city of Jerusalem. In finding such a locus for his musical structure,
Penderecki echoes, however distantly, his earlier Threnody for Victims of
, another work in which the evocation of a city results in a
work that has universal resonance.

This work also belongs to the choral symphony of the nineteenth century,
reminiscent in a sense of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony for its use of voices
throughout the work. Similarly, Mahler’s efforts to bring together different
texts — in the case of the Eighth Symphony, the Latin hymn “Veni
creator spiritus” and the final scene from the second part of Goethe’s
Faust, Penderecki combined verses from various psalms, as well as
different parts of the Old Testament. Psalms and prophetic texts are brought
together in this Jerusalem-inspired work which, in this sense, reflects those
aspects of the old city as a place of worship and a locus of prophetic
vision. In this sense, it is a return to those seventeenth-century composers,
whose works use large forces along with concertato sonorities to prsent
biblical texts, but conceived along much larger lines.

While it is possible to find such lines of thought in the work,
Penderecki’s Seventh Symphony also belongs to thecomposer’s other works in
this genre. Composed over a quarter century, Penderecki’s symphonies differ
from each other in ways reminiscent of Mahler of Shostakovich and, as with
those composers, also reflect some aspects of Penderecki’s other music. With
its use of Latin, it resembles the composer’s St. Luke Passion with
a language that at once offers a lingual neutrality through a ritualistic,
language that is no longer used in the vernacular.

Regarding the musical language, though, Penderecki uses blocks of sound
that convey a sense of the solidity of his structure. The opening gesture
itself presents an intensive mass on which he builds what becomes a refrain
for the movement. The opening sounds of the chorus punctuated with percussion
and intersected with low-brass figures is an impressive, almost ritualistic
gesture that introduces the first movement. The tutti orchestral cadences
further define the vocal phrases of this massively conceived piece, which
offers a paean in music that transcends the artificial boundaries of
religion. Yet as the text of the verses of the psalm occur, the subtler
presentation with solo voices becomes a textural foil for the larger forces
that occur in the refrain.With the second movement, Penderecki draws on the
orchestra for gestures that set a different tone and at once suggests the
Penderecki’s style in other, similar pieces for that combine orchestral
forces with choral ones. At times the textures contain some distantly related
sounds that, in turn, suggest musical space that reinforces the distance
connoted in the text “If I forget you, Jerusalem.” As with the
first movement, the second is effective in presenting its text in a unique
way. In fact, each of the movements is distinct enough to stand on its own
merits, yet when conceived together, form a cohesive symphonic structure.

The work is in Latin, with the sixth movement, the most dramatic of the
entire work, in Hebrew, with the text from Ezekiel presented by a speaker. In
this recording, Boris Carmeli, a voice otherwise associated with opera, is
effective in presenting the text with aplomb and clear enunciation. This
piece moves away from the choral forces, to create a different kind of sound
through the combination of spoken text with the pointillistic orchestral
texture that supports it. While the work is well served with the solo voices
that occur in various movements, the use of spoken work calls attention to
the text, which demands notice because of the chosen mode of presentation
that takes the words outside the bounds of singing. As such, the composer
demands attention to the text, and thus forces this piece to stand apart from
the other movements. At times unsettling, the movement is an effective
setting of a challenging text that holds a crucial place within the overall
framework of the Symphony.

With several recordings of this work available, audiences have the rare
opportunity to select between various performances. This reading by Antoni
Wit has much to offer through its highly polished and finely shaped choral
sonorities, and equally adept instrumental forces. Naxos has made much of
Penderecki’s music available through recordings that are at once
reliable and affordable, and the addition of this title to its offerings
should bring this powerful work to a wide, international audience. In this
work the twentieth-century symphony, which has been a mode of expression for
Polish modernists, takes on new formal dimensions in one of
Penderecki’s fine recent pieces.

James L. Zychowicz

Outline of Texts
Mvt Title Texts
1. Magnus Dominus et laudabilis nimis in civitate Great is the Lord, and to be praised Psalm 47 (48):1
Psalm 95 (96):1-3
Psalm 47 (48):1
Psalm 4 (487:13
Psalm 47 (48):1
2. Si oblitus fuero tui, Ierusalem If I forget you, Jerusalem Psalm 136 (137):5
3. De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine Out of the depths, have I called you, O Lord Psalm 129 (130): 1-5
4. Si oblitus fuero tui, Ierusalem If I forget you, Jerusalem Psalm 136 (137):5
Isaiah 26:2
Isaiah 52:1
Psalm 136 (137):5
5. Lauda, Ierusalem, Dominum Praise the Lord, Jerusalem Psalm 147:12-14
6. Hajet‡ alai jad adon‡i, The hand of the Lord was upon me Ezekiel 37: 1-10
7. Haec dicit Dominus Thus says the Lord Jeremiah 21:8
Daniel 7:13
Isaiah 59:19
Isaiah 60:1-2
Psalm 47 (48):1
Isaiah 60:11
Psalm 95 (96):1; 2-3
Psalm 47 (48):1
Psalm 47(48):13
Psalm 47(48):1
Psalm 47(48):13

image_description=Krzystzof Penderecki: Symphony no. 7 “Seven Gates of Jerusalem”
product_title=Krzystzof Penderecki: Symphony no. 7 “Seven Gates of Jerusalem”
product_by=Olga Pasichnyk, soprano. Aga Miko?aj, soprano, Ewa Marciniec, alt, Wies?aw Ochman, tenor, Romuald Tesarowicz, bass, Boris Carmeli, narrator, Warsaw National Phiharmonic Choir, Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, Antoni Wit, conductor.
(Full text and translation available here.)
product_id=Naxos 8.557766 [CD]