Adagietto from Paradise Lost for orchestra
Harold Bloom, one of the most important theoreticians of intertextuality, writes about a “heroic clash of the noble poet with the overwhelming power of his predecessor” and about the “clash of two texts”, which leads to a “release of energy”. Krzysztof Penderecki is certainly one of those composers who on principle “clash” and dispute with the past: both with individual works and with entire traditions of musical genres. Some distinct examples are: A Polish Requiem, relating to Brahms’ German Requiem, or the string quartets, which look to the works of Beethoven and Bartók.
The subheading of Paradise Lost - sacra rappresentazione – also refers to a historical genre. The Adagietto, based on a motif from Paradise Lost and functioning in that work as an orchestral intermezzo, brings to mind Samuel Barber’s Adagio or the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Mieczysław Tomaszewski quotes Penderecki’s Adagietto as an example of ‘retroversive’ art: of music “looking back, but undoubtedly his own, personal and experienced, without the quotation marks that are associated with a stylisation,” adding that Adagietto could by no means be called a stylisation.
The piece originally appears in Paradise Lost between the fifth (Eve’s dance and song
after eating the apple) and sixth (Adam’s lament) scenes from Act Two (in
our recording – from 55’50”), and it is expressively (in the Wagnerian sense)
as well as acoustically and contrapuntally related to the rest of the opera. A
similarly elegiac, delicate tone can be found in many other works by this
composer, including Chaconne,
Agnus Dei (especially in Boris Pergamenschikow’s arrangement for string
orchestra), Lacrimosa from A Polish
Requiem, De profundis from The Seven Gates of Jerusalem in
the composer’s own arrangement for string orchestra or the Larghetto
from Serenade for string orchestra. It is however, the Adagietto, performed mostly as an independent piece,
that continues to enjoy popularity that can rival Barber’s and Mahler’s hits.
In 2006, the composer arranged the piece for English horn and string orchestra.