Violin Concerto No. 1
Completed in 1976, Violin Concerto No. 1 marks a breakthrough in Krzysztof Penderecki’s development. It was written in a highly significant period in the history of Polish music. At least two other works of the “Generation 1933” premiered in the mid-1970s – Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs and Kilar’s Kościelec 1909– heralded a radical change of thinking, a departure from the avant-garde and a return to neo-Romantic types of expression, to melody and the euphony of sound. Penderecki stressed in an interview with Jakub Haufa that in his Concerto the stylistic change resulted from the purpose of the composition. It was written for violinist Isaac Stern, a representative of the so-called Russian romantic school. The piece was therefore meant as a “regular concerto”, in agreement with the personality and stylistic preferences of the virtuoso instrumentalist. This idiomatic piece demonstrates the composer’s thorough acquaintance with the capabilities of the instrument. The concerto contains virtuoso elements, though the composer saw it more as a “sinfonia concertante” because of the importance of the orchestra. The concerto is, as Penderecki explained in the same interview, “a key to the understanding not only of my violin works, but of my later music written after the mid-1970s in general.” Despite its one-part form, frequent changes of tempo and expression make it possible to differentiate various “characters” and motifs in the piece. One of these emerges from the theme introduced in the beginning by the cello – a sequence of notes descending in semitones – and is of special significance, as it recurs in different variants in other Penderecki works from the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Paradise Lost, Concerto for Viola, Cello Concerto No. 2 and The Black Mask. In Violin Concerto No. 1, the theme influenced numerous critics who heard the entire piece as a profoundly tragic expression of suffering and a highly personal statement (it was written as the composer’s father was on his deathbed).