Canon for string orchestra and tape
The door to a great international career lay open for the composer. The distinctions he garnered in the later period only enhanced his status as an eminent representative of contemporary culture. Rarely did the first performance of one of his works not arouse major controversy. This, however, did not hamper his spectacular career; on the contrary, it added a dynamic element to his artistic profile.
After the premiere of the Canon, opinions were greatly divergent, and the atmosphere bordered on scandal. Alongside enthusiasm, there was shouting and whistling. The debate in the press concentrated on audible qualities of the piece in the context of the composer’s commentary in the Warsaw Autumn programme book, in which he explained the strictly imitative, canonic structural principle of his piece, presenting himself as an heir to and extender of the Franco-Flemish or Netherlands School.
Critics questioned the possibility of auditory perception of such complex polyphonic transformations. Paradoxically, in reception the effects of those sophisticated composition procedures appeared quite “simple”. The auditory level conceals a “deep structure”: the canon of the title, in which the number of parts, through the application of two “live” tapes, mounts up to 208. Penderecki arranges bruitist sonorities and noises in accordance with the rules of Renaissance counterpoint, multiplying the appearances of the theme and its counterpoints, for example in inversion and inverted retrograde.
quality the composer described is its three-dimensional, spatial character,
achieved through the use of tapes and two groups of speakers. It is that
spatial quality that makes for a unique auditory experience, even if the
multiplication of sources is only one of many elements in the work’s