Magnificat for bass, 7 men's voices, boys' choir, 2 mixed choirs and orchestra
This solemn, monumental work is based on Mary’s hymn of praise sung during the Visitation in St. Luke’s Gospel (customarily named after its incipit: Magnificat). As in the liturgy, the text is supplemented by the so-called Lesser Doxology (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”). The textual meanings are mostly lost in the musical setting, but the composer highlights the most significant words so that the audience can follow the musical narration.
The first part (“Magnificat anima mea…”) forms an elegiac prologue, and the next (“Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae…”) – is a three-theme fuge making use of elaborate polyphonic theme transpositions details or which are hard to pick out by ear, in which the texture becomes incredibly dense. The third part (“Et misericordia eius…”) is an ascetic episode, whereas the austere but also exalted fourth part (“Fecit potentiam…”) with a bass recitative and arioso forms an introduction to the fifth part (“Deposuit potentes de sede…”), a passacaglia brilliantly demonstrating the composer’s sound imagination, supported by its text that tells of “the mighty being put down from their seat” and “the humble and meek being exalted”. The sixth part (“Sicut locutus est…”), for a cappella choirs – contemplative, rather static – leads to the final part, which is an enthusiastic hymn of praise to the Trinity (“Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto…”), interpreted by the full performing forces. Another point of destination is tonality, which in the final part becomes very distinct. The E flat major triad on the word ‘Gloria’ resembles the “sol” from the culmination of Cosmogony…
Penderecki, working on numerous different commissions, nevertheless managed
to complete the piece at the last moment and conducted its premiere, as the
great Herbert von Karajan was unable to prepare in such a short time. Five
hundred people took their seats to listen to the piece in a church in Salzburg,
and four hundred others were standing. St. John’s Archcathedral in Warsaw,
where the work was performed during the Warsaw Autumn festival, could not hold
the huge audience that came to hear the piece. After the ovation, Cardinal
Wyszyński gave a spontaneous speech about man’s freedom, faith, art and the
nation. The Magnificat was
awarded the Arthur Honegger Prize in 1978.