Symphony No. 8 “Songs of Transience”
Symphony No. 8 “Songs of Transience” brings into Penderecki’s music a deeply personal, pensive, reflective tone. The composer selected texts by German poets to build a musical monument for the trees he had planted in the park grounds around his manor at Lusławice, east of Kraków. He also uses the poetic descriptions to reflect on the relation between man and nature, and on transience as an element of our mundane condition.
The symphony consists of 12 orchestral songs (in reference both to Beethoven’s 9th and to Mahler’s third symphonies, as well to the latter composer’s Das Lied von der Erde). Thus Penderecki’s symphony belongs to a hybrid genre infused with symphonic grandeur. The huge performing forces, identical to those to be used in 2010 for the triptych “A sea of dreams did breathe on me…” – Songs of Reflection and Nostalgia, are used to create transparent filigree textures.
Song I, setting the poem Nachts by Joseph von Eichendorff for mezzo-soprano and choir, is nocturnal in mood. It introduces a fragment of Rilke’s poem Ende des Herbstes (set for the choir) – its successive stanzas are used in this symphony as a kind of refrain. Song II, Brecht’s Der brennende Baum (soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, choir) is a musical vision of a tree that dies in flames. In the final section, along with hushed flute and percussion, we hear ocarinas, the small vessel flutes the composer had utilized in The Dream of Jacob, where there were 12 of them, while Symphony No. 8 calls for 50, the performers being the members of the choir.
The following three songs (all for baritone) set Eichendorff’s Bei einer Linde, Karl Kraus’s Flieder and Hermann Hesse’s Frühlingsnacht. That last song, somewhat impressionistic, attracts attention with its thin texture and instrumental onomatopoeia. After the second stanza of Rilke’s poem (for choir) come Songs VI, Sag’ ich’s euch, geliebte Bäume…? by Goethe (soprano and choir), VII, Hesse’s Im Nebel (choir and soprano) and VIII, Hans Bethge’s Blütengarten (baritone with bamboo-flute accompaniment, which was first performed in Beijing). After Song IX, Eichendorff’s Abschied (soprano and mezzo-soprano), a culmination comes in Song X, Hesse’s Vergänglichkeit (soprano and choir) followed by an epilogue consisting of the third stanza of Ende des Herbstes (choir). One more minor culmination appears in Song XI, Rilke’s Herbsttag (baritone), whereas in the last, twelfth song, the solemn O grüner Baum des Lebens by Achim von Arnim (soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, choir), we hear a shofar calling from backstage, representing the voice of God (from 26’51” in our recording), while the choir and strings join together in an angelic, slowly ascending glissando.
At the Luxembourg premiere of the original nine-part version of the symphony, the baritone part was sung by Wojtek Drabowicz. After his tragic death, his worthy successor was Vytautas Juozapaitis, who took part in the premiere of the extended version in Beijing, forming an excellent trio of soloists with Olga Pasichnyk and Agnieszka Rehlis, the latter having performed both versions.