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A Hell

January 24, 2010

I was surprised to read that Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima received its name only after Penderecki heard the piece performed for the first time. Twentieth century music can be difficult to listen to, but Black Angels is the only piece I can think of that rivals Threnody . I find listening to be so taxing that it’s difficult to form cogent thoughts about the music while it’s going on.

The piece employs quarter tones to achieve a sort of perfect dissonance, often in very high pitched tone clusters, abating only for the occasional sustained unisons and a notable period of silence. Its intensity is bolstered by jarring and cinematic timing. At times, it feels like program music -it’s hard not to hear air-raid sirens in there -but its frantic energy muddies the listener’s ability to declare “this part stands for the explosion” and “here is radiation.”

After listening to the piece, it takes months until I want to listen again, but I’m glad every time I do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alek permalink
    January 26, 2010 6:53 am

    Have a listen to this. Nothing like hiroshima, but another orgy of dissonance.

    • Barry permalink*
      January 26, 2010 10:22 am

      The illustration makes me giggle like a little girl.

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