Taking third prize at the prestigious Grzegorz Fitelberg Composers' Competition in 1960, Krzysztof Penderecki burst onto the international scene with Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, scored for 52 string instruments. One of the most harrowing pieces of music ever conceived, Threnody is unforgiving and brutal, horrifying and captivating, solemn and catastrophic.
Its atmospheric dissonance engulfs the listener with tone clusters that are piercing and shrieking at an orchestra’s highest register. Originally entitled 8'37”, Threnody’s score is unorthodox and mostly symbol-based, directing the musicians to play at various vague points on their instruments or to focus on textural effects and extended techniques, like playing on the wrong side of the bridge or slapping the instrument percussively. The piece includes an invisible canon in 36 voices and an overall musical texture that is more important than any individual note. Penderecki sought to heighten the dissonant element of the piece by composing in quarter tones -- hypertonality -- creating a greater reaching elegiac mood than could be found in traditional tonality.