Penderecki at the Beinecke Library
The Tangeman Lecture delivered as a preconcert interview
before a performance of the composer’s Credo, April 22, 2005
Good evening. I’m Greg Dubinsky, lecturer in history at the Yale School of Music. Maestro Penderecki, could you tell us something about the genesis of the Credo that you’re going to perform this evening.
Yes. It’s a pretty long story. Almost twenty-five years ago Helmuth Rilling, director of the Oregon Bach Festival, asked me to write a new piece, a new sacred work. It took many, many years because I was engaged in other pieces. In my first talk with him I wanted to write a Christmas oratorio, which I gave up after a couple of months. Then a Stabat MaterI had written a Stabat Mater a capella earlier, but this time it was supposed to be a piece with soloists and choir and orchestra. Then we landed on the idea that I would write a Mass. In my long list of sacred works I never wrote a Mass, really. So I agreed, and after another very large-scale piece, Seven Days of Jerusalem, which I finished in 1996, I decided I would now start the Mass, and maybe it would be my last sacred work.
So I started the Mass. I started it with the Sanctus and with the Kyrie, the Agnus Dei; I was afraid to start the Credo, because the Credo is not a text that can immediately inspire a composer. I remember that this was in February, and the first performance was to be in August, in Oregon. In February I started the Credo because I thought that if I did not write it now there would be a Mass without a Credo. There are some Masses like that. I started, and the Credo grew and grew. I forgot about the other movements. Afterthe Credo was an hour long I decided that I was not going to continue with the other movements. Maybe my Credo is the longest Credo ever written.
How did you approach the Credo text? I noticed you’ve added some texts to the traditional words.
Yes. The text is a rather dry text. I was looking for some literature, of course sacred literature. I took other texts like the Commentary to the Credo, especially from the Holy Week liturgy, and also others like apocalypses. There are many short but important texts that made this form possible
Did they start to amplify or describe?
Yes, to sometimes edit a text that is dry with some other poetic text.
When I was listening to this work I noticed that you also repeat texts at various points. This is a work of very symphonic dimensions.
Yes, of course, but this is something that all composers do. There are some pieces like the Bach Amen that take maybe five minutesand it’s only “Amen.” So of course I do repeat. Yes, this piece has a symphonic form. The end of the piece is like a romantic idea, to bring all the subjects together in a finale, to finish.
The end of this Credo I find quite striking. I find your approach to this Credo text overall, in terms of the dramaturgy of the Credo, much different from Credos we might know.
Yes, at that time I was very late. I am a composer who delivers a piece sometimes a couple of days before the performance. This time it was the same. A week before the first performance, actually it was in July, not in August, a week before the performance I finished the last page. In Oregon, I was writing. And I knew, of course, that it’s only the Credo, so it has to have a grand finale. And it does. Of course, this is a different kind of Credo from what other composers did, which is only one movement. Here it is the entire piece, with a closed form.
I find the tenorthe tone of this musicfor the last half of this Credo rather surprising in some respects, and much different from previous settings. The Resurrexit, which you set, and the Et vitam venturi saeculi, texts that have been set by composers in a very joyful manor, with bright major fugues, have a much different flavor under your pen. Would you care to …
Ah, yes. Of course, the Resurrexit. There are two movements that are almost similar, by all the composers. These are the Crucifixus, of course, which is the central movement in this piece. It has been greatly influenced by Bach, by the B Minor Mass. That was maybe my real inspiration. The Resurrexit, that’s the only fragment that allows the movement to ride to allegro or presto. In such a long piece, which is an hour long, I made use of this text, adding, of course, some things, especially from apocalypses …
I find this apocalyptic tone to be very, very striking, and very, very impressive. It has some unusual sounds in it, as well. Is there anything…
You mean the instruments? I’m always looking for new instruments. For one hundred years we have not had really new instruments; we have to use the samealmost the sameinstruments as composers one hundred years ago did. Maybe the newest instrument we use is the saxophone, which is over a hundred years old. So in each piece I try to introduce a new instrument. In this case the percussion instrument I used is the boobam [an idiophone composed of bamboo tubes]. The boobam is the percussion instrument closest to the marimba, but more striking. I think it’s a fantastic instrument, and the player, he is excellent.
Where did you find this boobam?
I have a very good friend who is the producer of percussion instruments. Sometimes I visit him and he shows me some instruments.
Have you used some of his other instruments before, or is this the first time?
In The Seven Days of Jerusalem I used tubaphones, [which are] also percussion instruments. They are new instruments, never used before. Long tubes. They allowed me to go very low, to A-flat sub-contra [two octaves below bass clef staff]; no other instrument can really use this range.
That’s remarkable. It [the boobam] makes an appearance again near the end of the Credo; when talking about sins and so forth this material returns. As I was listening what particularly struck me about your Credo is the very opening of this piece. When the text talks about Dominum Jesum Christum and Filium Dei you have almost ecstatic music, bright triumphs, soaring very, very high. Perhaps it is promising an ending for this composition that will be equally bright and affirmative. And what strikes me about the last third or so of this piece is the degree to which the tone stays stoic; there is a lot of lamenting and anguish, and that tone remains present except at the very end when you have the extraordinary effect of the chorus. They have been singing in minor chords and with open fifths, but they disappear, and then as if from a distance a major triad suddenly appears, bringing just a little ray of hope to what had been a fairly anguished Credo. I wonder if you can say something about this.
I don’t know, because I am always writing a piece as a whole. I’m not a composer who sees the piano and plays some chords. The concept is, from the beginning, thinking of the whole piece. And of course I have high points connected with the text, but sometimes not, sometimes connected with the music, which is even more important, I think. I am sometimes only using the text while writing my music. The music goes and the text follows. This many composers did, I think, before me; it’s nothing new. But this is maybe the only way to overwhelm the large form.
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