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About this Piece

With the death of Górecki, Penderecki is clearly the dean of the Polish School. He began piano and violin studies at an early age, and at first wanted to become a virtuoso violinist. After studying composition at the conservatory in Krakow, however, he quickly won many prizes for his innovative string textures, which established him as a leading European modernist. His music ranges from works on tape to opera and film scores, and he has won, among others, the Grawemeyer Award for his Symphony No. 4 and a Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his Violin Concerto No. 2.

He made his international reputation with the fiercely keening strings of the Threnody “To the Victims of Hiroshima,” pratically the textbook model for Polish sonorism, and string music has formed a distinguished and well-populated subset of his creative output. The Sinfonietta No. 2 is a transcription of his Clarinet Quartet (1993), commissioned by the Kissinger Sommers festival and premiered in Bad Kissingen in 1994, with the composer conducting the Sinfonia Varsovia and clarinet soloist Paul Meyer.

The brief opening Notturno is almost all clarinet, in a wide-ranging but pensive solo, shadowed midway through by the violas.

The Scherzo, on the other hand, begins with nothing but soft unison strings for over 50 bars (very fast bars, however, marked Vivacissimo). Its contrasts are rhetorical as much as structural, and its rhythm more insistent than the immediately ensuing Serenade in the same meter, though the latter is marked Tempo di Valse.

Valedictory summation is the essence of the finale, a slowish but almost constantly flickering Abschied (Farewell). The violas again partner the solo clarinet, with the other strings in emphatic unison at first. The vehemence subsides, leaving a solo violin cadenza to rewind some of the initial urgency. The whispering close reminds us of Penderecki’s string wizardry and effective affection for elegies.

— John Henken