A Garden of Earthly Delights: the virtual platform honoring the legacy of composer Krzysztof Penderecki
When Krzysztof Penderecki passed away in March 2020, the Polish composer left behind not only some of the most exciting, atmospheric and daringly inventive music of the past half century, but also a remarkable garden – located about 100 km from Krakow, the Penderecki’s arboretum covers 62 acres and contains 1,700 different species of trees. “I am walking in my garden and I am happy,” he said in 2019. “I go over there, to the big trees, and I put my arms around one of them for a moment. It’s a hug that gives me a feeling of power and peace.
So what better way to celebrate the life of the great man than with an online virtual garden? Penderecki’s garden is a wonderfully inventive and interactive way to explore the composer’s universe, his love of flora and, of course, his music.
The garden is an original idea of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the organization created in 2000 to promote Polish culture in an inventive and inspiring way. In addition to celebrating great Polish artists through the past and marking major anniversaries, the Institute also defends the brilliant talent of today, whether they are dazzling jazz musicians or the exciting scene of ‘avant-garde. And as one of Poland’s biggest music exports, Penderecki is of course at the heart of the Institute’s work.
In Penderecki’s Garden you will not only find guides to a number of his masterpieces, you will also learn about the tree species found in Krzysztof Penderecki’s beautiful garden in Lusławice, Poland. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute he also leads other initiatives that have been inspired by his life and work. These include the recent release of a limited edition vinyl, its 1964 Painters from Gdansk, accompanied by short works by three contemporary Polish composers. Although the vinyl itself is not available for purchase, you can still check out the wonderful playlist on the Culture.pl Soundcloud page here.
To accompany the website, the Institute also planted memorial trees in selected locations around the world, each bearing a plaque bearing Penderecki’s name. In cooperation with Polish Embassies and Polish Institutes, trees were already planted earlier this year in Brussels, Ottawa, Kaunas, Leipzig and Singapore, and by the end of 2021 there will also be one in Bangkok!
The tree in Singapore was planted on November 23, marking what would have been Penderecki’s 88th birthday. The same day also saw the launch of the “Garden of Memory” section on the Penderecki Garden website, where fans of the composer and his music can share their memories and appreciation. A new podcast series has also been launched here.
It is therefore time to enter the Garden of Penderecki. There you will find a guide to a number of its many trees. And, while you enjoy your virtual walk, here are five of the masterpieces you’ll hear along the way …
The best pieces of music from Krzysztof Penderecki
Symphony No. 8, “Songs of Transience”
Written for soloists, choir and orchestra, Penderecki’s Eighth Symphony is dedicated, yes, to trees! Composed of 12 short movements with titles such as “By a lime tree”, “Am I telling you, beloved trees? And “O Green Tree of Life”, this often powerful 35-minute work showcases the composer’s talent at composing for vocals.
Only seven minutes long, Penderecki’s 1962 work for unaccompanied choir has an extraordinary impact in its short duration. Depicting the scene of the Virgin Mary at the cross, the play begins with grouped voices in a mysteriously disturbing fashion before finally erupting into a glorious finale. An essential introduction to the sacred music of Penderecki.
Concerto for horn, ‘Winterreise’
Another work inspired by trees, in this case the forests that Penderecki remembered when he was young. With a title meaning “Winter Journey”, this magnificent 2007 work for horn and orchestra takes us deep into the woods with moments of awe-filled mystery mingled with thrilling passages as we race on horseback, the sound bugle in our ears.
The passion of Saint Luke
Composed in the 1960s, Penderecki’s epic work for three solo voices, narrator, three choirs, boy’s choir and orchestra is extremely dramatic. Its power comes in part from a daring mix of styles, from avant-garde to its nods to the traditions of JS Bach and Palestrina from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.
Violin Concerto No.1
Created by the great Isaac Stern in 1976, the First Violin Concerto marks a turning point towards an almost modernist style. Frequently recalling Bartók’s music, Penderecki inserts captivating musical effects alongside a plaintive and soaring solo violin part.