WTF?! Wednesday: Krzysztof Penderecki, “Polymorphia” (1961)

The name Krzysztof Penderecki indeed belongs to the film score hall of fame. His uber-creepy “Polymorphia” has been used in The Exorcist, The Shining, and more recently, 1993’s Fearless. If you’ve got directors William Friedkin, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch on your resume, you’ve got some serious creepy goin’ on.

Penderecki likes to explore unconventional uses for strings. “Polymorphia” features 48 stringed instruments — 24 violins, eight violas, cellos, and basses — that mostly avoid any fragments of “normal” play. There are low droning pedal tones that increase ominously in pitch over time and furious, percussive uses of pizzicato.

Foreshadowed by the violins letting loose with an unhinged exercise in glissando, the composition culminates in a mind-exploding freakout with just a minute left in the composition. The dark intensity of it reminds me of Ligeti’s monolith scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as George Crumb’s Black Angels.

Perhaps most shocking is the chord coming at the very end. It’s a return to normalcy. It’s the sound of insanity.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.