Krzysztof Penderecki: Intermezzo


Composed in 1973, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Intermezzo is composed for 24 strings. The work bears resemblance to his First Symphony in terms of style. Penderecki builds various stages of narrative throughout Intermezzo which sees each individual part shine through. 


The Music

The timbres and textures that Penderecki creates in Intermezzo is one of the highlights of the piece. The irregular entries from the beginning means that each individual player can be heard distinctly. The kaleidoscopic overlap of each part creates a wonderful colourful centre for harmony to be built upon. 

The six viola parts intertwine and overlap to introduce the chromatic motif that is then developed throughout the piece. The use of dense textures paired with dissonant use of quarter-tones creates a really exciting harmonic palette. 

A solo violin takes the lead with a ‘sighing’ motiv, which encourages the other instruments to join in the mix, which gradually brightens the sound. Penderecki’s use of glissandi pops through the sonorous textures, adding a unique twist. As the strings build together creating a wall of sound, they soon break off into polyrhythmic sections. 

As the intensity grows, so does the aggression of the bowing, which creates a demonic atmosphere that is supported by Penderecki’s use of dissonance. After the angry explosions of bowing, Intermezzo ends quietly with a single note.


Final Thoughts

Krzysztof Penderecki’s Intermezzo is a great example of the composer’s mastery in orchestration. Even with 24 plays, Penderecki was able to make each voice distinct, even in the most rich and dense sections. 

This blog was written the same day as the death of Krzysztof Pendercki sadly passed away on March 29th 2020. May he now rest in peace.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy…Edward Elgar: Serenade for Strings


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