Uwertura pittsburska (Pittsburgh Ouverture)
After his experiences with the Passion and various concerto forms, in the Pittsburgh Ouverture Penderecki returns to a purely sonoristic formula. But the cast is different, and sonotypes that were formerly developed for strings are now applied to wind instruments. Some of the latter are quite rare types: e.g. the bass oboe or contrabass clarinets. These instruments are opposed to an extended percussion section, joined by the piano, while the accordion supports the “winds“.
The work is characterised by heterogeneity, achieved by a number of unconventional narrative means. The majority are dynamically shaped group textures, an element that distinguishes the Ouverture from a more static, typically cluster-based technique of early sonorism that served to emphasise different sound events appearing consecutively. Even in prolonged areas of clusters or groups, the Ouverture exudes a feeling of movement, life, according to the “biological nature” of sound articulation on winds. There is even more energy emanating from the percussion. At some point, the strong timpani take over the narrative, culminating in the poignant closing gesture: a strong beat on two timpani and the large drum, tuned a semi-tone apart.
The sound narrative is intense, at times dramatic, and in a special sense, dramaturgic. The drama is built of contrasts and oppositions: wind – brass, solo – group, loud – soft, low – high, etc.
But the plot is principally fuelled by the antagonism between the group of membranophones and the rest of the orchestra. This implied expressivity is then confirmed on a more detailed level. The intervallic structures of motives within instrumental groups announce a type of melody that would later mark the neo-Expressionist period in Krzysztof Penderecki’s output. The sonoristic plot of the Ouverture suggests a traditional understanding of the work’s title: an introduction to something, though we ignore what. But we may also see the Pittsburgh Ouverture as a sort of concerto for “orchestra without strings”. The instruments, however, have no opportunity for soloist exhibition (with two exceptions). Rather, they are subordinated to the requirements of collective playing in different textural constellations, they consolidate in groups, and the concertising space is defined by their timbre: cluster-like or diffused, mobile or static, recognisable or hidden. These timbres compete against each other in a tendency, typical for sonorism, to obliterate the sound source.
Although the Pittsburgh Ouverture has not yet been performed in Poland, it is well present in the repertoire of the best wind orchestras in those countries where the latter belong to the local tradition. In the process of nobilitation of wind instruments, inaugurated in 20th-century music by Igor Stravinsky, the Ouverture is a new proposal. At the same time, it is a stage in the exploration of the peculiar and demanding wind sonority, later to be developed by other composers, particularly Witold Szalonek.