About Katri Nironen, Krzysztof Penderecki … and the voice of horror


Monday August 6, 1945 at 8:15
The atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima in Japan. 70.000 to 80.000 people – a third of the population – died instantly on radiation, pressure damages and fires.

Monday, February 29, 1960 at 00:15
The earthquake destroyed Agadir in Morocco. 12000-18000 people – more than a third of the population – died under the collapsed buildings.

* * *

“Krzysztof Penderecki 2008” by Akumiszcza. (Wikipedia)

In 1960, the Polish Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) won the third prize in composition competition in Katowice with the work 8’37”. When working with the composition he did not know how it would sound when played with the orchestra, and was surprised realizing its emotional power as a live performance. He decided to name the work later to Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

In 1960, Swedish poet Artur Lundkvist (1906-1991) was in Agadir when the earthquake hit. He wrote a poem of what he saw and experienced, destruction and suffering. The poem carrying the name of the city  was published in 1961.

Finnish experimental theater pioneer Katri Nironen (1920-2015) made a sound composition Agadir for human voices in 1965, based on Lundkvist’s poem. The work was recorded in the Finnish Broadcasting company’s (YLE) studio, broadcasted several times in radio, but Nironen and her team never performed that in front of a live audience. Nironen has said about the composition that “while voice choir has not yet found true position in our cultural environment, it has, however, a solid history“. Upon this tradition it was good to build something new.

* * *

March 4, 2015 was the first live performance of Agadir, under the leadership of Petri Kuljuntausta, fifty years after the birth of the composition. I was a member of the voice choir. The experience was strong, for the performers and also for those who were in the audience: there were e.g. Katri Nironen’s theater members, and her daughter Leena Schönberg-Saari.

Agadirin esitys Taideyliopistossa 4.3.2015.

Agadir in the University of Arts, Helsinki March 4, 2015.

Musiikkitalon piippuhyllyllä ennen konsertin alkua 13.3.2015

In Musiikkitalo, Helsinki before the concert, March 13, 2015

March 13, 2015 Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra RSO played Penderecki’s Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima. I was sitting on the highest row in Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, almost over the orchestra. The atmosphere, sound colors and voice masses thrilled me.

I could not avoid comparing Nironen’s Agadir performed only a couple of weeks earlier on this Penderecki’s composition: they were made of the same decade, they are key works of avant-garde, sound masses, graphic notation (watch the video of the notation of Threnody), ordinary instrument – human voice and string instruments – used in an unusual way, thematic similarity, figurative horrors of disasters.

Sivu Agadirin graafisesta esitysohjeesta.

One page of the graphical notation of Agarid, made by Anssi Asunta.

* * *

Did Nironen know Threnody before composing Agadir? Did he also know Penderecki? Maybe. Katri Nironen herself can no longer answer – he died a month ago, on July 24 – but one can guess, and ask questions.

Both Nironen that Penderecki were trendsetters in their respective areas. Nironen closely followed the latest trends in the performing arts, which she heard no doubt already when she lived in Sweden in the 1950s. (Penderecki’s first visit to Finland was 1968, during which he received good publicity on the radio and in the press (Source: Kuljuntausta (2002): ON/OFF:.. Eetteriäänistä elektroniseen musiikkiin). This visit, however, was only after Nironen composed Agadir.)

Nironen’s daughter Leena Schönberg-Saari told me:

“I have studied Katri’s notes and his records. I have not found any indication of the connection with Krzysztof Penderecki. This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that Katri would have heard somewhere this piece [Threnody].

I remember that Katri once a while mentioned about ideas or artworks whose starting point had been similar as her thoughts or work. Then Katri said about that,

“It would be delusion of grandeur to imagine being the only person on earth who thinks or works on any subject. – Some things are as in the air, and can pop out at the same time in different directions”.

In this case, it is also a question of very similar, huge disasters, whose theme and progress is expressed acoustically.”

Leena Schönberg-Saari continues about the  first recording:

“Agadir has not previously been shown live [before April 3, 2015]. It was originally made for and broadcasted by YLE in Finland, and has been played in Finland and around the world more than 30 times over the years, I recall that e.g. RAI in Italy has broadcasted it several times.

Also in the recording in 1965 performers had their own roles and each moved under Katri’s guidance. The quake scene was a chaotic movement which ended with stagnant picture. Injured and trapped people were in such positions they fell during the quake. In these positions the voice of each artist reflected better the reality. That is, the origin of the sounds was movement … This was perhaps the key of Katri’s “manifestation expression” … “

* * *

This week Agadir will be performed live again, first at the opening ceremony of the University of the Arts on Wednesday, and a public performance in Helsinki Design Week‘s Kaupunkitila | Urban Space event in Helsinki Lyypekinlaituri in front of the Old Market Hall on Friday, September 4, 2015 at 18 o’clock.


About Olli Laasanen

Eyes and ears open. New and old. Jobs and hobbies. Pictures and music. Entertaining and serious. Change and stability. Nature and urban.
This entry was posted in Artsy, Finland, Music, Poland and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to About Katri Nironen, Krzysztof Penderecki … and the voice of horror

  1. A very intriguing read, Ollie. Thanks for sharing; would otherwise never have known about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s