Krzysztof Penderecki composed “Polymorphia,” for 48 string instruments, in 1961. It pushes the strings’ sonic abilities to modernist limits: squeaks, wails, mutterings, and growls, an idiom of noise and effects. The piece ends, however, with a grand C-major chord.
“This was, of course,” he recalls, “a shock for people of that time.” But the tonality was always there, waiting to be revealed. “I started with a C-major chord, and worked back to the beginning. . . . I didn’t want actually to shock, but for me this was a logical solution after all these very dense, quarter-step clusters, you know?” he says. “It was the only solution at the end of this piece I could imagine.”