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Sonorism (Polish: Sonoryzm) is an approach to musical composition associated with a number of notable Polish composers. The scholar Józef Michał Chomiński coined the term "sonoristics" (Polish: sonorystyka) to describe the urge to explore purely sonic phenomena in composition, and from this term derived "sonorism" to describe an avant-garde style in Polish music of the 1960s that focused on timbre (Chomiński 1961). As a movement, sonorism was initiated in the 1950s in the avant-garde of Polish music (Granat 2008, §i). Music that emphasises sonorism as a compositional approach tends to focus on specific characteristics and qualities of timbre, texture, articulation, dynamics, and motion in an attempt to create freer form. The style is primarily associated with an experimental musical movement which arose in Poland in the mid-1950s and flourished through the 1960s.

Sonorism emphasizes discovering new types of sounds from traditional instruments, as well as the creation of textures by combining different, often unconventional instrumental sounds in unusual and unique ways. The term sonoristics is used to describe this novel approach, which went beyond merely injecting individual color, quirks, and experimentation. It aimed to establish new structural functions in a composition, such as employing non-functional chords for sonorous effects, and emphasizing the sonic aspect of texts in vocal music (Granat 2008).


Sonorism is rooted in the nationalistic movement of the 1920s called "Polish colourism", whose best-known exponent is Karol Szymanowski. Sonorism as such was developed in the 1950s and 1960s as a means of gaining freedom from strict serialism, particularly by Krzysztof Penderecki, but also in a number of compositions by Grażyna Bacewicz, Henryk Górecki, Kazimierz Serocki, Wojciech Kilar, Witold Szalonek, Witold Rudziński, Zbigniew Bujarski, Zbigniew Penherski, and Zygmunt Krauze, amongst others (Granat 2008; Rappoport-Gelfand 1991, 68–69).

Composers associated with sonoristic composition[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Chomiński, Józef. 1961. "Technika sonorystyczna jako przedmiot systematycznego szkolenia" (Sonoristic Technique as the Subject of a Systematic Training). Muzyka 6, no. 3:3–10.
  • Granat, Zbigniew. 2008. "Sonoristics, Sonorism". Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root (22 October).
  • Rappoport-Gelfand, Lidia. 1991. Musical Life in Poland: The Postwar Years, 1945–1977, translated from the Russian by Irina Lasoff. Monographs in Psychobiology 10; Monographs on Musicology 10. Amsterdam: OPA; New York, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Montreux, Tokyo, and Melbourne: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers. ISBN 978-2-88124-319-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Droba, Krzysztof. 2005. "Sonoryzm polski". In Kompozytorzy polscy 1918–2000: praca zbiorowa. 1: Eseje, edited by Marek Podhajski.[page needed] Prace Specjalne / Akademia Muzyczna im. Stanislawa Moniuszki w Gdansku 66. Gdańsk and Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Akademii Muzycznej im. S. Moniuszki. ISBN 9788389444820.
  • Dziębowska, Elżbieta. 1979. "Koncepcja realnego kształtu dzieła muzycznego" [A Concept of the Actual Shape of the Musical Work]. Muzyka 24, no. 4:5-16.
  • Granat, Zbigniew. 2009. "Rediscovering 'Sonoristics': A Groundbreaking Theory from the Margins of Musicology". In Music's Intellectual History, edited by Zdravko Blažeković and Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie, 821–33. New York: Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale. ISBN 978-1-932765-05-2.
  • Gwizdalanka, Danuta. 2009. Historia muzyki: podrecznik dla szkól muzycznych. Cz. 3, XX wiek. Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne SA. ISBN 9788322408926.
  • Harley, Maria Anna. 1998. "The Polish School of Sonorism and Its European Context". In Crosscurrents and Counterpoints: Offerings in Honor of Bengt Hambræus at 70, edited by Per F. Broman, Nora Engebretsen, and Bo Alphonce, 62–77. Skrifter från Musikvetenskapliga Avdelningen 51. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet. ISBN 91-85974-45-5.
  • Lindstedt, Iwona. 2006. "On Methods of Analysing Sonoristic Music in the Context of Musical Sonology of Józef M. Chomiński". Musicology Today 3:93–125.
  • Malinowski, Władysław. 1957. "Problem sonorystyki w Mitach Karola Szymanowskiego" [The Problem of Sonoristics in Szymanowski’s Myths]. Muzyka 2, no. 4:31–44.
  • Mirka, Danuta. 1996. "Some Semiotic Problems of Krzysztof Penderecki's Sonoristic Style". In Musical Semiotics in Growth, edited by Eero Tarasti, Paul Forsell, and Richard Littlefield, 73–82. Acta Semiotica Fennica 4; Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature 4. Imatra and Bloomington: International Semiotics Institute; Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-32949-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-253-21009-7 (pbk).
  • Mirka, Danuta. 2003. "Penderecki’s Sonorism Against Serialism". Studies in Penderecki 2 (Penderecki and the Avant-garde):199–209.
  • Skowron, Zbigniew. 2003. "Trends in European Avant-garde Music of the 1950s and 1960s". Studies in Penderecki 2 (Penderecki and the Avant-garde): 179–89.
  • Thomas, Adrian. 2008. Polish Music since Szymanowski. Music in the Twentieth Century 19. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139441186.
  • Witkowska-Zaremba, Elżbieta (ed.). 2008. Sonoristic Legacies—Towards New Paradigms in Music Theory, Æsthetics and Composition, with an introduction by Zbigniew Granat. Muzyka: Kwartalnik poświęcony historii i teorii muzyki 53, no. 1; no. 208:1-139.
  • Wójtowicz, Ewa. 2017. "A Phenomenon of String Quartet in the Works of Kraków Composers from 1960s". In Sounds, Societies, Significations: Numanistic Approaches to Music, edited by Rima Povilionienė, 33–46. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG. ISBN 978-3-319-47059-7 (cloth); ISBN 978-3-319-47060-3 (ebook).

External links[edit]

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