My mother had bought the city trip to Kraków some time ago as a present to celebrate me completing my first medical internship. I’m happy to be there with my mum. However, upon arrival, the predominant mood is one of fatigue and irritability, brought on both by a number of intense weeks doing my medical internship and the shooting at the Erasmus MC.

I wasn’t there. I had just arrived for an evening shift at A&E at another hospital, when my phone got hit by a flood of messages. Each message made the tragedy worse in my head. Three shooters, bombs going off at Blaak. I nervously prepared myself mentally for the carbon inhalation trauma cases, the resuscitation attempts, the dead students. Luckily, none of that materialised.

The charming city, the old church, the sarcophagus – all of them are a welcome distraction. I take a photo for my uncle, who is an extremely critical director of a conservatory and who has no qualms about laying into and obliterating the most celebrated composers. Nothing but praise for Penderecki from my dear uncle, though. His eyes become boyish with excitement when he tells me about when they met in 1984.

He first introduced me to Penderecki eight years ago now, through his composition ‘Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima’. Penderecki offers an idiomatic and economical introduction to his intense work, when all of a sudden, the piece gives way to ferocious tone clusters that interrupt one another one by one. In just a few seconds, the piece is transformed into a complete cacophony of sound.

This is followed by the plucking of strings and clatter of wood, the expansion of tone clusters like air raid sirens. Weakening, looming. Sudden, powerful, dissonant. A few minutes passed. I glanced over at my uncle. His face was relaxed; he was listening intently.

A ‘threnody’ means something like a lament. It was written in 1960 for the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. That was all the information and interpretation he gave me, leaving me to figure out the rest on my own. I was at a loss. How on earth did this qualify as music? How does this music comfort anyone? I was familiar with mourning from dreamy pavanes and gloomy songs. How did this piece represent grief?

My uncle is grateful for the photo. He emphasises that Penderecki was one of the greats. He asks if I ever listen to his music.

That evening I put on my headphones, close my eyes and listen to Penderecki’s lament. The music arouses fear and panic. I can’t help but imagine the tangle of emotions that the students who saw doctor Damen shot before their very eyes must have felt. I put myself in the shoes of the students who couldn’t run down the stairwell of the GK building fast enough. Students, locked in lavatories, hanging from the patio, sending their final messages to their loved ones. Inconsolable children. The sound and the smell of the flames at the Education Centre, the soot thrown up into the air. Feeling like you’re going to suffocate.

The intense sadness in the aftermath.

I understand the music. It doesn’t reflect emotion: the piece is the emotion. There is no comfort, no redemption. It confronts the thing: that is how it grieves.

And what happened is a terrible thing.