Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki is a Polish composer and conductor.

Born in Dębica, Poland, Penderecki studied music at Jagiellonian University and the Academy of Music in Kraków. After graduating from the Academy of Music, Penderecki became a teacher at the academy and began his career as a composer in 1959 during the Warsaw Autumn festival.

Among his best known works are his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Symphony No. 3, St. Luke Passion, Polish Requiem, Anaklasis, Utrenja, four operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral pieces, a variety of instrumental concertos, choral settings of mainly religious texts, as well as chamber and instrumental works.

He has won many prestigious awards, including five Grammy Awards in 1987, 1998, 2001, 2013, and 2017 and the “Best Living Composer” award at the 2000 Midem Classic in Cannes.

Some of Penderecki’s music has been adapted for film soundtracks. The Exorcist (1973) features his String Quartet and Kanon For Orchestra and Tape; fragments of the Cello Concerto and The Devils of Loudun. The Shining (1980) features six pieces of Penderecki’s music: Utrenja II: Ewangelia, Utrenja II: Kanon Paschy, The Awakening of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris No. 1, De Natura Sonoris No. 2 and Polymorphia. David Lynch has used Penderecki’s music in the soundtracks of the movies Wild at Heart (1990) and Inland Empire (2006), while Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) featured his Symphony No. 3 and Fluorescences.
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima received the UNESCO prize in 1959 and spans 52 string instruments, melding them together in sonoristic manipulation and counterpoint. The piece combines sustained tone clusters and a riot of varying vibrato. It sometimes takes a random approach, offering the players a choice of techniques but is also marked by a considerable rigor in its timing indications.
From the 1970s onwards Penderecki’s composing style changed, leaving behind the dense tone clusters with which he was associated towards cleaner melodic intervals of semitones and tri-tones, beginning with his Violin Concerto No. 1 and continuing with the Symphony No. 2, Christmas (1980), that makes frequent reference to the tune of the famous carol Silent Night. This shift away from avant-garde experimentation occurred as Pendercki felt it was more destructive than constructive.

Fun Fact

A main-belt asteroid – 21059 Penderecki is named in Penderecki’s honour.

About this Contributor

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Krzysztof Eugeniusz
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Minutes created
Collection 2 #42

Minutes by Krysztof Penderecki