Born: Nov 23, 1933 in Debica, Poland
Styles: Poland, 20th Century Classical/Modern Composition, Atonal, Classical
Instruments: Conductor, Composer
One of the best known, most listened to, and most popular composers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Krzysztof Penderecki has undergone a marked evolution in compositional style. After achieving fame with such astringent, often anguished, scores as his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and Passion According to St. Luke (1965), both of which stretched tonal language, Penderecki followed a personal imperative in moving toward more tonal music. As early as 1980, his Symphony No. 2 embraced pre-serialist notions of melody and harmony. This fertile exploration of traditional language has continued to yield rewarding works into the new millennium. Penderecki was given violin and piano lessons as a child. He studied art and literary history and philosophy at the local university while also attending the Krakow Conservatory. He privately studied composition before he entered the Krakow State Academy of Music in 1954. In 1959, three of his compositions, each submitted under pseudonyms, won first prizes in a competition sponsored by the Polish Composer's Union. Fame rapidly followed. Both his Threnody and St. Luke Passion received worldwide performances in numbers rare for contemporary works, especially those written with such demanding techniques: glissandi, tonal clusters, unpitched sounds, spoken interjections, aleatoric effects, and shouting. Commissions came in quick succession, a corollary career as a lecturer developed, and in 1972, Penderecki began to conduct his own works. The first of Penderecki's stage works, The Devils of Loudon, became a European sensation in 1969 with numerous performances and considerable discussion. A second opera, one of epic scale, was commissioned by the Chicago Lyric Opera. Paradise Lost (after Milton) was mounted in 1976 in an immensely expensive production seen in Chicago and Italy. Die schwarze Maske was premiered in 1986, followed in 1991 by the comic work Ubu Rex. Penderecki is among the most honored composers ever. He holds honorary memberships in many of the world's most prestigious conservatories, awards from numerous competitions, several honorary doctorates, and has been recognized with national orders from such nations as Germany, Austria, and his native Poland. Since his conducting debut, he has been a respected podium figure, leading both his own works and a variety of music by other composers representing several centuries. The North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg engaged him as principal guest conductor. Though not extraordinarily prolific, Penderecki has amassed a sizeable catalog of orchestral works, chamber music, concertos, and choral works.
- Erik Eriksson (All Music Guide)
An internationally known composer and conductor, Krzysztof Penderecki is best known for his 1965 composition "St. Luke's Passion." His style reflects the changes in music from the '60s to the present day. He has played with and conducted several orchestras and has won numerous awards for his composition and conducting.
Born in Debica, Poland, in 1933, Krzysztof Penderecki graduated from the Krakow High School of Music and quickly became an accomplished composer in Poland. He won all three prizes at the 1959 contest sponsored by the Polish Composer's Association. Penderecki's early works, such as "Emanations," "Strophes" and "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," reflect his early avant-garde style, in which he combined sound with social issues of the time.
With inspiration from the Orthodox liturgy, Penderecki composed several religious choral works. The most famous, "St. Luke's Passion," was completed in 1965 and in 1966 was played by Penderecki at Minster Cathedral. This was followed by "Utrenia" in 1971, a work that recounts the events that took place after the Crucifixion, and "Magnificat" in 1974. During the time he was making a name for himself as an excellent composer, he held several prestigious positions. From 1972 to 1979 he was music director at the Krakow High School of Music and taught at Yale University from 1973 to 1978. After his debut in the liturgical field of music, he began to restructure his music, changing his style to reflect contemporary neo-Romanticism. In 1977 he wrote Violin Concerto for Isaac Stern. His "Te Deum," written in 1980, was dedicated to Pope John Paul II.
Aside from being a noted composer, Krzysztof Penderecki also established himself as a musical dramatist during the late '60s and '70s.His first opera was The Devils of Loudon, followed by the 1978 premiere in Chicago of Paradise Lost. The Black Mask, his third opera received rousing acclaim at the Salzburg Festival in 1986. During the '80s, his compositions began to reflect both sounds of his first period and romantic gestures of the second. His works during this period included "Cello Concerto No. 2" and the "Viola Concerto." The "Polish Requiem," written in 1984, reflects the his view of his native land in their struggle for freedom. Since 1988, he has produced a number of symphonies and concertos, including "The Flute Concerto," written for Jean-Pierre Rampal. "Per Slava," a noted chamber work, was written for Mstislav Rostropovich. Two of his works, "Violin Concerto No. 2" and "Symphony No. 3," premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1996.
Like many other composers of the 20th century, was also known for his conducting. He has conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and orchestras in France, England, Italy, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. In America he has performed with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Along with his tours, recitals and composing music, he holds two permanent positions: the guest conductor of the NDR Orchestra in Hamburg and the music director of the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.
For his compositions and conducting talents, Krzysztof Penderecki has been awarded with the UNESCO Award, the Great Art Award of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Prix Italia, the Prix Artur Honegger, the Sibelius Prize, the Premio Lorenzo Magnifico and the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. He received two Emmy nominations for the broadcasts from the Casals Festival. Several universities have honored him with honorary doctorates.