Since the 1950s, Krzysztof Penderecki (pronounced Ksheesh-tov Pen-deh-rets-key) has been called Poland’s leading composer of the modern age, and after four decades of creativity and acclaim, has even been classed as one of the world’s greatest living composers. Once known for writing symphonies and other works with a decidedly avant-garde sound, Penderecki began writing sacred music in the 1960s. These later works—especially their choral sections—are still considered challenging to professional orchestras. The Grammy-winning composer’s epic work is the Polish Requiem, completed in 1983, which pays homage to several figures and events in the country’s post-World War II history.
Penderecki was born on November 23, 1933, in Debica, Poland. There was a large Jewish population in this small industrial town, as there was throughout most of Poland, but the events of World War II changed that as well as the political direction of Eastern Europe in the era of Penderecki’s youth. Jews in Debica, along with millions of Jews from across Europe, were sent to concentration camps after Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939. As a youth, Penderecki remembers the war years as difficult ones; from the window of his home he once saw hometown resistance fighters hanged by German authorities. After the war, Poland fell under the terms of an agreement that allowed the Soviet Union a degree of political control; a one-party “people’s republic,” based on the Soviet Communist model, was firmly in place by 1952. By that time, Penderecki was studying music at Krakow’s Superior School of Music. In the early years of communist Poland, the situation was politically unstable at times, partly because many Poles possessed a centuries-long distrust of Russia. Such sentiments compelled the Soviet-directed government to enact even more repressive measures. “Western music was almost totally forbidden, which of course made us all especially interested in Western music,” Penderecki recalled in an interview with John Borrell for Opera News.
After widespread riots in Poland against Soviet control in 1956, a more tolerant government came to power, which coincided with a general movement toward liberalization in the Soviet Bloc that same year. Like others of his generation, Penderecki felt that the authorities were a bit more receptive to artistic innovation by the time he graduated from the Krakow school in 1958. In Communist “people’s republics,” all workers are essentially employed by the government—even artists, whose work was subject to censorship from the arts ministries. But Penderecki observed that these circumstances were actually a blessing to careers like his own: “When I was a student, everyone knew he was going to get a job,” he said in the interview with Borrell. “Now we turn out far more composers and instrumentalists than we need.”
Born on November 23, 1933, in Debica, Poland; married; wife’s name, Elzbieta. Education: Graduated from the Superior School of Music, Krakow, Poland, 1958.
Became professor at the Superior School of Music, Krakow (now Academy of Music), late 1950s; rector, 1982-87; Volkwang Hochschule fur Music, Essen, Germany, 1966-68; lecturer, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 1973-78; artistic director, Krakow Philharmonic, Krakow, 1987-90; made conducting debut with the London Symphony Orchestra, 1973; music director of Puerto Rico’s Casals Festival, 1993—. Recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities, including Bordeaux, Belgrade, Warsaw, and Glasgow.
Awards: Three-time winner of the Polish Composers Association award for works submitted under pseudonyms, 1959; UNESCO award and Polish Minister of Culture Prize, 1961; First Class State Award, 1968, 1983; Polish Composers’ Union Prize, 1970; Prix d’Italia; Herder Prize, 1977; Sibelius Prize, 1983; Premio Lorenzo Magnifico, 1985; Israeli Karl Wolff Foundation Prize, 1987; Grammy Award for best classical contemporary composition, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1988, for Cello Concerto No. 2 and 1999, for Violin Concerto No. 2; Great Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit, Federal Republic of Germany, 1990; Order of Cultural Merit, Monaco, UNESCO International Music Council Award, Commander’s Cross, Order of Polonia Restituta, all 1993.
Addresses: Record company —Polskie Nagrania, ul. Okaryny 1, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland.
Submitting compositions under pseudonyms, Penderecki won theby Hiero-nymus Bosch Polish Composers Association award three times in 1959. The honor meant that he was granted a travel visa to the West for the first time that year. “That was really exciting,” he told Borrell. “You can’t imagine what it was like to travel from Poland to Italy in those days. It was like going to another world.” He soon gained a reputation for innovative compositions like Strophes and Anaklasis, the latter written for the Donaueschigen Festival of 1960. Penderecki filled his works with dissonant threads, atonal melodies, microtones (quarter tones and three-quarter tones), and the quarter-tone cluster, in which notes are grouped a quarter-step apart. He also juxtaposed highest and lowest possible notes and inserted moments of music with an indeterminate pitch. At times, the string section would emit eerie notes, produced by partial string vibrations, that are known as whistling harmonics. Sirens, silences, and snapping fingers were also part of these early works. They include De natura sonoris I and Capriccio for violin and orchestra, both dating from the mid-1960s. “For many listeners, these works called into question the location or existence of a border between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’” noted Nicholas Reyland in Central Europe Review.
As the composer told Borrell, his chosen career allowed for relatively free artistic expression during this era in Communist Poland: “[In instrumental music, ] there are no words, so the authorities could not feel threatened, as they might with a writer or even a painter.” But Penderecki remained a devout Roman Catholic, despite the official atheism dictated by Communist rule, and began to write sacred music for artistic fulfillment. He completed his Passion According to St. Luke in 1965, which would become one of his most enduring works. It was re-released in the mid-1990s with Stabat Mater and several other works, which prompted Philip Greenfield, reviewing it for American Record Guide, to remark that these pieces “and other portions of the St. Luke Passion are full of references to Gregorian chant, tone clusters, 12-tone writing, yells, hisses, and indeterminate pitches as Penderecki fashions a spiritual realm that is very eerie and overwhelming.” That recording—Psalms of David, with Penderecki conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic—also included “Song of the Cherubim,” written in the 1980s in honor of Russian dissident cellist, pianist, and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, which Greenfield termed “an intensely dramatic nod in the direction of the Russian Orthodox church.”
Penderecki’s best-known work would be his Polish Requiem, written over a two-decade period. Part of it,” Dies Irae,” was commissioned by Polish government and debuted at a 1967 ceremony honoring the victims of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau near Krakow, where many Jews and Poles alike perished. Sacred-music works from this period of his career include Utrenja (”Morning Prayer”), dating from 1970, Magnificat finished in 1974, and Te Deum in 1979.
Throughout much of his career, Penderecki taught at the Krakow Superior School, except for a stint in the 1970s when he became a lecturer at Yale University. His works were appreciated by Western listeners as well and even attracted the attention of film director Stanley Kubrick, who used some of Penderecki’s compositions for 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. A 1978 opera, Paradise Lost, was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Penderecki returned to Poland around 1980 just as renewed political unrest was coalescing around an independent trade union called Solidarity, which demanded greater worker control in Polish industry. Beginning that summer, a series of strikes virtually shut down the country at times. Much of the world watched, believing Poland was about to be the first Eastern European country to break free from Soviet communism. Instead, martial law was declared near the end of 1981, and Solidarity’s leaders were arrested. To commemorate the slaying of demonstrators killed at the Gdansk shipyard birthplace of the union, Penderecki added the movement “Lacrimosa” to the Requiem. He also wrote “Agnus Dei” on the day In 1981 that he learned his friend, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, had died. Once imprisoned in the 1950s for his outspoken views, Wyszynski headed the Catholic Church in Poland, which under his guidance was able to enjoy a degree of unparalleled religious tolerance from Eastern Bloc authorities.
Polish Requiem was first performed in the West in 1983 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Rostropovich conducted the National Symphony Orchestra that evening, but over the next decade Penderecki himself would conduct his Requiem more than 100 times. Time writer Michael Walsh called it “an agonized musical document. Its crunching, tortured melodies, sliding uneasily through microtonal intervals, are the aural equivalent of a painting in hell by Hieronymus Bosch,” Walsh asserted. “Yet there is a tempting element at work too: the ethereal ‘Agnus Dei’ is a vision of radiant beauty.” Though there were already eight movements, it was still unfinished. In its entirety, it premiered in Stuttgart in 1984, again led by Rostropovich. It contained “Recordare,” which Penderecki wrote in homage to Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest incarcerated at Auschwitz who gave his life so that a man with a family might survive, as well as the 14-minute “Sanctus” and a confident, buoyant “Finale.” Greenfield, writing in the American Record Guide about a version recorded with several notable Polish classical performers and the Stockholm Philharmonic, declared that “the Requiem reads like a tribute to the many diverse skills and styles that make this composer’s voice such a haunting and expressive one.”
Penderecki became rector of his alma mater in Krakow in 1982. As the composer matured, his works took on a more harmonic style—though his works written for the chorus still remained notoriously difficult. His later orchestral works include Symphony No. 2 in 1980, Cello Concerto No. 2 in 1983, and Credo, an extended work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra based upon the Roman Catholic liturgy that made its European debut in Krakow in 1998. Such works are far more accessible to the average listener, noted Reyland in Central Europe Review. “Melodies are stated and developed, recapitulations occur, harmonic momentum is sure-footed and rarely ambiguous, and the work’s form is clearly derived from structural archetypes dating back to Bach.”
Another important work from the 1990s was Seven Gates of Jerusalem, which had been commissioned for the 3,000-year anniversary celebration of the holy city in 1996 by the Israeli government. It made its American debut at Lincoln Center in 1998. Back in Poland—with ten years of free elections since 1989 and the rise of former Solidarity leaders to the presidency and premiership—Penderecki is active with his wife, Elzbieta, in shaping the historic medieval city into a new center of music for Eastern Europe. Krakow was the capital of Poland for six centuries and is considered a religious center as well; Pope John Paul II was once its archbishop. “The strong spiritual side of the city—reflected in so much of Penderecki’s work—is evident in dozens of churches in different architectural styles ranging from Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque,” wrote Borrell about his visit to the city in Opera News.
Nearing 70, Penderecki is an active composer and conductor. His Missa premiered at the Eugene (Oregon) Bach Festival in the summer of 1998 during a stint there for him as composer-in-residence. He has also served as music director for Puerto Rico’s Casals Festival since 1993 and is under contract with the Munich Philharmonic to write symphonies. His early works are still revered among those familiar with his music, though when his difficult Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, dating from 1960, was performed by the New York Philharmonic in late 1997 under Penderecki’s baton, many audience members departed. Shirley Fleming, who reviewed the performance for American Record Guide, praised the program’s Symphony No. 5, which received its American premier that night. “Much of the music is engagingly transparent… The most arresting event is a chattery, far-reaching fugue spearheaded at length by the violas, and the composer’s affinity for the ancient art of polyphony is unusually clear in this symphony.”
In addition to a home in Switzerland, the Pendereckis reside in a Krakow home that features an arboretum with more than 1,000 varieties of trees; the composer has also built a maze for relaxation purposes. The couple launched the city’s Beethoven Festival in the mid-1990s, for which Elzbieta serves as artistic director. There are also plans for concerts beginning in 2000 with the New York Philharmonic from Krakow’s historic Wawel Castle. “No art can survive without its roots,” he told Borrell,” and this city has fed and nurtured my inspiration.”
3 Miniatures for violin & piano, Coro.
De natura sonoris, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1966.
Capriccio no. 2 for violin & orchestra, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1967.
De Natura Sonoris; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, EMI Import.
Polnisches Requiem, DGG, 1990.
Anaklasis, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, EMI, 1995.
Violin Sonata, Sony, 1995.
Emanationen, Partita, Cello Concerto, Symphony, EMI, 1995.
Utrenija: Entombment & Resurrection of Christ, Polskie Nagrania. Psalms of David, Wergo, 1995.
Polish Requiem, Chandos, 1996.
Violinkonzert, DGG, 1998.
American Record Guide, September/October 1995, p. 190; November/December 1996, p. 178; January/February 1998, pp. 49-50; January/February 1999, p. 12.
Central Europe Review, November 15, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1997; May 4, 1997.
Opera News, May 1999, p. 44.
Time, December 12, 1983, p. 105; July 22, 1991, p. 65.
“Krystof Penderecki Talks about the Polish Requiem,” La Scena Musicale, http://www.scena.org (September 7, 2000).
Penderecki, Krzysztof, eminent Polish composer, pedagogue, and conductor; b. Debica, Nov. 23, 1933. He went to Kraków, where he studied composition privately with Franciszek Skolyszewski before pursuing training at the State Higher School of Music (1955–58) with Artur Malawski and Stanislaw Wiechowicz. In 1958 he joined its faculty as a lecturer in composition, where he later was prof, (from 1972) and rector (1972–87). In 1959 he won the 1st, 2nd, and 3rdprizes in the Young Composers’ Competition of the Polish Composers’ Union. His Tren “Ofiarom Hiroszimy” (Threnody “to the Victims of Hiroshima”) for 52 Strings (Warsaw, May 31, 1960) won the prize of the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1961. From 1966 to 1968 he was an assoc. prof, at the Essen Folkwang-Hochschule. His Passio et mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam for Solo Voices, Speaking Voice, Boy’s Chorus, Mixed Chorus, and Orch. (Münster, March 30,1966) won the Prix Italia in 1967, and his Dies irae Oratorium ob memoriam in perniciei castris in Oswiecim necatorum inexstinguibilem reddendam (Dies irae Oratorio in memory of the victims of Asuchwitz) for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (Kraków, April 14, 1967) won another Prix Italia in 1968. In 1970 he received the award of the Polish Composers’ Union. Penderecki made his conducting debut with the London Sym. Orch. in 1973, and in subsequent years appeared as a guest conductor with leading world orchs. In 1988 he became principal guest conductor of the North German Radio Sym. Orch. in Hamburg. He conducted the Sinfonia Varsóvia on a tour of the U.S. in 1995. Penderecki publ, the vol. Labirynt czasu: Pieć wykladów na koniec wieku (Warsaw, 1997; Eng. tr., 1998, as Labyrinth of Time: Five Addresses for the End of the Millennium). His honors have been numerous. In 1977 he was awarded the Gottfried von Herder Prize of the F.v.S. Foundation of Hamburg. He received the Sibelius Prize of the Wihouri Foundation in 1983. In 1985 he was honored with the Premio Lorenzo Magnifico. The Federal Republic of Germany decorated him with the Great Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit in 1990. In 1992 he received the Grawemeyer Award of the Univ. of Louisville. In 1993 he was decorated with the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Polonia Restituía Order, and also received the International Music Council/UNESCO Music Prize. In addition to several honorary doctorates, he holds honorary memberships with the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, and the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, among others.
Very early in his career, Penderecki assumed a leading position among the figures of the Polish avantgarde. He created a hyper-modern technique of composition in a highly individual style, in which no demarcation line was drawn between consonances and dissonances, tonal or atonal melody, traditional or innovative instrumentation; an egalitarian attitude prevailed toward all available resources of sound. While his idiom is naturally complex, he did not disdain tonality, even in its overt triadic forms. In his creative evolution, he bypassed orthodox serial procedures; his music followed an athematic course, in constantly varying metrical and rhythmic patterns. He expanded the domain of tone to unpitched elements, making use of such effects as shouting, hissing, and verbal ejaculations in vocal parts, at times reaching a climax of aleatory glossolalia; tapping, rubbing, or snapping the fingers against the body of an instrument; striking the piano strings with mallets, etc. From the 1970s he explored more conservative byways as a composer, although his works continue to challenge both performers and audiences. Indeed, his opera Die schwarze Maske (Salzburg, Aug. 15, 1986) demonstrates Penderecki’s penchant for creating works that continue to elicit a determined response for their progressive tendencies.
dramatic:Diably z Loudun (Die Teufel von Loudon; The Devils of Loudun), opera (1968–69; Hamburg, June 20,1969); Raj utracony (Paradise Lost), sacra rappresentazione (1976–78; Chicago, Nov. 29, 1978); Czarna maska (Die schwarze Maske), opera (1984–86; Salzburg, Aug. 15,1986); Ubu Rex, opera buffa (1990–91; Munich, July 6, 1991). orch.:Epitaphium Artur Malawski in memoriam for Strings and Timpani (1957–58; Kraków, Sept. 1958); Emanacje (Emanations) for 2 String Orchs. (1958–59; Darmstadt, Oct. 7, 1961); Tren “Ofiarom Hiroszimy” (Threnody “to the Victims of Hiroshima”) for 52 Strings (1959–60; Warsaw, May 31, 1960); Anaklasis for Strings and Percussion (1959–60; Donaueschingen, Oct. 16,1960); Fonogrammi for Flute and Chamber Orch. (Venice April 24, 1961); Polymorphia for 48 Strings (1961; Hamburg, April 16, 1962); Kanon for 52 Strings and Tape (Warsaw, Sept. 20, 1962); Drei Stücke im alte Stil for Strings, after the film Die Handschrift von Saragossa (1963; Kraków, June 11, 1988); Sonata for Cello and Orch. (Donaueschingen, Oct. 15, 1964); Capriccio for Oboe and 11 Strings (1964–65; Lucerne, Aug. 26, 1965); De natura sonoris I (Royan, April 7, 1966) and II (1970–71; N.Y., Dec. 3, 1971); Violino Grande Concerto (1966–67; Östersund, Sweden, July 1, 1967); 2 cello concertos: No. 1 (1966–67; rev. 1971–72; Edinburgh, Sept. 2, 1972) and No. 2 (1982; Berlin, Jan. 11, 1983); Uwertura pittsburska (Pittsburgh Overture) for Wind Orch., Percussion, Piano, and Double Basses (Pittsburgh, June 30, 1967); Capriccio for Violin and Orch. (Donaueschingen, Oct. 22, 1967); Preludiimi for Winds, Percussion, and Contrabasses (Amsterdam, July 4, 1971); Actions for Jazz Ensemble (Donaueschingen, Oct. 17, 1971); Partita for Harpsichord, Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar, Harp, Double Bass, and Orch. (1971–72; Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 11, 1972; rev. 1991–92; Munich, Jan. 5, 1992); 7 syms.: No. 1 (1972–73; Peterborough, England, July 19, 1973), No. 2, Wigilijna (Christmas; 1979–80; N.Y., May 1, 1980), No. 3 (1988; Munich, Dec. 8, 1995), No. 4, Adagio (Paris, Nov. 26, 1989), No. 5, Koreanska (Korean; 1991–92; Seoul, Aug. 14, 1992), No. 6 (n.d.), and No. 7, Siedem Bram Jerozolimy (Seven Gates of Jerusalem) for Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch. (1996; Jerusalem, Jan. 9, 1997); Intermezzo for 24 Strings (Zürich, Nov. 30, 1973); Przebudzenie Jakuba (The Awakening of Jacob; Monte Carlo, Aug. 14, 1974); 2 violin concertos: No. 1 (1976–77; Basel, April 27,1977; rev. 1988) and No. 2, Metamorphosen (1992–95; Leipzig, June 24, 1995); Adagietto z “Raju utraconego” (Adagietto from “Paradise Lost”; Osaka, April 8,1979); Viola Concerto (Caracas, July 21,1983; also for Viola and Chamber Orch., 1984; Moscow, Oct. 20, 1985; as a Cello Concerto, 1984; Wuppertal, Dec. 15, 1989; as a Clarinet Concerto, 1984; Boulder, July 9, 1995); 2 sinfoniettas: No. 1 for Strings (1990–92; Warsaw, Feb. 17, 1992) and No. 2 for Clarinet and Strings (Bad Kissingen, July 13, 1994); Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orch. (1992; Lausanne, Jan. 11, 1993; as a Clarinet Concerto, 1995; Prague, March 7, 1996); Entrata for 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, and Timpani (Cincinnati, Nov. 4, 1994); Agnus Dei z “Polskiego Requiem” (Agnus Dei from “Polish Requiem”) for Strings (Kraków, Dec. 4,1994); Serenade for Strings (1996–97). chamber: Violin Sonata (1953; Houston, Jan. 7,1990); Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano (1954); Miniatures for Violin and Piano (1959; Kraków, June 1960); 2 string quartets: No. 1 (1960; Cincinnati, May 11, 1962) and No. 2 (1968; Berlin, Sept. 30, 1970); Capriccio per Siegfried Palm for Cello (Bremen, May 4, 1968); Capriccio for Tuba (1979–80; Kraków, June 20, 1980); Cadenza for Viola (Luslawice, Sept. 10, 1984; also for Violin, Warsaw, Oct. 28, 1986); Per Slava for Cello (1985–86); Prelude for Clarinet (1987); Der unterbrochene Gedanke for String Quartet (Frankfurt am Main, Feb. 4, 1988); Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello (Kraków, Dec. 8,1990); Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio (Lübeck, Aug. 13, 1993); Divertimento for Cello (Cologne, Dec. 28, 1994). vocal:Pro śba o wyspy szcze śliwe (A Plea for the Happy Isles) for Voice and Piano (1957); Psalmy Dawida (Psalms of David) for Chorus, Strings, and Percussion (1958; Kraków, Sept. 1959); Strofy (Strophes) for Soprano, Speaking Voice, and 10 Instruments (Warsaw, Sept. 17, 1959); Wymiary czasu i ciszy (Dimensions of Time and Silence) for Chorus, Strings, and Percussion (1959–60; Warsaw, Sept. 18, 1960); Stabat Mater for 3 Choruses (Warsaw, Nov. 27,1962); Brygada śmierci (The Death Brigade) for Reciter and Tape (1963); Passio et mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam for Soloists, Speaking Voice, Boy’s Chorus, Mixed Chorus, and Orch. (1963–66; Münster, March 30, 1966); Cantata in honorem Almae Matris Universitatis Iagellonicae sescentos abhinc annos fundatae for Chorus and Orch. (Kraków, May 10, 1964); Dies irae Oratorium ob memoriam in perniciei castris in Oswiecim necatorum inexstinguibilem reddendam (Dies irae Oratorio in memory of the victims of Auschwitz) for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (Kraków, April 14,1967); Jutrznia I: Ztoźenie Chrystusa do grobu (Utrenja I: The Entombment of Christ) for Soloists, 2 Choruses, and Orch. (1969–70; Altenberg, April 8, 1970) and II: Zmartwychwstanie Pański (The Resurrection of Christ) for Soloists, Chorus, Boy’s Chorus, and Orch. (1970–71; Münster, May 28, 1971); Kosmogonia for Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch. (N.Y., Oct. 24, 1970); Canticum canticorum Salomonis quod hebraice dicitur “Sir hasirim” for Chorus and Orch. (1970–73; Lisbon, June 5, 1973); Écloga VIII for 6 Men’s Voices (Edinburgh, Aug. 22, 1972); Magnificat for Bass, Vocal Ensemble, 2 Mixed Choruses, Boy’s Chorus, and Orch. (1973–74; Salzburg, Aug. 17, 1974); Te Deum for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1978–80; Assisi, Sept. 27, 1980); Vorspiel, Visionen und Finale aus “Paradise Lost” for 6 Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch. (Salzburg, Aug. 10,1979); Lacrimosa z “Polskiego Requiem” (Lacrimosa from “Polish Requiem”) for Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (Gdańsk, Dec. 16, 1980); Polskie Requiem (Polish Requiem) for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1980–84; Stuttgart, Sept. 28,1984; rev. version, Stockholm, Nov. 11, 1993); Agnus Dei z “Polskiego Requiem” (Agnus Dei from “Polish Requiem”) for Chorus (Warsaw, May 31, 1981); Piesn Cherubinów (Cherubim Song) for Chorus (1986; Washington, D.C., March 27, 1987); Veni Creator for Chorus (Madrid, April 28, 1987); Benedicamus Domino for Men’s Chorus (1991–92; Lucerne, April 18,1992); Benedictus for Chorus (1993); Agnus Dei aus “Requiem der Versöhnung” (Agnus Dei for the “Requiem of Reconciliation”) for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (Stuttgart, Aug. 15, 1995); Credo for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1996–98; Eugene, Ore., July 11,1998); Hymn do świetego Daniela (Hymn to the Holy Daniel) for Chorus and Winds (Moscow, Oct. 4,1997); Hymn do swietego Wojciecha (Hymn to the Holy Adalbert) for Chorus and Winds (Gdańsk, Oct. 18, 1997). tape:Psalmus 1961 (Stockholm, April 10, 1961); Ekecheiria (Munich, Aug. 26, 1972).
K. Lisicki, Szkice o K. P. (Sketches on K. P.; Warsaw, 1973); L. Erhardt, Spotkania z K.P. (Encounter with K. P.; Kraków, 1975); R. Robinson and A. Winold, A Study of the P. St. Luke Passion (Celle, 1983); W Schwinger, K. P.: Leben und Werk (Mainz, 1994); M. Tomaszewski, ed., The Music of K. P.: Poetics and Reception (Kraków, 1995); B. Malecka-Contamin, K. P.: Style et Matériaux (Paris, 1997); D. Mirka, The Sonoristic Structuralism of K. P. (Katowice, 1997); Studies in P (Princeton, 1998).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Krzysztof Penderecki (born 1933) was the best known of a group of vigorous and adventuresome Polish composers who emerged in the 1950s.
Krzysztof Penderecki was born in Debica, Krakow district, a Polish provincial town, on November 23, 1933 and started his musical studies as a child. During the German occupation of Poland in World War II he experienced some of the Nazi atrocities against Poland's Jewish population. "The problem of that great apocalypse (Auschwitz), that great war crime, has undoubtedly been in my subconscious mind since the war, when as a child, I saw the destruction of the ghetto in my small native town of Debica, " he said.
Penderecki was educated in Krakow where he took courses at the Jagallonian University. He also attended the State Higher School of Music in Krakow from 1955 to 1958. The following year he gained prominence when three compositions he had submitted to a competition organized by the Polish Composer's Union won the first three prizes. These compositions—Strophen for orchestra, Emanations for two string groups, and Psalms of David for a cappella choir—show that he was familiar with the music of Anton Webern, Béla Bartók, and lgor Stravinsky.
Penderecki stayed on at the State Higher School of Music after graduation as a lecturer in composition from 1958 to 1966 and remained from 1972 to 1987, as rector, after it had become the Academy of Music. He was also a professor from 1972 at the Academy of Music.
Penderecki also took the position of visiting teacher at Yale University (from 1972) and at Essen Folkwang Hochschule fur Musik (1966 to 1968) as a professor of composition.
In 1965 he married Elzbieta Solecka and they would later have two children, a son and daughter.
In his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1961) Penderecki achieved a highly original style. Written for 52 strings, it sounds like electronic music. Most of the pages of the score consist of diagrams with symbols he invented to convey his wishes. The opening page, for instance, calls for the strings, divided into 10 groups, to play "the highest note possible." The entrances are staggered, played fortissimo, and held for 15 seconds. The whistling sound is shrill and frightening, like the approach of an airplane. In the course of the piece the players are directed to raise or lower written notes by a quarter or three-quarters of a tone, to play between the bridge and tailpiece, to tap the body of the instrument with fingers and bows, and to play with a wide variety of timbral effects. There are frequent huge clusters of massed half steps and glissandos of such clusters, producing a sound that resembles jet engines warming up. There is no meter. At the bottom of each page there is a wide line with a designation in seconds indicating how long the section should be played. The conductor indicates the beginnings of new time blocks, but there are no beats or subdivisions of them.
Other instrumental pieces by Penderecki that exploit new and expressive instrumental sounds are Anaklasis (1960), Polymorphia (1961), De Natura Sonoris (1966), and Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1968). He also made important contributions to choral literature in works that call for vocal sounds as novel as the sounds he drew from the orchestra. His major choral works are Stabat Mater (1963) for three a cappella choirs, St. Luke Passion (1966), Dies Irae (1967) dedicated to the memory of the victims of Auschwitz, Slavic Mass (1969), Kosmogonia (1970), Ecloga VIII (1972), Magnificat (1974), De Profundis (1977), Te Deum (1979), Lacrimosa (1980), Agnus Dei (1981), and Polnisches Requiem (1984). Other Penderecki works include Praeludium (1971), Partita (1971), Symphony No. 1 (1973), The Dream of Jacob (1974), Symphony No. 2 (1980), Viola Concerto No. 2 (1982), Passacaglia (1988), and the opera The Black Mask (1986).
The Passion follows the baroque pattern and has a narrator and a baritone personifying Christ. The chorus acts both as commentator and participant when it sings the part of the crowd. Penderecki makes great use of a twelve-tone row that consists largely of seconds and thirds, including the familiar B-A-C-H motive (B-flat, A, C, B). Both orchestra and choir use clusters and glissandos, and the choir hisses, shouts, laughs, whispers, and chants. The St. Luke Passion brings together a wide variety of styles; it is a successful amalgamation of tonal resources from the Gregorian chant to the latest experimental sound.
Unlike some of the so-called avant-garde composers, Penderecki did not believe that the fundamental nature of music had changed. He said: "The general principle at the root of a work's musical style, the logic or economy of development, and the integrity of a musical experience embodied in the notes the composer is setting down on paper never changes. The idea of good music means today exactly what it meant always. Music should speak for itself, going straight to the heart and mind of the listener."
Penderecki's works are continually performed throughout the world and he holds teaching or advisory positions at universities around Europe and the world. He is considered by many as one of the most original composers in the world and has been honored with memberships in the Royal Academy of Music in London (1975), the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm (1975), and the Akademie der Kunste in Germany (1975). He has been honored by nations around the world with the Herder Prize of Germany (1977), the Grand Medal of Paris (1982), the Sibelius Prize of Finland (1983), the Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico of Italy (1985), the Wolf Prize (1987), Academia de Bellas Artes, Granada (1989), and the Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens (1990).
In 1997 Penderecki joined many other composers and performers for a birthday concert in honor of Russian composer Mstislav "Slava" Rostopovich at the Theatres des Champs-Elysees in Paris. His work compared favorably to that of other modern composers—like Vladimir Spivakov, Van Cliburn, Semyon Bychkov, and Seiji Ozawa—and was a testament to the originality and power of his music.
There is an extensive biography and listing of Penderecki's works in Brian Morton and Pamela Collins Contemporary Composers (1992). More general information on Penderecki is contained in Stefan Jarocinski Polish Music (1965), Ludwik Erhardt Contemporary Music in Poland (trans. 1966), and Peter S. Hansen An Introduction to Twentieth Century Music (3d ed. 1971). Information on the Rostopovich birthday concert featuring Penderecki can be found in the New York Times (March 29, 1997). □