Krzysztof Penderecki

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Composer and director; born 23 November 1933, Dębica.

He studied composition privately with Franciszek Skołyszewski, and then, from 1955 to 1958, with Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz at the Academy of Music in Kraków. In 1958, he began lecturing in composition at his alma mater, and in 1972 he became a professor there and also served as its rector until 1987. He also lectured as an assistant professor in Essen at the Folkwang-Hochschule (1966-68) and at Yale University in New Haven (1973-78).

His many awards attest to his broad activities both as a composer and teacher. In 1959, Penderecki won the first, second and third prizes at the Competition of Young Composers of the Polish Composers' Union (works were submitted anonymously): for his Strofy / Strophes for soprano, voice (reciting) and ten instruments (1959), Emanacje / Emanations for two string orchestras (1958-59) and for his Psalmy Dawida / Psalms of David for mixed choir, stringed instruments and percussion (1958). In 1961, his Tren "Ofiarom Hiroszimy" / Threnody "for the Victims of Hiroshima" for 52 strings (1959-61) received an award at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. He received Prix Italia twice - in 1972 for his work Passio et mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam for three solo voices, speaker, three mixed choirs, boys' choir and orchestra (1963-66), and in 1968 for his Dies irae Oratorium ob memoriam in perniciei castris in Oswiecim necatorum inexstinguibilem reddendam for three solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra (1967). In addition, Penderecki has received the following awards: the first state prize (1968, 1983); the award of the Polish Composers' Union (1970); the Gottfried von Herder Award from the W.v.s. Foundation in Hamburg (1977); the Jean Sibelius Award from the Wilhouri Foundation in Helsinki (1983); Premio Lorenzo Magnifico, Florence (1985); the award of the Karl Wolff Foundation (Israel, 1987); a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (USA) for his Cello Concerto No. 2, with Mstislav Rostropovich (1988); Grawemeyer Award of the University of Louisville (1992); and the award of the UNESCO International Music Council (1993).

He was granted an honorary doctorate from the universities of Rochester, Bordeaux, Leuven, Washington, Belgrade, Madrid, Poznań, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, Glasgow, Krakow, Pittsburgh, Luzern, New Haven, Saint Petersburg, Leipzig, Seul. He is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien in Stockholm, Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-lettres et Arts in Bordeaux, and the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Academia Scientiarium et Artium Europaea in Salzburg, Institut for Advanced Study University, Bloomington, The Kościuszko Foundation in New York, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, Academy for Performing Arts in Hong-Kong. In 1990, he received a German state award, Great Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland); in 1993, he received an award for his service to culture from the Principality of Monaco; and in 1994, the Austrian honorary medal "For Academic and Artistic Achievement". In 1993, he was awarded an important Polish state award, the Commander's Cross with the star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Since his debut as a conductor in 1973 with the London Symphony Orchestra, he has appeared with the best symphony orchestras of Europe and the United States. He was the first guest conductor to appear with the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg. In 1995, he directed the Sinfonia Varsovia during its U.S. tour.

In 1997, he published a book titled "Labirynt czasu: Pięć wykładów na koniec wieku" / "The Labyrinth of Time: Five Lectures for the End of the Century" (Warsaw: Presspublica, 1997).

Krzysztof Penderecki has been an exceptional phenomenon in the history of music, not only in that of Polish music, but of the history music in general. In twentieth-century music, no one has had a career quite like his. And no one shot to the top so quickly, either! The story of his career is perhaps only comparable to that of Igor Stravinsky. And like Stravinsky, there were twists and turns on the path of Krzysztof Penderecki's musical career. He enjoyed success from the very start. When the results of the second Competition of Young Composers were decided in 1959, it turned out that Penderecki's compositions (submitted under different pseudonyms) had taken the first, second and third prizes, that the winner was Krzysztof Penderecki, an unknown 28-year-old assistant professor at the Composition Department of the State Musical Academy in Krakow. The compositions for which he received the awards were Strofy (Strophes) for soprano, speaker and ten instruments, Emanacje (Emanations) for two string orchestras and the Psalmy Dawida (Psalms of David) for mixed choir, stringed instruments and percussion. The German publisher Herman Moeck took the score after Strofy were performed at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music that same year. Shortly after that, the piece was being performed all over Europe, and Penderecki received a commission from the famous festival in Donaueschingen.

In 1960, he wrote a work titled 8'37" (which is how long the composition lasts), for which he received a prize the next year from the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. The work is now known as Tren "Ofiarom Hiroszimy" (Threnody "for the Victims of Hiroshima"), and is played by stations all over the world. Krzysztof Penderecki has thus come to be a leading representative of avant-garde music of that period. His work Fluorescencje (Flourescences), first performed in 1962 in Donaueschingen, confirm this. In addition to the instruments of the symphony orchestra, Penderecki introduced a sheet of metal to imitate thunder, pieces of glass and metal scratched with a file, rattles, an electric bell, a saw, typewriter and a siren. The traditional instruments are sound strange, because they are played in utterly unconventional ways. Penderecki has been known by the entire musical world already. This is what it seems... until in 1966 in Münster, the premiere performance of Pasja według św. Łukasza (Passion According to St. Luke) took place. With this work, Penderecki parted with the radicalism of the avant-garde. Krzysztof Penderecki has composed works that are accessible to the average music lover - with a content, construction and emotions that are understandable. Penderecki once said:

"It is not important to me how the 'Passion' is described, whether as a traditional or as an avant-garde one. For me it is simply one that is genuine. And that is enough."

It is still enough, even today. Penderecki is himself in each of his works, and he has not allowed the critics to discourage him. And the critics have been increasingly ruthless. Suffice it to say that critics saw his 1978 opera, Raj utracony (Paradise Lost) (1976-78), as a pastiche of Wagner's music. For Penderecki, this was no compliment. He nevertheless stands his own and has continued to write the music that he wants to write. Has he betrayed the ideals of his youth?

Electronic music
  • Psalmus 1961, electronic music (1961)
  • Brygada śmierci / Brigade of Death, electronic music for a radio play (1963)
See also

Poland#Electroacoustic music