Krzysztof Penderecki

Polish composer and conductor (born in 1933, Dębica)

Krzysztof Penderecki is hailed as one of the greatest contemporary Polish composers. His catalogue gathers more than a hundred works, ranging from vocal to orchestral, chamber and sacred compositions. He has assumed a very important role in Polish music history and more particularly in 20th century's music.

Krzysztof Penderecki started studying music theory and composition with Franciszek Skolyszewski at the Academy of Music in Kraków. In 1954, he studied under Artur Malawski and Stanislaw Wiechowicz. In 1959, he submitted three works at the second Warsaw Autumn festival: Strophen, Psalms of David and Emanations. Thanks to his powerful music, rich in sound effects such as ultrachromatism or dramatic glissandos, and his unusual way to play, Penderecki was awarded the three first prizes of this prestigious competition, quickly launching his career in the world of avant-garde music. The piece that truly brought international fame to him was Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, for 52 string instruments, an example of Penderecki’s innovative compositions that afforded him the International Rostrum of Composers UNESCO prize in 1961.

His works were often compared to those by Xenakis and Ligeti. However, Penderecki later decided to explore the world of sacred music and more specifically the catholic sacred repertoire which set him apart from his peers. Penderecki’s music path went from his early years’ sonorism to his late post-Romanticism, including primitive experimentation. He gradually abandonned all the avant-garde elements of his language, developing neotonal and post-romantic aesthetics, representing the German New Simplicity movement.

Six landmark dates in the life of Krzysztof Penderecki

1959: Awarded the three first prizes of the Warsaw Autumn festival

1964: Awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta

1967: Awarded the Sibelius Prize 

1968: Awarded the Prix Italia

1972: Became director of the Academy of Music in Kraków

1987, 1998 & 2001: Received three Grammy Awards

Six key works by Krzysztof Penderecki

1958: Psalms of David

1960: Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima

1966: St. Luke Passion

1973: Symphony No.1

1981: Agnus Dei

1991: Ubu Rex, satirical opera

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Biography from Radio France’s document database