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
Biography from Radio France’s document database