Born: November 23, 1933; Poland
Died: March 29, 2020; Krakow, Poland
Period: 20th Century
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 inRead more 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 Kraków Conservatory. He privately studied composition before he entered the Kraków 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. Read less
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