Krzysztof Penderecki, a three-time Grammy Award Winner, is a Polish Conductor and Composer. His magnificent orchestral pieces and exuberant operas have helped him the title of Poland’s greatest living composer.
Krzysztof Penderecki was born on November 23rd, 1933 in Debica, Poland. His father was a lawyer and an eloquent violin and piano player. Penderecki’s education was partially hindered by the outbreak of World War II; however, he continued to draw inspiration from his father’s music sessions. In 1946, after the War, Penderecki studied the violin under Stanislaw Darlak, who was Debica’s Military Bandmaster at the time. In 1951, Penderecki enrolled at Jagiellonian University, where he extensively studied violin and music theory under Stanislaw Tawrozewicz and Franciszek Skolyszewski respectively. Penderecki then enrolled at the Academy of Music in Krakow in 1954, where he studied violin and composition under the eminent Artur Malawski and the technically affluent Stanisław Wiechowicz.
Penderecki’s early musical influences included the likes of Anton Webern and Igor Stravinsky. Penderecki’s first works were published after his graduation from the Academy of Music in 1958; these included his works for the Warsaw Autumn, including “Strophen”, “Emanations”, and “Psalms of David”. Penderecki’s most famous piece from his early career was his “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”, an orchestral masterpiece that employed sonoristic technique to an ensemble of 52 string instruments, the threnody was placed third at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composition and it made Penderecki internationally famous. He then turned his attention to more avant-garde styles of composition, in 1961, he wrote “Fluorescence’s”; a work that included highly unconventional instruments such as typewriters and gongs. Regarding the startling work, He was reported to have said “All I’m interested in is liberating sound beyond all tradition”. Penderecki continued his practice of using unconventional musical instruments while composing “De Natura Sonoris I” and its sequel “De Natura Sonoris II”. “De Natura Sonoris II” was also renowned for its creative use of the Musical Saw.
Arguably, Penderecki’s most famous work of his entire career was his “St. Luke Passion”, which drew remarkable attention for its avant-garde style of composition. What gave the piece further attention was the fact that it was composed in Communist Europe, which in turn, led to beliefs which stated that Penderecki was not particularly fond of Soviet Authorities. However, the composition was a masterpiece in its own right, especially due to the its natural use of the BACH Motif, serialism and harmony. His other religious pieces included “Dies Irae”, and “Canticum Canticorum Salomonis”.
He was seen to revert from his avant-garde practices during the mid 1970’s. His Violin Concerto No.1 and his Symphony No.2 were seen as prime examples of his ‘return to tradition’. On September 28, 1984, Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem” was first performed in Stuttgart in honor of Poland’s heroes. The Requiem was expanded and revised many times, and it is now regarded as one of Penderecki’s best works. Other highly successful works from Penderecki’s repertoire included his “Anaklasis” from 1960 and his 2001 Grammy Award Winning Work, “Credo”.
Krzysztof Penderecki is a holder of multiple state honors and awards, including the Order of the White Eagle and Grand Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit of The Federal Republic of Germany. He also won the Prix Italia for the St. Luke Passion in 1967. His most recent Grammy Award is for Best Classical Compendium in 2013.