Obituary: Krzysztof Penderecki Dies at 86

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Courtesy of Harrison Parrot)

Krzysztof Penderecki has died at the age of 86 after a long illness in Krakow, Poland.

Born in Dębica, Poland, to Tadeusz Penderecki, a lawyer, and Zofia, Penderecki attended grammar school in 1946 after World War two and began studying violin under Stanisław Darłak, Dębica’s military bandmaster.

After graduating from grammar school, he moved to Kraków to attend the Jagiellonian University to study violin with Stanisław Tawroszewicz and music theory with Franciszek Skołyszewski. In 1954, he went on to study at the Academy of Music in Kraków to focus on composition where he studied under Artur Malawsk and thereafter with Stanisław Wiechowicz.

In 1958 he began teaching and composing at the Academy after graduating. He obtained international recognition in 1959 with his composition Strophen, Psalms of David, and Emanations. And in 1960, he broke through with his piece Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

From there he continued to compose such pieces as Fluorescences, Saint Luke Passion, Dies irae, a Magnificat, and Canticum Canticorum Salomonis. He also wrote a a number of symphonies, violin concertos, cello concertos, piano concertos, orchestral pieces, chamber music and choral pieces.

He wrote a total of five operas including “The Most Valiant Knight,” “Die Teufel von Loudun,” “Paradise Lost,” “Die schwarze Maske,” and “Ubu Rex.”

His influence was so great that some of his music was adapted for film soundtracks of such movies as “The Exorcist,” “The Shining,” “Wild at Heart,” “Inland Empire,” “Children of Men,” and “Shutter Island.” Meanwhile, Penderecki composed the music for Andrzej Wajda’s 2007 Academy Award nominated film “Katyń.”

The composer received a number of awards including the State Prize 1st class, the Commander’s Cross in Poland and Knight’s Cross of Order of Polonia Restituta. He also won Grammy awards for best choral performance and he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Spain, one of the highest honors given in the country.

Penderecki also taught at the Yale School of Music in the 1970s and received an honorary doctorate from the Seoul National University, Korea in 2005, as well as from the University of Münster, Germany in 2006.

Among the many students he taught are Chester Biscardi and Walter Mays.

Penderecki leaves three children and his wife Elżbieta Penderecka.