Krzysztof Penderecki


After taking private composition lessons, Penderecki attended the Superior School of Music in Cracow from 1955. Upon graduating in 1958 he taught there, his first major works coming from this period. Moving to West Germany in 1966 to teach at the Hochschule fur Musik in Essen, he received further plaudits from the musical institutions of the world, with honorary memberships of academies in London, Stockholm and Berlin, to name but a few.

Penderecki’s early work is often highly dissonant; note clusters abound, and when conventional notation will not suffice he uses graphic representations of the desired effect. Like many post-war composers, Penderecki used abrasive tonality to depict the horrors of conflict; while it is an oversimplification to say that this was his only reason for so doing, Threnody in Memory of the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) is perhaps the most famous and most effective example of this aesthetic. Works like Eminations (1959) use similar resources but to different ends; while textural in a manner similar to Ligeti, the sound is fractured and the form more directional.

During the seventies, Penderecki’s direction changed somewhat; rediscovering tonality he embarked on a style many described as ‘Neo-Romantic’. Although less based on particular composers than Stravinsky’s neo-classicism, works written along these lines were large and imposing in a manner reminiscent of the great late-Romantic symphonists; the tonality, although nowhere near as dissonant as his previous works, was nonetheless a definite progression from that used by the earlier composers. His later symphonies and his Credo are good examples of this style.

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