Alphabet

Krzysztof Penderecki

  • A

    • Arboretum Planting trees is, after composing music, Penderecki’s greatest passion. Like composition, it is a specific type of creative work to which the composer dedicates himself twice a year, in spring then in autumn. In the extensive gardens of his country home at Lusławice east of Kraków, there are thousands of plants and a great diversity of rare species. DLandscape designs in various parts of the grounds have been inspired by different styles and cultures: from Far Eastern in the Japanese garden to Arcadian and Romantic. Penderecki is undoubtedly the most famous dendrologist of the musical world.
    • Articulation In those compositions that are considered as avant-garde, Penderecki frequently made use of extended techniques of sound production, particularly on string instruments. According to numerous anecdotes, this frequently caused protests on the part of musicians, afraid of damaging their “work tools”. He was the first composer to introduce special markings for the lowest and highest possible tones in an instrument’s range.
    • Avant-garde In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Penderecki was looking for new, extreme types of musical expression, liberated from existing principles and conventions. The composer’s most avant-garde works, including Anaklasis, Polymorphia, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and Fluorescences, shocked with their innovative expression and brutality of sound.
  • C

    • Clusters Harmonies consisting of many tones situated at very narrow intervals, for example combinations of semitones in a chromatic cluster, whole tones in a whole-tone cluster or intervals smaller than a semitone in a microtone cluster. These were extensively used by Penderecki, especially in his avant-garde period.
    • Conducting Penderecki’s debut as a conductor took place in 1971, when he led a performance of his Actions in Donaueschingen. Since that time, conducting orchestras has become an extremely important element of his musical activity. He has conducted his orchestral compositions throughout the world, and led orchestras in numerous recordings of his works. For many years he has given performances with Sinfonia Varsovia, of which he is the artistic director. Other Polish composers who conducted their compositions include Lutosławski and Górecki.
    • Counterpoint For a year, Penderecki took composition lessons with Franciszek Skołyszewski, learning the strict principles of counterpoint, voice-leading in a polyphonic work. The lines are independent from one another with respect to rhythm and contour, but related harmonically. In his mature works, the composer frequently drew on the polyphonic tradition, for example in his use of canons.
  • D

    • Dębica The town where Penderecki was born in 1933, grew up and matured, learned the violin and graduated from secondary school. During the Second World War Dębica, inhabited mostly by Jews, was devastated by the Holocaust. On several occasions, young Penderecki witnessed torture and murders, and these experiences had a bearing on his works.
  • F

    • Festivals The first important festival in Penderecki’s career was the Warsaw Autumn, where his composition Strophes was performed in 1959. The composer won international renown after premieres of his work at the Donaueschinger Festival that were accompanied by an atmosphere of artistic scandal. For 10 years, Penderecki was artistic director of the Pablo Casals Festival in Puerto Rico. The composer’s jubilees have occasioned the organisation of Krzysztof Penderecki Festivals dedicated to his works. The next such festival will be held in November 2013. One highlight of 2012 was the composer’s appearance at the Open’er Festival of rock and popular music held in the Polish coastal city of Gdynia, where he conducted his avant-garde pieces for an audience of thousands of young people.
  • K

    • Kraków Penderecki came to Kraków after his end-of-school exams, with a plan to become a virtuoso violinist. In that city, he realised composition was his true calling. After studies with Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz at the State Higher School of Music (now the Academy of Music), he took up teaching and in 1972 was appointed vice chancellor of his alma mater – a post he held for 15 years.
  • L

    • Labyrinth For Penderecki, the labyrinth is an important symbol of explorations in the field of art. Sometimes we have to lose our way or get to a wall then trace our steps back. The composer planted two such labyrinths on his grounds at Lusławice. He is also the author of the book Labyrinth of Time. Five Addresses for the End of the Millennium, published by Hinshaw Music, Chapel Hill, NC.
    • Liturgical Soc-Realism A term coined by essayist and composer Stefan Kisielewski, which refers to the great vocal-instrumental works drawing on religious tradition written by Polish composers since the 1970s. With their simplified form and sound language, they appeal more directly to a wide audience, and the reception of such compositions largely depends on their extra-musical context. One Penderecki work labelled as ‘liturgical soc-realist’ was A Polish Requiem.
    • Lusławice This village to the east of Kraków in southern Poland has been Penderecki’s sanctuary, his place of work and rest for nearly 40 years. The composer bought and restored a small 17th-century manor house surrounded by verdant grounds, which for a time in the 1920s was the residence of the painter Jacek Malczewski. In May 2013, Penderecki opened the European Penderecki Centre for Music in Lusławice, a state-of-the-art institutional facility with the aim of educating gifted young musicians and developing their talents.
  • M

    • Mercedes

      One of the first important attributes of the composer’s (life)style. When in 1966 Penderecki won a monetary prize in a competition in Westphalia, he did not save it or share it, but instead spent the entire amount on a Mercedes.

  • N

    • New Romanticism The change in Penderecki’s style, which took place in the mid-1970s, has been interpreted in radically different ways: as a betrayal of the avant-garde in favour of a “backward” musical language, or as an artistic synthesis achieved by the composer in his mature period. Be that as it may, Penderecki’s neoromanticism is characterised by a return to such constituents of the musical language as melody, euphonic harmony, a clear rhythmic structure and dramatic construction that evokes associations with the works of Wagner and Mahler.
    • Notation Penderecki used very characteristic types of notation, especially in his sonoristic pieces, the scores of which contain graphic representations of avant-garde performance techniques applied by the composer. Interesting examples of notation include wide, shaded stripes representing cluster glissandi progressing with continuous movement in various directions, as well as the approximate notation of the melodic contour of the given part, which resembles an electrocardiogram (ECG), for example in Polymorphia.
  • O

    • Opera Among the vast array of forms and genres practised by Penderecki, opera occupies a special place. So far the composer has written four stage works differing in style and character: The Devils of Loudun – a revised version of which premiered in 2013 at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen and at the National Opera in Warsaw – Paradise Lost, The Black Mask and Ubu Rex. Both Penderecki’s serious, expressionist or mystery-like and comic stage art have been important contributions in the development of 20th-century musical theatre.
  • P

    • Penderecka, Elżbieta Penderecki’s wife, life companion and impresario. For many years, she has run her husband’s office and “packed the suitcases” for all his journeys. She is a distinguished organizer of cultural activities and initiator of important musical events. For her achievements, she has received many awards and distinctions. She is president of the Ludwig van Beethoven Association. The St. Luke Passion is dedicated to her.
    • Prizes Penderecki won his first important awards during the Second National Competition for Young Composers organised by the Polish Composers’ Union. In that competition, three of his compositions received the main prizes: Strophes, Psalms of David and Emanations. Then came the prize at the 1961 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris for his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and many other prestigious international awards from the Prix Italia and Grawemeyer Music Award to a Grammy. Penderecki also holds nearly thirty honorary doctorates granted by universities and academies throughout the world. He was honoured with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest state decoration.
    • Profanum It has repeatedly been suggested that Penderecki’s treatment of the sphere of the sacrum, as in The Devils of Loudun, was sometimes downright heretical. By choosing taboo topics he aimed, however, to exert an even stronger impact on his audience and make his listeners reflect on existential problems, on the questions of truth and meaning. In his works, the composer reveals the various masks worn by evil. By exploring the sphere of values denied, he opens up a perspective for reflection on man’s condition in the contemporary world.
  • S

    • Sacrum Taking up religious subjects in art in the 1960s was, in the political context of that time, a serious challenge. Thanks to his well-established position in the world of contemporary music, Penderecki could afford to make this choice. He has written an impressive number of vocal-instrumental compositions on religious topics, either based on biblical texts or related to the sphere of the sacrum in a less direct manner, for example in his operas. His key composition in the field is St. Luke Passion, commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne for the 700th anniversary of the Münster Cathedral and first performed in 1966.
    • Scandals The premieres of Penderecki compositions were often accompanied by scandals, which concerned first of all the brutal sound of his innovative, avant-garde works, as in the case of Anaklasis, which the conductor Hans Rosbaud decided to perform again during the same concert following the negative reaction of the Donaueschingen audience. Scandals were also provoked by more traditional works, criticised for being epigonic or anachronous. One example is the performance of his “Resurrection” Piano Concerto at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 2002.
    • Sonorism The sonorist technique depends on attaching the greatest importance in musical progressions to the qualities of sound. Though in principle most music written in the second half of the 20th century is characterised by an emancipation of sound, in Polish works of the 1960s, sound was treated in a highly specific manner. Polish sonoristic compositions contained a particular abundance of glissandi, clusters and sharp contrasts, as well as unconventional techniques of articulation and extended forms of expression achieved on traditional instruments. Penderecki’s early works are a pronounced manifestation of that technique.
    • Strings Penderecki’s adventure with music began with playing the violin. It was in this context that he first felt the need to create his own repertoire. Though he did not become a violin virtuoso, string instruments have always played a major role in his works. In his avant-garde works, such as the Threnody and Polymorphia, he explored the limits of their possibilities with regard to sound and articulation.