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RIP Krzysztof Penderecki
John Doran , March 29th, 2020 07:41

One of the major forces in 20th Century Polish music has died at home in Kraków

It is being reported widely across Polish media that Krzysztof Penderecki has died today (Sunday) at the age of 86.

The composer and conductor, who was born in Dębica in 1933, was a giant in 20th Century music responsible for such works as Threnody To The Victims of Hiroshima, the Polish Requiem, Anaklasis and Utrenja.

According to Polska Times his family have confirmed on Radio Krakow that he died at home in Kraków this morning.

His music made a stunning contribution to Eastern European avant garde music in the 1960s but the perceived difficulty of his music never prevented him from connecting with a large, mainstream audience, often via Hollywood.

His music has struck home with successive generations outside of the classical world thanks, in part, to such films as The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980), Wild At Heart (1990) and Children Of Men (2006). Most recently, David Lynch, a longstanding fan, used an extended section of Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima to powerful effect during his Twin Peaks: The Return series in 2017.

Penderecki himself could often seem to suffer from a good natured irritation by this intersection with popular culture. He complained that Kubrick had committed "harikari" on his work after hearing the director's use of 'De Natura Sonoris No. 2' at the climax of The Shining. (The composer, who refused Kubrick's plea to write original material for the film, added that he also "understood" why the piece had been edited in repetitively, to represent the psychosis of the main character, and to emphasise the psychological nature of the maze in the film.)

Writing in Wyborcza, Anna S. Dębowska said: "He was a witness to the most important events of the 20th century, a participant in changes in culture and art, and as a representative of the so-called Polish school of composers, he became famous in the world as a radical avant-gardist. Most of his works were performed first outside of Poland, from New York to Moscow, and only later in years, has he been writing music directed towards traditional [Polish] values ​​in art, towards beauty and direct emotional communication with the listener."

In the world of rock and electronic music, Penderecki had many fans such as Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers, Suede, Swans and Suzanne Cianni. Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood recorded music with the composer in 2011 after the pair had a joint concert at Wroclaw's European Culture Congress.

The pair released an album containing collaborative versions of 'Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima', 'Popcorn Superhet Receiver', 'Polymorphia', '48 Responses To Polymorphia' on Nonesuch in 2012.

The 'Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima', is one piece in particular that sent shockwaves around the cultural world on its first performance in 1961 - shock waves that are still reverberating today, The Musical Times' reviewer Paul Griffiths, described it memorably as "string orchestral screams". Its notoriety is reflected in a popular story which claims that orchestras in both Munich and Rome refused to play the piece, because the musicians feared their instruments would be damaged in the process.

Penderecki remained busy with work in recent years and showed no signs of slowing down. In 2016 he said: "I have plans for about 20 years. I have five opera themes that I have started to write... I always have too many ideas, but at one point you have to concentrate on one thing."

The Quietus would like to pass on our sincere condolences to his friends and family.

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