I have spent decades searching for and discovering new sounds. At the same time, I have closely studied the forms, styles and harmonies of past eras. I have continued to adhere to both principles … my current creative output is a synthesis.
Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki is a Polish composer and conductor. The Guardian has called him Poland’s greatest living composer. Among his best known works are his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, St. Luke Passion, Polish Requiem, Anaklasis, four operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral pieces, a variety of instrumental concertos, choral settings of mainly religious texts, as well as chamber and instrumental works.
Penderecki was given violin and piano lessons as a child. He studied art and literary history and philosophy at the local university while also attending the Kraków Conservatory. He privately studied composition before he entered the Kraków State Academy of Music in 1954. In 1959, three of his compositions, each submitted under pseudonyms, won first prizes in a competition sponsored by the Polish Composer’s Union. Fame rapidly followed. Both his Threnody and St. Luke Passion received worldwide performances in numbers rare for contemporary works, especially those written with such demanding techniques: glissandi, tonal clusters, unpitched sounds, spoken interjections, aleatoric effects, and shouting.
All I’m interested in is liberating sound beyond all tradition”, he said at the time.
Commissions came in quick succession, a corollary career as a lecturer developed, and in 1972, Penderecki began to conduct his own works. The first of Penderecki’s stage works, The Devils of Loudon, became a European sensation in 1969, receiving numerous performances and generating considerable controversy. A second opera, one of epic scale, was commissioned by the Chicago Lyric Opera. Paradise Lost (after Milton) was mounted in 1976 in an immensely expensive production seen in Chicago and Italy. Die schwarze Maske was premiered in 1986, followed in 1991 by the comic work Ubu Rex.
Penderecki’s orchestral compositions include two concertos for violin, a viola concerto, two concertos for cello, five symphonies, sinfoniettas and his Flute Concerto makes characteristic use of the solo instrument in textures of great clarity.
My 1st Symphony – said Penderecki in 1995 – was written in 1973 when I was 40… I attempted to summarize my 20 years of experience – a time of avant-garde, radical searching. And yet, this symphony was a sum of what I, as an avant-garde artist, could have said by that time. Four symmetric parts: Arche I, Dynamis I, Dynamis II, Arche 11– reflected my will to reconstruct the world from the scratch. Great destruction – according to avant-garde logic – expressed a big need for a new cosmogony (K.Penderecki – “Labirynt czasu’, Warsaw 1997).
In his subsequent symphonies Penderecki distanced himself from the avant-garde language and ceased to experiment with sonorism. In Symphony no. 2 (subtitled Christmas Symphony, and containing a short quote from the Silent night carol); Symphony no. 3 was often compared to Antoniv Dvořák’s works; Symphony no. 4, called Adagio, is a great commentary on the idiom of a symphony. It seems that such a synopsis of his symphonies shows the direction of his later works.
It is not important to me how the Passion is described, whether as a traditional or as an avant-garde work. For me it is simply one that is genuine. And that is enough.