RIP Krzysztof Penderecki, composer, 1933-2020
April 1, 2020 9:11 PM   Subscribe

A few days too late, because I thought it'd have already been posted, but: Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki died on March 29, 2020. Renowned among other things for his keen explorations of musical timbre, he is particularly well-known for his composition "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," and (probably often unknowingly) for his music having been included in the soundtracks of movies such as The Shining.

Penderecki's aptitude for striking and emotionally resonant textures is maybe the most immediately apparent aspect of his artistic presence, on display in the Threnody and in works such as "Anaklasis" and "De Natura Sonoris" No. 1 and No. 2. Less well-known outside of the art music sphere but equally highly regarded as the Threnody is his "St. Luke Passion," set for two vocal soloists, reciter, three mixed choruses, children’s choir and orchestra.

The musical language of his later career diverged significantly from his earlier output, as he came to pointedly reject what he saw as the excessive formalism of the 20th century avant garde, with works like his Symphony No. 4 evoking the neo-Romantic air of composers like Shostakovich.

He is survived by Elżbieta Solecka, his wife, by their son and daughter, and by a daughter from his first marriage.
posted by invitapriore (23 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
An animated visualization of the score for Penderecki's "Threnody"

He was also a big influence on Radiohead and especially Jonny Greenwood's solo orchestral work; Greenwood actually collaborated with him back in 2012:
"His pieces make such wonderful sounds. And it is a beautiful experience to hear them live. Of all the composers whose music suffers from what recording does, Penderecki is one of the biggest casualties. I think a lot of people might think his work is stridently dissonant or painful on the ears. But because of the complexity of what's happening – particularly in pieces such as Threnody and Polymorphia, and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you're there. It's not like listening to feedback, and it's not dissonant. It's something else. It's a celebration of so many people making music together and it's like – wow, you're watching that happen."
You can listen to their collaboration here
posted by Rhaomi at 9:46 PM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Can someone explain to me how a living composer of music is somehow unknowingly on movie soundtracks without knowing it? Is this about rights publishing and selling one's work in disadvantaging ways? How are royalties not being paid? I can't do a giant number of performances without contacting Boozy & Hawkes and paying money or any number of other companies in the same business. And even if I'm a high school orchestra I have to apply for an exemption (or that was the case in the 80s, I assume it hasn't changed -- free but you have to ask).
posted by hippybear at 9:59 PM on April 1, 2020

hippybear, apologies for my unclear wording there, but the subject of “unknowingly” was the public, many of whom have heard his music in movies but may not know of him. I don’t have any evidence that he wasn’t aware of how his music was licensed.
posted by invitapriore at 10:25 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you for your clarification. I was alarmed that perhaps this celebrated composer wasn't being compensated for his musical brilliance.

I'm sorry to hear he's no longer with us. His work was, as you suggest, known by more than knew his name.

posted by hippybear at 10:29 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lynch's use of the Threnody during the atomic bomb sequence in Episode 8 of Twin Peaks is one of the greatest combinations of music and imagery that I think I've ever seen.
posted by HunterFelt at 10:42 PM on April 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Dammit, now I have to watch that all again. (Not that I really mind.)
posted by hippybear at 11:03 PM on April 1, 2020

We performed a song of his in my university choir, and it was one of the most challenging and interesting and, in the end, satisfying things I've ever had to learn and sing.

posted by augustimagination at 11:12 PM on April 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

His use in Twin Peaks ep 8 caused a heated discussion about whether it counted as music or soundscape and whether there was a difference between the two. History does not record what became of the soundscape faction, but it is believed they eke out a meagre existance doing audio for walking simulators.
posted by Sparx at 11:17 PM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Penderecki's earlier music helped demonstrate to me just how purposeful & communicative screeching dissonance could be. In that vein, I'm fond of his String Quartet No. 2. Of his later work, the Concerto Resurrection for Piano and Orchestra is one of my favourites.
posted by misteraitch at 11:31 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Listened to most of the Concerto Ressurection...

Don't find it dissonant, but, although amazingly technical, just... whatever. Never been a fan of such. That pianist is amazing. But, non-harmonic to the extreme. Coming from a singing background, I have a hard time dealing with non-harmonic music. No one playing looked like they were enjoying playing it. They all looked to be working pretty hard. That being said...


For pushing the boundaries at least.
posted by Windopaene at 12:07 AM on April 2, 2020

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posted by grumpybear69 at 6:22 AM on April 2, 2020

RIP, a hugely influential composer. FWIW a lot of modernist composers made their bread and butter writing music for Hollywood films. Penderecki was just particularly good at it and became a horror movie cliche. It helped that he was featured early in The Exorcist and The Shining.
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I played "Auschwitz Oratorio" on the radio during my 1983 summer as a (paid!) DJ at my college's 10W radio station. It was not well received by that small audience. Cretins.

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posted by Coaticass at 9:53 PM on April 2, 2020


I saw him conduct his own Concerto Grosso for Three cellos with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra .

I usually sit with the plebeians in the free seats; but for this a friend of mine who is a supporter gave me his seats which were about 10 rows from the stage. This was the day I fell in love with the power, beauty and grace of Cello; and more importantly with post modern classical music. For that I will always be grateful for Krzysztof Penderecki. It led me to read The Rest is Noise and it has improved my appreciation for music in general.
posted by indianbadger1 at 11:38 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

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