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In Memoriam Krzysztof Penderecki

Polish Cultural Institute New York presents a worldwide programme honouring the life and legacy of the Polish composer


During Winter and Spring 2021, Polish Cultural Institute New York is honoring the life and legacy of Krzysztof Penderecki. Leading into and beyond 29 March 2021, marking the one year anniversary of the death of Poland's greatest modern composer, Polish Cultural Institute New York in partnership with Crossover Media will be celebrating Penderecki's life and legacy. This will be in collaboration with terrestrial and online radio stations and media outlets, worldwide.

Winter - Spring Promotional activities include:

  • Interviews and commentary with musicians and colleagues.
  • Real time broadcasts and rebroadcasts of Penderecki In Memoriam concert events and the concerts from the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw - festival organized by Elżbieta Penderecka and broadcast by Polskie Radio II.
  • Penderecki discography will be made available for radio and online airplay and editorial review, throughout Winter/Spring 2021.
  • Penderecki Podcast will present a multifaceted portrait of the composer with commentary from musicians, colleagues, radio programmers, writers and historians who can lend insight into and memories of the great composer.

The novel and masterful treatment of orchestration by Krzysztof Penderecki - born 23 November 1933 in Debica, Poland, died 29 March 2020 in Kraków - won worldwide acclaim. Penderecki first drew attention in 1959 at the third Warsaw Festival of Contemporary Music, where his Strophes for soprano, speaker and ten instruments was performed. The following year was marked by the performances of both Anaklasis and the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for fifty-two strings. The Threnody illustrates Penderecki's skilled and refined treatment of instruments, making use of quarter-tone clusters - close groupings of notes a quarter step apart, glissandi (slides), whistling harmonics (faint, eerie tones produced by partial string vibrations) and other extraordinary effects. The techniques used in Threnody were extended to his vocal work Dimensions in Time (1961) and his operas The Devils of Loudun (1968) and Paradise Lost (1978).

Penderecki's Psalms of David (1958) and Stabat Mater (1962) reflect a simple, linear trend - letting interwoven melodic lines predominate and determine harmonies - in his composition. The Stabat Mater combines traditional and experimental elements and led to his other well-known masterpiece, the St Luke Passion (1963-66). In form, the latter work resembles a Baroque passion, such as those by Johann Sebastian Bach, and Penderecki makes use of traditional forms such as the passacaglia - a variation form, a chantlike freedom of metre, and a twelve-tone row - ordering of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale - based on the motif B flat-A-C-B (in German notation, B-A-C-H) in homage to Bach.

Penderecki's Canon for 52 strings (1962) made use of polyphonic techniques (based on interwoven melodies) known to Renaissance composers. Yet he also made some use of the techniques of aleatory (chance) music, percussive vocal articulation, non-traditional musical notation and other devices that stamped him as a leader of the European avant-garde. His later works include the two-part Utrenja (Morning Prayer, 1969-71), Magnificat (1973-74), Polish Requiem (1980-2005), Cello Concerto No 2 (1982; 1998 Grammy Award), the opera Ubu Rex (1990-91) and the choral work Phaedra (2002).

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki

In addition to composing steadily, Penderecki taught composition and conducting. His collected essays, an interview and other writings were published in Labyrinth of Time: Five Addresses for the End of the Millennium (1998). In 2004 he received the Japan Art Association's Praemium Imperiale prize for music.

Further information:

Posted 29 January 2021 by Zachary Swanson





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