The best works by Krzysztof Penderecki

Explore our selection of the late great Polish composer's finest pieces of choral, orchestral and chamber music

Published: March 30, 2020 at 10:32 am

St Luke Passion (1962-66)

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Penderecki’s epic work for three solo voices, narrator, three choirs, boys’ choir and orchestra is undeniably dramatic. Its power comes partly from a bold mix of styles, from the avant garde to its nods to the traditions of Bach and Palestrina.

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)

This nine-minute scream doesn’t make for easy listening, but its clusters, almost nausea-including pitch changes, and thudding pizzicato and knocking effects are frightening evocations of nuclear annihilation. Original and brave.

Symphony No. 7 Seven Gates of Jerusalem (1996)

The composer’s most ambitious symphony calls for tubaphones – percussion instruments made from gigantic horizontal pipes. Its Carmina Burana-esque opening gives way to music of great beauty, including the breathtaking choral De profundis.

String Quartets Nos 1 & 2 (1962/68)

Penderecki’s uncompromising chamber works explore the sonic capabilities of the quartet – bizarre but totally arresting, and important milestones in Polish music.

Violin Concerto No. 1 (1976)

Premiered by Isaac Stern, the First Violin Concerto marked a turn towards a more post-Romantic, almost modernist style. Frequently recalling Bartók, Penderecki inserts enthralling musical effects alongside a plaintive, soaring solo violin part.

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Authors

Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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