The best works by Krzysztof Penderecki

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

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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) 

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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.