Krzysztof Penderecki, fot. Judyta Papp Krzysztof Penderecki

Born on November 23, 1933, in Dębica, Poland, Krzysztof Penderecki began studying composition under Franciszek Skołyszewski. He later studied at the Cracow Conservatory under Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz and graduated in 1958. He was then appointed as a professor at the Conservatory. Between 1966 and 1968, Penderecki was a lecturer at the Volkwang Hochschule für Musik in Essen, Germany. In 1968, he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Organisation — DADD. He was appointed rector of the Cracow Conservatory in 1972.

Krzysztof Penderecki's first public appearance on an international level was in 1959 at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. There he performed Strophen, one of three works for which he received first prizes at the 2nd National Young Composers Competition. The other two works were Psalms of David and Emanations.

In 1959, he composed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. For this, one of his best known and most often performed compositions, he received the UNESCO prize. This piece was followed by a series of success: in 1960 at the Donaueschinger Musiktage with Anaklasis, the following year with Polymorphia, Phonograms, and Psalm, and in 1966, St. Luke's Passion, the first major work of his career. This piece was commissioned by the West German Radio in Cologne to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Munster Cathedral in which the piece was first performed on March 30, 1966. On this day, Penderecki was reborn — the performance marked a turning point in his career making him the most acclaimed artist since Igor Stravinsky.

The following year brought the composition and performance of another major choral work, Dies Irae, known also as the Auschwitz Oratorio.

In 1968-69, Penderecki wrote his first opera, The Devils of Loudun, commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera where it had its world premiere in 1969. Since then, this work has been produced numerous times, has been broadcast, televised, and released on record.

Utrenya was Penderecki's next major work. The first part of this composition, The Entombment of Christ, premiered at the Altenberger Cathedral in 1970; the second part, The Resurrection of Christ, premiered one year later at the Cathedral of Munster. He then wrote another oratorial work, written in 1970 for the United Nations, the cantata Cosmogonia. The premiere was marked by the presence of presidents, royalty, and prime ministers, and the piece was lavishly praised as a brilliant and extremely original work. In 1971 he composed the De natura sonoris No. 2 for Zubin Mehta. The work is based on a piece of the same title, composed in 1966.

In 1972 Penderecki began his conducting career. Since that year, he has been seen on the podiums of the most important orchestras of the world.

In the years between 1972 and 1978, Krzysztof Penderecki was a professor at the Yale University School of Music.

Penderecki completed his Symphony No. 1 in 1973 and personally conducted the world premiere at Peterborough in England. In addition, he composed Canticum Canticorum Salomonis. And he wrote Magnificat, one of his most important works for bass solo, vocal ensemble, two mixed choirs, boy's choir, and orchestra. It was written to commemorate the Twelfth Centenary of the Salzburg Cathedral, and Penderecki himself conducted the world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 1974.

Penderecki's second stage work, Paradise Lost — the Sacra Rappresentazione is based on a libretto by Christopher Fry after Milton. It had its premiere at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on November 29, 1978. In January, 1979, Penderecki conducted a stage production of Paradise Lost at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and, having been invited by Pope John Paul II, gave a concert at the Vatican. The world premiere of Penderecki's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 took place in Basle in April, 1977 with Isaac Stern as the soloist. Zubin Mehta conducted the first performance of the Symphony No. 2 in New York on May 1, 1980, and also at the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals while touring Europe.

Te Deum, written in 1979/1980 for solo, choir, and orchestra, was conducted by Penderecki at its world premiere in Assisi during the summer of 1980. In 1981, it was performed in New York, Berlin, Warsaw, and Paris. On January 11, 1983, Penderecki conducted the premiere of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic with Mstislav Rostropovich as the soloist. It was followed by the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra which had its world premiere on July 24, 1983 in Caracas and by the Polish Requiem. The Requiem had its premiere on September 28, 1984 and was commissioned by the Würtemberg Radio and State Theater to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II. This major choral work has been in the programs of international concert halls since its debut.

The world premiere of Penderecki's third opera, The Black Mask, based on the play by Gerhart Hauptmann, was the focus of attention at the 1986 Salzburg Festival. It was immediately followed by performances in Vienna and the first U.S. performance took place at the Santa Fe Opera during the summer of 1988.

In March 1987 Penderecki's Song of Cherubim for a cappella choir was premiered at a gala concert given in Washington D.C. on the occasion of Mstislav Rostropovich's 60th birthday. Veni Creator, also for a cappella choir, was conducted by Penderecki himself when he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Madrid in April 1987. That same year, he received the Karl-Wolf Award from the Israel Wolf-Foundation.

In 1988 Penderecki received a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for his Concerto for Cello No. 2, M. Rostropovich as soloist, and recorded by ERATO. In November 1989, Lorin Maazel conducted Penderecki's Symphony No. 4, Adagio, commissioned by the French Government for the bicentennial of the French Revolution.

The premiere of Penderecki's fourth opera, King Ubu (based on Alfred Jarry), took place on July 6, 1991 at the Munich State Opera.

The premiere of K. Penderecki's Sinfonietta took place in Warsaw on February 16, 1992 with the Sinfonia Varsovia under the composer's baton. This work was performed again in May, 1992 by the musicians of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and, on the same day, in Seville during the World Expo '92. Another recent composition, Benedicamus Domino, for a male a cappella choir was performed for the first time in April 1992 at the Easter Music Festival in Lucerne.

Penderecki's Symphony No. 5 had its world premiere on August 15, 1992 in Seoul. In 1992 Penderecki finished his Flute Concerto dedicated to Jean-Pierre Rampal — the first performance by Jean-Pierre Rampal took place on January 11, 1993 in Lausanne with Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne under the composer's direction. In August 1992 K. Penderecki finished his BENEDICTUS for a cappella choir for Maestro Lorin Maazel. The premiere of Penderecki's Sanctus, the final part of the Polish Requiem, took place in November 1993 with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic.

In 1995 Penderecki finished his Violin Concerto No. 2 written for Anne Sophie Mutter. It was premiered in June 1995 In Leipzig with MDR Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. December 1995 witnessed the premiere of Penderecki's finished Symphony No. 3, performed in Munich with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer.

In December 1996 Krzysztof Penderecki completed his new work, Seven Gates of Jerusalem, which will close the celebrations of 3000 years of Jerusalem. Its world premiere was held on 9 January 1997 in Jerusalem. In February 1997 he was awarded the Crystal Award in Davos, Switzerland. The world premiere of Penderecki's Hymn to St. Daniil took place on 4 October 1997 in Moscow. The piece was commissioned by Channel Six of Moscow Television to mark the 850 years of Moscow. Penderecki's most recent work, the Hymn to St. Adalbert, was written to mark the millennium of Gdańsk and will be premiered on 18 October 1997.

The world premiere of Penderecki's new work, the Credo, took place in July 1998 at the Bach Festival in Eugene, Oregon. The European premiere will be held as part of the Krzysztof Penderecki Festival on 5 October 1998 in Cracow, Poland.

Penderecki is the principal guest conductor of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchester in Hamburg and the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester in Leipzig, and from 1992 the artistic director of the Casals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In September 1997 Krzysztof Penderecki became the musical director of the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra.

Krzysztof Penderecki

Prizes and Awards

1959 1, 2, and 3 prizes in the second competition held by the Polish Composers' Association for young Polish composers for his compositions Strophen (verses), Emanationen (emanations), and Aus den Psalmen Davids (from David's psalms).

UNESCO award for Threnody

1962 First prize in the composition competition in Cracow for Kanon (canon)

1966 Great Nord-Rhein Westhalia Art Award for St. Luke's Passion

1967 Prix Italia for St. Luke's Passion

Sibelius Gold Medal

1968 Prix Italia for Dies Irae

1970 Award from the Polish Composers' Association

1977 Gottfried von Herder Award from the W.v.s. Foundation, Hamburg

1978 Prix Arthur Honegger for Magnificat

1981 Médaille de la Ville de Paris

1983 Sibelius Award from the Wilhouri Foundation in Helsinki

1985 Premio Lorenzo Magnifico in Florence

1986 Stefania Niekrasz Medal from the Association of Polish Musicians Abroad

1987 Karl-Wolf-Award, art award from the Israeli Wolf-Foundation

1988 Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for his Cello Concerto No. 2, with Mstislav Rostropovich, conductor: K. Penderecki

1989 Manuel de Falla Gold Medal from Accademia de Bellas Artes, Granada

1990 Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

1992 Two Grammy Award nominations

  1. Grawemeyer Music Award (April 28)
  1. 16 X Tytuł Lidera Promocji Kultury Polskiej`95 oraz Złota Gwiazda Grand Prix Interpromu
  2. Pro Baltica, Toruń`95
  3. Crystal Award, World Economic Forum – Davos
  4. 3 V Nagroda TV Polonia za sławienie Polski i polskości
1998 Business Centre Club Special Award - Warsaw

Honorary Doctor Titles

Rochester University — February 1972

Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota — March 1977

Bordeaux University — May 1979

Louven University — February 1979

Georgetown University, Washington D.C. — November 1984

Belgrade University — April 1985

Madrid University — April 1987

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań — November 1987

Warsaw University — November 1993

Universidad Catolica, Buenos Aires — 1994

Academy of Music, Kraków — 1994

Academy of Music, Warsaw — 1994

University of Glasgow — 1995

Honorary Member

Royal Academy of Music, London — March 1974

Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome

Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm

Akademie der Künste der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Berlin

Akademie der Künste, West Berlin

Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

Académie Internationale de Philosophie et de l'Art, Berne — February 1987

Officier de l'Ordre de Saint Georges de Bourgogne, Brussels — April 1990

Membre de l'Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-lettres et Arts, Bourdeaux

Academia Scientiarium et Artium Europaea, Salzburg

Honorary Member of the City of Strasbourg Medal, Strasbourg, February 1995

Fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, 1995

Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1996

Honorary Professor at the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, February 1997

American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1998

Complete list of works (until 1997)


Devils of Loudun (1968/69)

Paradise Lost (1976/78)

Black Mask (1984/86)

Ubu Rex (1991)


Psalms of David (1958)

Strophes (1959)

Dimensions of Time and Silence (1959/61)

Cantata in honorem Alme Matris (1964)

St. Luke's Passion (1965)

Dies Irae (1967)

Utrenja (1969/71)

Utrenja II — Resurrection (1971)

Cosmogony (1970)

Canticum Canticorum (1970/73)

Magnificat (1973/74)

Introduction, Visions and Finale from "Paradise Lost" (1979)

Te Deum (1979/80)

Lacrimosa (1980)

Polish Requiem (1980/84)

Seven Gates of Jerusalem (1996)

Hymn to St. Daniil (1997)

Hymn to St. Adalbert (1997)



In pulverem mortis

Stabat Mater (1962)

Ecloga VIII (1972)

Agnus Dei (1981)

Song of Cherubim (1986)

Veni Creator (1987)

Benedicamus Domino (1992)

Benedictus (1992)

Agnus Dei from Versöhnung Messe (1995)


Emanations for two string orchestras (1958)

Epitaph "Artur Malawski in memoriam" (1958)

Anaklasis for percussion and strings (1959/60)

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)

Polymorphia for strings (1961)

Fluorescences for orchestra (1961)

Canon for strings (1962)

Three pieces in the baroque style for string orchestra (1963)

De natura sonoris I for orchestra (1966)

Pittsburgh Overture for orchestra (1967)

Prelude for winds, percussion and doublebasses (1971)

De natura sonoris 2 for orchestra (1971)

Symphony No. 1 for orchestra (1972/73)

Intermezzo for 24 strings (1973)

Jacob's Awakening for orchestra (1974)

Adagietto from the "Paradise Lost" for orchestra (1979)

Symphony No. 2 "Christmas" for orchestra (1979/80)

Symphony No. 3 (unfinished) — "Passacaglia"

Symphony No. 4 — Adagio for orchestra (1989)

Sinfonietta for orchestra (1990/91)

Symphony No. 5 for orchestra (1991/92)

Partita for orchestra (revised edition) (1991)

Symphony No. 3 (1995)


Fonogrammi for flute and chamber orchestra (1961)

Sonata for cello and orchestra (1964)

Capriccio for oboe and 11 strings (1965)

Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1967)

Cello Concerto (1967/72)

Partita for cembalo concertante, guitars (electric and bass), harp, d-bass and orchestra (1972)

Violin Concerto (1967/77)

Cello Concerto No. 2 (1982)

Viola Concerto (1983)

Flute Concerto (1992-93)

Violin Concerto No. 2 (1992-1995)


Capriccio per Sigfried Palm for cello solo (1968)

Capriccio for tuba solo (1980)

Cadenza for viola solo (1984)

Per Slava for cello solo (1985/86)

Preludium for clarinet (1987)

Divertimento for cello solo (1994)


Actions for jazz ensemble (1971)


Sonata for violin and piano (1953)

Songs for voice and piano (1955/58)

Due capricci for violin solo (1954)

Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1959)

Three Miniatures for violin and piano (1959)

String Quartet

String Quartet No. 1 (1960)

String Quartet No. 2 (1968)

Were You a Dream — songs for Voice and Piano (1981)

Der unterbrochene Gedanke for string quartet (1988)

Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio (1993)

Passacaglia (1995/96)

Larghetto (1997)


Psalm for tape (1961)

Death Brigade for tape (1963)

Ekecheiria for tape (1972)