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Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish Composer with Cinematic Flair, Dies at 86

In Other Minds News

Krzysztof Penderecki, a Polish composer and conductor whose modernist works jumped from the concert hall to popular culture, turning up in soundtracks for films like “The Exorcist” and “The Shining” and influencing a generation of edgy rock musicians, died on Sunday at his home in Krakow. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by Andrzej Giza, the director of the Ludwig van Beethoven Association, which was founded by Mr. Penderecki’s wife, Elzbieta.

Mr. Penderecki was regarded as Poland’s pre-eminent composer for more than half a century, and in all those years he never seemed to sit still. Beginning in the 1960s with radical ideas that placed him firmly in the avant-garde, he went on to produce dozens of compositions including eight symphonies, four operas, a requiem and other choral works, and several concertos he cheerfully described as being almost impossible to play.

Among those who could were the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, whose recordings of the concertos he wrote for them won Grammy Awards in 1999 and 1988, respectively.

Mr. Penderecki was most widely known for choral compositions evoking Poland’s ardent Catholicism and history of foreign domination, and for his early experimental works, with their massive tone clusters and disregard for melody and harmony. Those ideas would reverberate for decades after he himself had pronounced them “more destructive than constructive” and changed course toward neo-Romanticism.

“Listening to classical music is like reading philosophy books,” he said in an interview posted on a Polish website in 2015. “Not everybody has to do it.”

At the same time, he had a long perspective on the cyclical nature of tastes. “Music in the ’50s isolated itself from popular music and then slowly, step by step, I think it might have begun in films, it started coming back,” he said.

“They learn from us and, when it comes to reaching a larger audience, we learn from them. Used properly and wisely, everything is good.”

click for full NY Times obituary

click for NPR obituary

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