Krzysztof Penderecki died today, March 29, at his home in Poland. He was easily the most influential Polish composer of the 20th century (Gorecki is better known because of the popular success of his Symphony 3, while Lutoslawski’s contribution to the possibilities of composition were more singular and avant-garde). His Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima put his name onto the cultural map and is one of those rare pieces of serious and experimental art that, through the force and clarity of its emotional expression, burst through the boundaries of esotericism and into public consciousness.
Penderecki had an extensive career and in the end wrote far more music with the tonal and structural means of classicism and romanticism than he did works along the line of the Threnody. He has an impressive group of symphonies, and his St. Luke Passion is quite fine. For myself, I’ve listened to his chamber music more than anything else, it is compelling and beautifully made, especially the Sextet.
The best source for his discograpy is Naxos, which has had a major product of recording his catalogue, this 5 CD box of orchestral works is the single best Penderecki collection and is a superior value.
While this 4 CD box of his choral works also has fine music, including the St. Luke Passion, it’s not nearly as fine a bargain. I’m also a fan of this Hyperion CD which has his three String Quartets paired with Lutoslawski’s String Quartet.
Remember him with your ears.