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

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But then, opera had been his most troublesome genre. Even “The Devils of Loudun” (1969), his first opera and the most popular, got mixed reviews and two thumbs down from the Vatican, which tried in vain to keep the composer from going ahead with his interpretation of a 17th-century scandal in the church.

Credit…Matthias Rietschel/Associated Press

On the podium, Mr. Penderecki was a powerful, bearded figure who conducted with sweeping gestures befitting his music. Consider the mighty forces required for his heavily choral Seventh Symphony, subtitled “Seven Gates of Jerusalem,” written to commemorate the city’s third millennium in 1996. It calls for a huge orchestra, offstage brass and woodwinds, three choirs, five soloists and a narrator.

He seldom regarded his work as completely finished, adding new layers at will to old compositions. The Polish Requiem, for example, began with a single piece, the Lacrimosa, written for the unveiling of a statue at the Gdansk shipyard to honor those killed in the anti-government riots in 1970. He expanded it into a large-scale Mass, first performed in 1984; expanded it again in 1993; and in 2005 added a final Ciaccona in honor of Pope John Paul II.

Whatever the form of Mr. Pendercki’s music, darkness was a constant. The New York Times critic Bernard Holland, writing about a Carnegie Hall concert in 1986 with Mr. Penderecki leading his Cracow Philharmonic, called the composer “our most skillful purveyor of anxiety, foreboding and depression.” He found it strange that Shostakovich’s gloomy Sixth Symphony, the only work on the program not written by Mr. Penderecki, should end up being a leavening agent.

The composer’s personal circumstances, by contrast, were the opposite of dreary. Born on Nov. 23 1933, in Debica, in southeastern Poland, to Tadeusz, a lawyer, and Zofia Penderecki, he became a prosperous man, living in a manor house on 20 acres in Lutoslawice, Poland, that he lovingly developed as an arboretum.


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