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Penderecki was born in Debica, Poland on 23 November 1933. His father, a lawyer, was a hobby violinist and introduced his son to music. Penderecki initially received violin and piano instruction and then was accepted to Kracow conservatory at the age of eighteen. Parallel to his music studies he entered the prestigious Krakow University to read philosophy and art-and-literary history. From 1954 he studied composition at Krakow State Academy. Upon completing his studies in 1958 he became professor at the music school.

In 1959 Penderecki won all three available prizes at the second Warsaw Competition for Young Polish Composers. Only one year later, in 1960, his Anaklasis for 42-string instrument premièred at Donaueschingen, Germany, and became an instant success. His international breakthrough came with the Stabat Mater for three mixed choirs a capella, which later became part of his St Luke's Passion (world première, 1966 in Münster Cathedral). The St Luke's Passion won the Grand Arts Prize of Nordrhein-Westphalia in 1966 and the Prix Italia in 1967. In that same year, Penderecki received the Sibelius Gold Medal. In 1968, he won the Prix Italia again, this time for his Dies Irae in Memory of the Auschwitz Holocaust victims.

Krzysztof Penderecki in Bamberg. Photo © Schott Archieve/Katarina Freiberger
Krzysztof Penderecki in Bamberg. Photo © Schott Archieve/Katarina Freiberger

He wrote several operas, including Paradise Lost (based on John Milton), which had its world première in Chicago in 1978. Between 1973 and 1978 Penderecki held the post of music professor at Yale University in New Haven, USA. During that time, he toured extensively, conducting his own and other composer's works. He is an extremely prolific composer whose output also includes some five symphonies, violin concertos, cello concertos, chamber music and vocal oeuvres. He has received numerous awards, including the 1985 Premio Lorenzo Magnifico and the 1992 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition (for ADAGIO -- 4 SINFONIE). In Europe, two of his most prestigious honours are the Grand Order of the German Republic and the Order de Chevalier de Saint Georges (1990). In 1992 he received the Austrian Honorary Award for Science and Culture. In 1993 the Institute for Advanced Study at Indiana University, Bloomington awarded him Distinguished Citizen Fellowship and in the same year he received the UNESCO Prize for Music and the Cultural Achievement Order of Monaco. Since 1995 he is a member of the Royal Academy of Music, Dublin. In 1995 and 1996 he received the Primetime Emmy Award of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in the USA and in 1998 the American Academy of Arts and Letters made him its Foreign Honorary Member. Penderecki holds honorary doctorates from many universities, including from the University of Georgetown, USA and the University of Glasgow and, since 1999, also from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Further information on his website at

Copyright © 5 May 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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