Krzysztof Penderecki was born on 23 November 1933 in Dębica (Poland). He received violin and piano tuition at a very early age and entered the Conservatoire in Krakow when he was 18. From 1954, he studied composition with Artur Malewski and Stanislas Wiechowicz at the Krakow Academy of Music where he was subsequently appointed as professor in 1958. One year later, Penderecki won all three available prizes at the II Warsaw Competition for Young Composers. With the first performance of Anaklasis for 42 string instruments at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1960, he became part of the international avant-garde. Penderecki gained a reputation with a wider public with the premiere of the St Luke Passion in Münster Cathedral in 1966. The Polish composer taught at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen from 1966 to 1968. His first opera The Devils of Loudon based on a book by Aldous Huxley received its premiere at the Hamburg State Opera House in 1969. In 1972, Penderecki was appointed as rector of the State Academy of Music in Krakow and also taught at Yale University in the USA from 1973 to 1978. Penderecki gained an international reputation as the conductor of both his own compositions and other works.
Penderecki composed several of his works in remembrance of catastrophes in the 20th century. Threnos for 52 string instruments, composed in 1960, is dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the piano concerto Resurrection was composed as a reaction to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. For Penderecki, these associations in content are not merely an abstract concept, but also in their instrumental tonal colouring and dramatic sounds emotionally comprehensible for listeners. Extensive political-social associations can also be found in the Polish Requiem which he began in 1980 with the composition of the Lacrimosa which is dedicated to Lech Walesa. The composer dedicated other movements of this work to the Polish victims of Auschwitz and the Warsaw uprising in 1944. This was supplemented by the Ciaccona in memoriam Johannes Paul II in 2005 which commemorated the Polish Pope.
Numerous compositions from a variety of genres originated from direct cooperation with outstanding soloists including Anne-Sophie Mutter (2nd violin concerto Metamorphosen, among others), Mstislav Rostropovitsch (Concerto per violoncello ed orchestra no. 2) and Boris Pergamenschikow (Concerto grosso). The composer’s interest was focused on large-scale musical forms, in particular the symphony. Penderecki’s 7th symphony Seven Gates of Jerusalem received its first performance in 1997 demands the forces of five vocal soloists, narrator, three choirs and large orchestra. This work with a duration of just over an hour was composed under the title within the context of the 3000-year anniversary of the city. The Old Testament texts of the vocal parts have a close association with Jerusalem’s turbulent history. Entitled Lieder der Vergänglichkeit, his 8th symphony for soloists, choir and large orchestra sets text of German romantic poems related to trees and the woods to music. The work had been commissioned on occasion of the grand opening of the Philharmonie Luxembourg in 2005.
Penderecki is one of the musicians among his own generation to have received the most awards: in 1966 he received the Grand Art Prize from the federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia, in 1967 the Prix Italia and the Sibelius Gold Medal and in 1970 the prize from the Polish Composers’ Association. He also received the Prix Arthur Honegger (1977), the Sibelius Prize of the Wihuri Foundation, the National Prize of Poland (both in 1983), the Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico (1985), the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition (1992), the Prize of the International Music Council/UNESCO (1993) and the Music Prize of the city of Duisburg (1999), the Cannes Award as "Living Composer of the Year" (2000), the Romano Guardini Prize of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria (2002) and the Praemium Imperiale (2004). Since 1990 he has been holder of the Grand Cross for Distinguished Services of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and Chevalier de Saint Georges. In 1995, he became a member of the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin and in 1998 a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 2006, he was made Commander of the Three Star Order in Riga, Latvia and is a member of the Order of the White Eagle in Poland. Krzysztof Penderecki is honorary doctor and honorary professor of numerous international universities.