i feel terribly sad to have just read the news on the Schott website that Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki has died today. Composers impact on our lives in unique and unpredictable ways, and for me, Penderecki’s music has been an omnipresence. When i was still at school, just at the point where i realised composition was the path opening up in front of me, it was with a collection of recordings and scores by Penderecki that i spent a lot of time (in hindsight, my school was absurdly blessed in terms of contemporary music). As a result, several of my earliest compositional experiments were inspired by the likes of De natura sonoris 1 and 2, Fluorescences, the first Symphony, the St Luke Passion and, of course, the Threnody. Fast forward to a few years ago while working on my PhD when, in order to elaborate on the nature and mechanics of some of my compositional techniques, there again was Penderecki, those same works (and others) now sublimated into a fundamental part of my musical language.
His music in more recent years didn’t connect with me as much as his earlier work, i have to confess – though even as i write that, i’m conscious that i’ve rather taken my eye off his output during the last decade, so it’s probably high time to explore those last compositions of his. But i will always be immeasurably grateful and thankful for the ways in which his music impacted on me at such a critical time, and continue to illuminate and invigorate me today. The way he was able to invent such radical, abstract modes of expression – much of it still sounding remarkably vital and fresh – and infuse them so effortlessly with enormous personal depth and feeling was unique and incredible. Contemporary music has lost one of its greatest and most fearless composers.