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A composer of influence

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki developed a new musical approach that made him enormously influential and popular in the 1960s. So popular, that you will probably have heard his music in films such as The Exorcist and The Shining.



Krzysztof Penderecki’s Sextet for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello, and piano was a rare feat for the composer, who normally wrote scores for large ensembles and orchestra. Penderecki’s composition is the highlight and grand finale of the chamber music concert, which will take the audience on an exhilarating avant-garde musical journey across two string quartets, three trios and a sextet.


The Polish composer and conductor, who died last year aged 86, was “an outstanding representative of musical modernism’s success in the 1960s,” reported The Guardian.


Penderecki’s father, a lawyer by profession, was also an amateur violinist and pianist. Although he was born in Poland, Penderecki had Armenian ancestry from his grandmother, who took the young Penderecki to an Armenian church in Kraków. Interestingly this aspect of the composer’s heritage played a poignant role in his choral work, Psalm No. 3, that commemorated the Armenian Genocide of 1915, at Carnegie Hall, New York.


Penderecki became increasingly popular in the late 1950s across European avant-garde circles, mainly in the fact that his music relied on sound, rather than on melody or harmony. This approach came to be known as “sonorism”.


The Polish composer soon came to be showered with awards, including a Unesco prize for his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), a very unconventional politically allied piece for massed strings, including quarter-tones, tremolos and multiple glissandi.


His works even made their way into popular culture. Parts of his opera Devils of Loudun (1969), his String Quartet and Kanon For Orchestra and Tape feature on the soundtrack to the film The Exorcist. His music can also be heard in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010).


To learn more about the programme, and to book tickets for the performance on July 3, click here.