Krzysztof Penderecki, Boundary-Breaking Polish Composer, Dies At 86 : Deceptive Cadence Known early on for his avant-garde works, the composer's challenging music nevertheless found fans far beyond traditional classical music circles.
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Krzysztof Penderecki, Boundary-Breaking Polish Composer, Dies At 86

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Krzysztof Penderecki, Boundary-Breaking Polish Composer, Dies At 86

Krzysztof Penderecki, Boundary-Breaking Polish Composer, Dies At 86

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the world's leading classical composers, Krzystof Penderecki, died yesterday. He was 86 years old. Penderecki was known for wildly dissonant compositions. Many of his works were featured in major Hollywood movie soundtracks to evoke suspense and drama. NPR's Tom Huizenga has this remembrance.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Penderecki became the young, hot bad boy of avant-garde music when he was still in his 20s. He was born in 1933. But already in 1960, he had an unlikely hit on his hands with a piece called "Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima," a piece for 52 strings that screeches and moans and howls.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLISH NATIONAL RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF PENDERECKI'S "THRENODY FOR THE VICTIMS OF HIROSHIMA")

HUIZENGA: And it's odd that such difficult music would have caught on and impressed and - let's face it - frightened so many people, including listeners far beyond the traditional classical circles. And I think that Penderecki was unique in that these early avant-garde works have kept his reputation alive and well all these years.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLISH NATIONAL RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF PENDERECKI'S "THRENODY FOR THE VICTIMS OF HIROSHIMA")

HUIZENGA: Most people probably know Penderecki's music without even knowing it. And that's because film directors have used his music in their films, like "The Exorcist" and "Shutter Island" and the TV series "Twin Peaks" and perhaps most spectacularly in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," with this music from the piece called "Utrenja."

(SOUNDBITE OF WARSAW NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF PENDERECKI'S "UTRENJA")

HUIZENGA: All bad boys, it seems, mellow out as they age. And this was the case with Penderecki, too, who became a conductor of fairly standard repertoire, although he always championed his own music. He learned to love trees, and he created an arboretum at his home, and he wrote music that, compared to the early works, sounds pretty mellow, like this "Polonaise" for orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF PENDERECKI'S "POLONAISE")

HUIZENGA: Penderecki once said music is just communication with people. He said, because that's the only way I can communicate easily. So I think it's very important to write music that people can understand. And I think he'll be remembered as a composer who could scare the liver out of you but also one to make you weep with gorgeous sounds and, maybe most importantly, someone who made us rethink the idea of sound in music.

CHANG: Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki died yesterday at the age of 86.

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