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Krzysztof Penderecki, Influential Polish Composer, Dead at 86

Conductor’s works featured in The Shining and The Exorcist

Krzysztof Penderecki, the influential Polish composer whose work featured in 'The Shining' and 'The Exorcist,' has died at the age of 86.

Diego Azubel/EPA/Shutterstock

Krzysztof Penderecki, the influential Polish composer and conductor whose work featured in The Shining and The Exorcist, has died at the age of 86.

The Ludwig van Beethoven Association, founded by Penderecki’s wife, Elzbieta, confirmed to the Associated Press that Penderecki died at his home an Luslawice, Poland following “a long and serious illness.” Poland’s Ministry of Culture added that Penderecki was “one of the greatest Polish musicians,” noting that his death was “a great and irreparable loss.”

An avant-garde composer who exploded onto the classical music world in the 1960s with works like Polymorphia, St. Luke’s Passion and Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Penderecki is considered the godfather of the modern horror movie score: His pieces have been deployed in The Shining, The Exorcist, Shutter Island and numerous David Lynch projects, including Twin Peaks: The Return, Inland Empire and Wild at Heart, each utilizing Penderecki’s spasmodic, shrieking strings to add surprise and dread to their respective scenes.

Among Penderecki’s many honors, the composer won four Grammy Awards, first in 1987 for Best Contemporary Composition and, most recently, in 2017 for Best Choral Performance for his Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, Volume 1. Penderecki was also awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize in Arts in 1987.

In recent years, Penderecki’s works gained the attention of rock fans after the composer collaborated with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, resulting in a joint album featuring their versions of Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and Polymorphia, as well as Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver and a variations on Polymorphia.

“His pieces make such wonderful sounds,” Greenwood told The Guardian in 2012. “I think a lot of people might think his work is stridently dissonant or painful on the ears. But because of the complexity of what’s happening – particularly in pieces such as Threnody and Polymorphia, and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you’re there. It’s not like listening to feedback, and it’s not dissonant. It’s something else. It’s a celebration of so many people making music together and it’s like – wow, you’re watching that happen.”

In 2019, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and composer Henryk Gorecki released Symphony of Sorrowful, featuring Penderecki conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Greenwood tweeted Sunday, “What sad news to wake to. Penderecki was the greatest –  a fiercely creative composer, and a gentle, warm-hearted man. My condolences to his family, and to Poland on this huge loss to the musical world.”