Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki

Turning History into Avant-garde

"I did not live in easy times", says Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki in this rare interview. Having witnessed Auschwitz and the Stalin-period in the 1950's, Penderecki explains "I had to react with my music."

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), one of the world's most renowned contemporary composers, visited Copenhagen for the premier of his avant-garde opera "The Devils of Loudun" at the Royal Danish Opera. Originally written at the end of the 1960's, the opera was an outright critic of the role of the church in society, and it caused a lot of turmoil in catholic countries such as Poland, Italy and the southern parts of Germany.

Art played a vital role during a period where half of Europe was suppressed by the Communist ideology, Penderecki explains. Young artists defined themselves as being against systems and authorities. Influenced by historic events such as World War II and the occupation of Poland, the young generation of the 1950's chose to look forward and tried to shape something new. The artists who joined the avant-garde movement inspired each other cross borders, listening to each other, recognizing each other - but no more than that. "Artists do not need so much to be connected with a group, we build a group." Penderecki says, and goes on to explain: "All the artists i remember from the past, they were really lonely. Me too." Furthermore, Penderecki explains that his famous compositions, which have been used for Hollywood-productions such as The Exorcist and The Shining, were not written for those films, but was in stead adopted by them. Originally these experimental scores were composed in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Today though, the borders between avant-garde and mainstream music have become less clear, Penderecki says. Living in a free and open society, culture does not play the same role anymore, that it used to some decades ago. Thus Penderecki has rewritten "The Devils of Loudon" reducing the number of instruments played in the opera. "Which orchestra today is able to play a hundred voices", Penderecki asks.

Krzysztof Penderecki was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner.

Camera: Martin Kogi
Camera opera: Daniel Bødker Sørensen

Produced by: Martin Kogi and Marc-Christoph Wagner, 2013.

Music by Krzysztof Penderecki.

  • Jake and Dinos Chapman

    Hitler Turning in his Grave

    Death threats from neo-Nazis was just one of the many extreme responses to the English artist duo Jake and Dinos Chapman’s controversial and much debated exhibition of modified watercolours by Hitler. Hear their thoughts on the divisive project.

  • Daniel Lanois

    Advice to the Young

    “Should one be so lucky to find something they are good at, then pursue it with full passion, man.” Spot-on advice from one of the world’s most sought-after producers Daniel Lanois, who forwards wisdom from the legendary Brian Eno.

  • Joyce Carol Oates

    Speaking of the Devil

    “American history has a kind of tragic cyclical nature to it.” A thought-provoking interview with American writer Joyce Carol Oates, who ponders on how the concept of ‘devils’ has always been predominant in American society.

  • Klaus Rifbjerg

    A Little While Longer

    Klaus Rifbjerg (1931-2015) is one of the great masters of Danish literature. In this deeply personal and moving interview from 2013, the writer looks back on his life and literary career, reflecting on what it means to age – and to die.

  • Lars Norén

    Advice to the Young

    Lars Norén is widely regarded as the greatest contemporary Swedish playwright. We paid him an exclusive visit at his apartment in Stockholm to hear his advice for aspiring writers.

  • Alfredo Jaar

    Images are not Innocent

    "A million people were killed in 100 days under the criminal indifference of the world". In this interview artist Alfredo Jaar reminds us of the importance of images and why they are not innocent.

  • Einar Már Gudmundsson

    I Believe in the Question Mark

    Icelandic author and European intellectual Einar Már Gudmundsson – a widely known social commentator – muses on how storytelling has always played an important role in Icelandic society manifesting history and keeping memory alive.

  • Wangechi Mutu

    On The End of eating Everything

    Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, whom we met in her Brooklyn studio, here discusses her powerful animated short film ‘The End of eating Everything’ – a strong comment on how we disrespect the earth in our contemporary culture.

  • Ian McEwan

    On Spies

    British writer Ian McEwan shares amusing insider information about the British intelligence agency MI5 and MI6, which was given to him by the legendary author of espionage novels and former spy, John le Carré.

  • Junot Díaz

    Second-Person is Unbearable

    “For the record, your mother’s breasts are immensities, one of the wonders of the world.” Dominican American Junot Díaz gives a hilarious reading of a bawdy extract from his Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’.

  • Jeff Wall

    We are all Actors

    An enjoyable and philosophical conversation between the pioneering Canadian photographer Jeff Wall and Belgian Wall expert Thierry de Duve about how Wall works with people, places and variations of beauty.

  • Jeff Wall

    Pictures Like Poems

    Discover what inspires and motivates one of the modern masters of photography, Canadian Jeff Wall, who here discusses a selection of his impressive photographs and their often meticulous compositions.