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SYFY WIRE obituary

Krzysztof Penderecki, composer whose music was used in The Shining and Children of Men, dies at 86

By Josh Weiss
Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki, the acclaimed Polish composer whose original instrumental music was used in such genre films as The Exorcist and The Shining, has died at the age of 86. Even if his name doesn't sound all that familiar, you've almost certainly heard his work in a famous movie before.

According to the New York Times, Penderecki passed away at his home in Krakow earlier today. The unfortunate news was reportedly confirmed by Andrzej Giza, director of the Ludwig van Beethoven Association—a group founded by Penderecki’s wife of over 50 years, Elzbieta.

Born in Dębica in 1933, Penderecki studied at Krakow's Academy of Music before becoming a maestro of radically avant-garde compositions that gained him global notoriety in the 1960s. Throughout his illustrious career, he wrote "eight symphonies, four operas, a requiem ... and several concertos he cheerfully described as being almost impossible to play," writes the NYT.

"The 1960s were a time of cultural revolution in Poland. And I was a part of that revolution. For me, those years – the late 1950s and early 1960s – were the most fruitful," he once remarked to

Krzysztof Penderecki

While not known as a traditional movie composer, Penderecki's singularly atmospheric and cacophonous works attracted filmmakers looking to ramp up elements of suspense, horror, and thrills in their onscreen projects.

A perfect example is Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining in 1980. The iconic film's score is mainly a curation of non-original tracks like Penderecki's "De Natura Sonoris No. 1" and "Utrenja (Kanon Paschy)," both of which sonically connote the evil stirrings at the Overlook Hotel.

"When Kubrick called me about The Shining, it was very strange," Penderecki said in 2010. "He first asked me to write music for his film, but I instead gave him suggestions about some of my pieces. I told him about 'The Awakening of Jacob,' which he did use in The Shining. It was written as a sacred work, so it’s scary how well it works in the movie during very eerie moments."

In another instance, 1960's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" (an ominous, string-based ode to the victims of America's nuclear attack on Japan at the end of World War II) would end up prominently featured in both Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return.

Elsewhere, the foreboding "Symphony No.3 Passacaglia - Allegro Moderato" was utilized extensively in Martin Scorsese's Hitchcockian take on Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island in 2010.

Even Black Mirror co-opted a number of Penderecki-composed songs for its Season 4 episode "Metalhead" in 2017.

"My music is rather abstract and maybe even strange-sounding for some people, so maybe that’s why it’s been used in so many horror movies and thrillers," the composer added during the above-mentioned interview in 2010.

Penderecki is survived by his wife, Elzbieta, and three children, Lukasz, Dominika,  and Beata. The latter was from a previous marriage.