The Kabbalah of Krzysztof Penderecki — a Christian composer with a Jewish soul

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki

by Seth Rogovoy


World-renowned Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki – widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the last half-century — died on Sunday, March 29, at the age of 86.

While you may have never heard of Penderecki, you almost definitely have heard his music, and probably more than once. Penderecki has been a favorite of filmmakers for decades, especially those whose work, like his own, tend toward the moody, enigmatic, and horrifying. Directors who have used selections from Penderecki’s classical songbook include Stanley Kubrick (“The Shining,” “2001: A Space Odyssey”), William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”), and David Lynch (“Inland Empire, “Wild at Heart,” TV’s “Twin Peaks”). Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” featured Penderecki’s Symphony No. 3 and “Fluorescences.”

Although Penderecki was not Jewish, and a vast portion of his work addressed Christian themes (he was brought up in the Armenian church), over the course of his career, Penderecki wrote pieces that were overtly Jewish both thematically and musically, many based upon Biblical themes, Jewish liturgy, and the Shoah.

As it turns out, this deeply Christian composer may have also plumbed the depths of the Jewish soul.








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