Leading composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki has died at the age of 86 after a long illness, his family announced this morning.

The Polish-born Penderecki was a major figure in contemporary music whose compositions reached millions through celebrated film scores, which included for William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

Penderecki’s stated aim as an avant-gardist in the early 1960s was to “liberate sound beyond all tradition”, and his emotionally charged experimental 1960 work Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, for 52 strings, brought him to international attention and acclaim when he was only 26. Over a long career he has also written operas, choral works and concertos, and won multiple awards, including four Grammys, most recently for best choral performance in 2016.

One of his best known fans is Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who collaborated with the composer in 2012. “His pieces make such wonderful sounds,” said Greenwood. “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.”

Penderecki had been tested for coronavirus after his carer was diagnosed with the illness, but the composer’s result was negative, his daughter Beata Penderecka said.

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