Henryk Mikołaj Górecki – in memorium

On the 12 November 2010 the Polish composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki  died leaving behind a broad range of compositions including choral music, string quartets but most importantly his symphonies.

Until relatively late in his life he was a virtual unknown in the west with very little of his music being played, that was until the release of his third symphony on CD.

The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by  between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki’s dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal later style. It was premièred on 4 April 1977, at the Royan International Festival, with Stefania Woytowicz as soprano and Ernest Bour as conductor.

A solo soprano sings a different Polish text in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament of Mary, mother of Jesus, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed by the Germans in the Silesian uprisings.  The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.

Until 1992, Górecki was known only to connoisseurs, primarily as one of several composers responsible for the postwar Polish music renaissance. That year, Elektra-Nonesuch released a recording of the 15-year-old symphony that topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States. To date, it has sold more than a million copies, vastly exceeding the expected lifetime sales of a typical symphonic recording by a 20th-century composer.

I was fortunate  enough to hear this symphony performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival some years ago when the composer was in the audience.

There are a number of recording available of this symphony and I have a love for the Dawn Upshawe / David Zinman recording but I recently found this performance on YouTube which is magnificent and the setting is the cathedral in Krakow with the composer present.

If this achingly beautiful music does not touch your emotions then you have no heart, no soul and no humanity……………sit back and let thus music sweep over you.

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