Henryk Górecki (1933-2010) was a Polish composer who is most known for his contemporary classical compositions. Initially however, Gorécki first made a name for himself in Poland as a leading participant of an avant-garde group of composers. During this time in his life, Górecki was strongly influenced by Webern, Stockhausen, and Penderecki. It wasn't until he composed his First Symphony in 1959 that he became internationally recognized. Following the output of his First Symphony, Górecki began to move away from radical modernism and instead embraced a more traditional form of composition. An example of his change in style can be seen in his Second Symphony written in 1972. Górecki's most popular and significant work however was his Third Symphony written in 1977.
Górecki's Third Symphony, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, provides a clear juxstaposition between the incredibly complex and the beautifully simple. This work is scored for solo soprano and orchestral accompaniment. Even though it was originally not intended to be a response to the war, this symphony is regarded as one of the most prominent post- World War II musical compostions in the world. Prior to composing this symphony, Górecki had gravitated towards "holy minimalism" or a western influenced style that incorporated minimalistic elements with a religious focus. Not only was this symphony written in remembrance of the Holocaust, but it also was intended to pay homage to the Polish people, culture and faith. The Symphony is composed of three seperate movements each featuring distinct Polish text sung by the solo soprano. Since Górecki writes this in a modal style, the overall mood of the symphony is rooted in the traditional elements of folk and church music ( ). The overall structure of this symphony is quite simple and subdued, though the text is gripped with sorrow and darkness. Each of the three dialouges represent a mother in despair. The first movement depicts Mary, mother of Jesus, lamenting at the foot of the cross. The second movement features text that had been inscribed on a cell wall in a Nazi prison camp. The inscription reads, "No, Mother, Do not weep. Most chaste Queen of Heaven, support me always. Ave Maria." The text and the melody used in the final movement are taken from a traditional Polish folk song depicting a mother in mourning over the loss of her son.
It is very interesting to observe the drastic shift is Gorecki's musical style when comparing his Third Symphony to his First Symphony. In roughly a 10-15 year span, Gorecki went from extremely radical and leading the avant-garde movement to a Western, expressive style, emphasizing rhythmic and harmonic simplicity.
After learning about the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, I was fascinated with how Gorecki chose to execute this huge composition. By choosing to symplify the melodic and harmonic texture, it allowed the text to have more presence and power. Also, the choice to use modality instead of tonality created a sense of reverence and tradition.
"Gorecki Symphony No. 3 'Sorrowful Songs'- Lento e Largo." Youtube video. Uploaded by PakoChile. Posted on Oct 13, 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miLV0o4AhE4&feature=kp
Thomas, Adrian. "Gorecki, Henryk Mikolaj." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. .[http:// <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/11478>. .]
"Words Accompanying Gorecki's Symphony no. 3 (in translation)." http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~felluga/holocaust/goreckilyrics696.html