Saturday, November 13, 2010

Henryk Górecki

The passing of Henryk Górecki announced yesterday came as quite a surprise, mainly I suppose because he hadn’t crossed my mind in the last ten years.

Górecki had a rather incredible success in the early Nineties with his Third Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), which set ancient Polish melodies to texts that formed a symphonic memorial to the Holocaust victims.

The piece enjoyed a huge explosion of international popularity –– on concert stage, FM radio, CD recordings, New Age and space music shows, and generally in any venue which required a funereal presence or solemnity. The London Sinfonietta recording made the soprano Dawn Upshaw internationally famous, and the work also appeared as background music in films.

Orchestras next scrambled to see if the composer had written anything else of consequence; then there was a falling off of interest, and the sparse, basically non-contrapuntal, chordal music style of composition which was generally taken to represent spiritual profundity became associated rather with the work of John Tavener, Arvo Pärt and others.

So it was interesting to suddenly recall all this upon reading news of the composer’s death, and I went to my favorite online radio station at * and quickly found a lovely performance of the entire piece by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. I suppose it will always remain the most celebrated musical requiem composed for the Holocaust, but today I heard it instead as a requiem for its composer.

* You have to type in the composer's name where it says ZOEK in the upper right corner.