Henryk Górecki
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Silesia is a land steeped in traditions of its multicultural heritage: Polish, Czech and German.  Polish culture has exhibited a
wonderful diversity of folk art that thrived for centuries without boundaries. In Poland's thousand year old history, it has been the
minorities which have contributed to much to Poland's cultural treasures. Poland created yet again another cultural icon whose
name is Henryk Gorecki.

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki
was born December 6, 1933 in the village of Czernica (Silesian Voivodeship) in southwest Poland. He lived with his
parents in modest comfort, and enjoyed a musical environment. His father Roman (1904-1991) was an amateur musician, while his mother
Otylia (1909-1935), played piano. She died when Henryk was only two years old. (Many of his early works were dedicated to her memory.)
Henryk's interest in music developed from an early age despite efforts by his father and stepmother to discourage him. They went so far as
to forbid him to play his mother's old piano, but he persisted nonetheless. In 1943 he was finally permitted to take violin lessons with Pawel
Hajduga; a local amateur musician, instrument maker and chłopski filozof (peasant philosopher).

In 1945, Górecki fell while playing in a neighbor’s yard and dislocated his hip, causing suppurative inflammation.  It was misdiagnosed by a
local physician and it led to tubercular complications in the bone.  Gorecki's condition was neglected and after two years permanent damage
had already been sustained. He was hospitalized in Germany for twenty months and underwent four operations.  He has suffered il health
throughout his life and had said that  he has "talked with death often".

From 1951 to 1953, Gorecki taught 10 and 11 year olds at a school near Rydultowy (southern Poland). He began training to be a teacher at
the Intermediate School of Music in Rybnik and there studied clarinet, violin, piano, and music theory. He finished the four year course in just
under three years, and during that time began to compose music, mainly songs and piano minatures.  From time to time he worked on more
ambitious projects: in 1952 he adapted the Adam Mickiewicz ballad Świtezianka, but it was never finished. Times were hard, especially for a
composer. Teaching posts were grossly underpaid, and manuscript paper was expensive and difficult to obtain. Gorecki kept up to date with
music.  Though he had no access to radio, he purchased weekly periodicals such as Ruch muzyczny (Musical Movement) and Muzyka.

During the post-Stalin era  he became a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde. His Webernian-influenced serialist  works of the 50s and 60s
were characterized by an adherence to dissonant modernism, and was inspired by Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Krzysztof Penderecki
and Kazimierz Serocki. He followed this direction for several years but by the mid-70s changed to a less complex sacred and minimalist
sound.  This transition was evident in Symphony No. 2 and the highly acclaimed Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).  His style
continued to develop and is recognizable at each stage. Works such as his 1979 Beatus Vir, to the choral 1981 hymn Miserere,   the 1993
Kleines Requiem für eine Polka and his recent requiem Good Night.

Between 1955 and 1960, Górecki studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice  He continued his formal study of music at the
Katowice Academy of Music under the direction of composer Bolesław Szabelski, who was  a former student of the renowned composer Karol
Szymanowski. Górecki was later to follow Szabelski, finding inspiration from Polish highland folklore. Gorecki was schooled in a neoclassical
reading of counterpoint and motorics, at a time when he was also learning the rules of twelve-tone serialism. He graduated from the Academy
with honours in 1960.   

In 1957, the State Philharmonic in Katowice held a concert devoted to Gorecki's music. It led to a commission for him to write for the Warsaw
Autumn Festival, in which he composed the Epitafium (Epitaph).  It marked a new stage of his development and was described as "the most
colourful and vibrant expression of the new Polish wave."  Gorecki quickly became a favorite of the West's avant garde musical elite.

Górecki wrote his First Symphony in 1959, and graduated with honours from the Academy the following year. At the 1960 Warsaw Autumn
Festival, his Scontri, written for orchestra, caused a sensation among critics due to its use of sharp contrasts and harsh articulations. By
1961, Górecki was at the forefront of the Polish avant-garde, having absorbed the modernism of Anton Webern, Iannis Xenakis and Pierre
Boulez, and his Symphony No. 1 gained international acclaim at the Paris Biennial Festival of Youth. Górecki moved to Paris to continue his
studies, and while there was influenced by contemporaries including Olivier Messiaen, Roman Palester, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

In 1968, he joined the faculty and in 1975 was promoted to Professor of Composition at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, where
his students included Eugeniusz Knapik, Andrzej Krzanowski and Rafał Augustyn.

At about this period of time, Gorecki felt that the Polish Communists authorities were interfering too much in matters concerning the Academy
and described them as "little dogs always yapping".  He was in almost perpetual conflict with them in his efforts to defend the Academy, its
staff and student from undue political influence.  He finally resigned in 1979 in protest at the government's refusal to allow Pope John Paul
II to visit Katowice.  He formed a local branch of the "Catholic Intellectuals Club"; whose objective was the struggle against the Communist
Party. He was politically active throughout the 70s and 80s.  In 1991, he composed his Miserere  in remembrance of the police violence
against members of the Solidarity movement.

Gorecki had long been considered a remote and fiery personality.  He was one of the few composers who ignited a postwar renaissance in
Polish music.  He composed his Third Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs to commemorate those murdered in the Holocaust. Fifteen
years later it was recorded with soprano Dawn Upshaw, and released for distribution.  It became an international success, both critically and
commercially and sold more than a million copies. No other 20th-century composer had ever exceeded it during a lifetime of recordings.
The sudden popularity caught Gorecki by surprise and he stated that "Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music […]
somehow I hit the right note, something they were missing. Something somewhere had been lost to them. I feel that I instinctively knew what
they needed."  However, Gorecki's other works did not receive the same widespread attention. He resisted the temptation to repeat his
his earlier successes, as he did not  want commercialism to be his motivation.

Gorecki spent much of his life living in southern Poland, though he studied briefly in Paris, and resided in Berlin for a short time. The scope
of his music has been largely religious.

Górecki's music represents varying styles, but tends to focus on harmonic and rhythmical simplicity. He is considered to be a founder of the
so called New Polish School. His first compositions in the latter part of the 1950s, followed the avant garde style of Pierre Boulez others of
that genre. From the late 60s and early 70s, Gorecki began to compose more along traditional, romantic modes of expression and less as a
radical modernist. This change was taken as an affront by the avante garde establishment and by the mid-70s Gorecki's  work was regarded
with indifference.  According to one critic, his "new material was no longer cerebral and sparse; rather, it was intensely expressive,
persistently rhythmic and often richly colored in the darkest of orchestral hues".

In 1968 he began to lecture at the Academy of Music in Katowice teaching score-reading, orchestration and composition. Four years later he
was promoted to assistant professor. By then he developed a reputation that struck fear in the hearts of his pupils, who were frequently the
subject of his blunt comments.  According to the Polish composer Rafał Augustyn, "When I began to study under Górecki it felt as if someone
had dumped a pail of ice-cold water over my head. He could be ruthless in his opinions. The weak fell by the wayside but those who
graduated under him became, without exception, respected composers". Górecki admits, "For quite a few years, I was a pedagogue, a
teacher in the music academy, and my students would ask me many, many things, including how to write and what to write. I always answered
this way: If you can live without music for 2 or 3 days, then don't write…It might be better to spend time with a girl or with a beer…If you
cannot live without music, then write.” Gorecki's poor health, combined with his commitments as a teacher meant that he composed only
intermittently during this period.

By the early 1970s, Górecki had begun to move away from his earlier radical modernism, and was working towards a more traditional,
romantic mode of expression. His change of style affronted the avant-garde establishment, and although various Polish agencies continued
to commission works from him, Górecki ceased to be viewed as an important composer. One critic later wrote that "Górecki's new material
was no longer cerebral and sparse; rather, it was intensely expressive, persistently rhythmic and often richly colored in the darkest of
orchestral hues". Górecki progressively rejected the dissonance, serialism and sonorism that had brought him early recognition, and pared
and simplified his work. He began to favor large slow gestures and the repetition of small motifs.

In 1972, Gorecki composed The "Symphony No. 2, 'Copernican', Op. 31" (II Symfonia Kopernikowska) to celebrate the 500th anniversary of
the birth of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. The monumental work was arranged for solo soprano, baritone, choir and orchestra, and
featured text from Psalms no. 145, 6 and 135 as well as an excerpt from Copernicus' book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. It was
composed in two movements, and a typical performance lasted 35 minutes. The symphony was commissioned by the Kosciuszko
Foundationin New York.  It presented Gorecki with the opportunity to reach an audience outside of Poland.   By the mid-1980s, he began
to attract international attention, and in 1989 the London Sinfonietta held a weekend of concerts featuring Gorecki's music alongside that of
Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. In 1990, the American Kronos Quartet commissioned and recorded his First String Quartet, Already It Is
Dusk, Op. 62. It marked the beginning of a long musical collaboration between the quartet and Gorecki.

In 1973, Górecki's most popular work was the "Third Symphony", also known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" (Symfonia pieśni
żałosnych). The work is arranged in three movements, for orchestra and solo soprano.  The libretto for the first movement is taken from a
15th century lament,  the second movement uses the words of a teenage girl, Helena Błażusiak, which were written on the wall of a Gestapo
prison cell in Zakopane to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary.  The third movement uses the lyrics of a Silesian folk song about the pain
of a mother searching for a son killed in the Silesian uprisings.  The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent
who lost a child while the second movement is about a child separated his parent.

More recently his work included a 1995 commission for the Kronos Quartet entitled "Songs Are Sung", and "Concerto-Cantata" (written in
1992 for flute and orchestra) and "Kleines Requiem für eine Polka". Both "Concerto-Cantata" and "Kleines Requiem für eine Polka" were
recorded by the London Sinfonietta and the Schoenberg Ensemble. The work "Songs Are Sung" was Gorecki's third string quartet,
commissioned in 1992 and was inspired by the poet Velimir Khlebnikov.  It took him almost thirteen years to finish it. When asked why it took
that long, his reply was, "I continued to hold back from releasing it to the world. I don’t know why."

Gorecki's Symphony No. 4 was scheduled to premiere in London in 2010 but the event has been cancelled due to the composer's ill health.

Critical Opinions

Critics and musicologists often compare Goreck's work with composers such as Olivier Messiaen and Charles Ives. Even Gorecki has
admitted that he shares a kindred spirit with composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Joseph Haydn, but shares a closer affinity towards Franz
Schubert, in regards to tonal design and treatment of basic materials.  Since Górecki's distanced himself from serialism and dissonance in
the 1970s, he is often compared to composers such as Arvo Pärt, John Tavener and Giya Kancheli. The term "holy minimalism" has been
used to describe these composers who shared propensity towards a simplified approach to texture, tonality and melody. (But, none of these
composers has admitted to common influences.)


" I do not choose my listeners. What I mean is, I never write for my listeners. I think about my audience, but I am not writing
for them. I have something to tell them, but the audience must also put a certain effort into it. But I never wrote for an audience
and never will write for because you have to give the listener something and he has to make an effort in order to understand
certain things. If I were thinking of my audience and one likes this, one likes that, one likes another thing, I would never know
what to write. Let every listener choose that which interests him. I have nothing against one person liking Mozart or Shostakovich
or Leonard Bernstein, but doesn't like Górecki. That's fine with me. I, too, like certain things."

Górecki received an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia University, in  Montreal, Canada.  Concordia Professor Wolfgang Bottenberg
described him as one of the "most renowned and respected composers of our time", and stated that Górecki's music "represents the most
positive aspects of the closing years of our century, as we try to heal the wounds inflicted by the violence and intolerance of our times. It will
endure into the next millennium and inspire other composers". In 2008, Gorecki received another Honorary Doctorate from the Music
Academy in Krakow. At the awarding ceremony a selection of the composer's choral works was performed by the choir of the city's
Franciscan Church.
Musical Compositions

Four Preludes, Opus 1, piano (1955)
Toccata for two pianos, Opus 2
Three Songs, Opus 3 (1956)
Variations for violin and piano, Opus 4
Quartettino, Opus 5, mixed ensemble
Piano Sonata No. 1, Opus 6, piano
Songs of Joy and Rhythm, Opus 7, piano and orchestra
Sonatina in One Movement, Opus 8, violin and piano
Lullaby for piano, Opus 9 (1956, revised 1980)
Sonata for two violins, Opus 10 (1957)
Concerto for five instruments and string quartet, Opus 11, mixed ensemble
Epitafium, Opus 12, chorus and ensemble (1958)
Five Pieces, Opus 13, piano duo (two pianos or piano four hands) (1959)
Symphony No. 1 “1959”, Opus 14, full orchestra
Three Diagrams for solo flute, Opus 15
Monologhi, Opus 16, soprano and ensemble
Scontri, Opus 17, full orchestra (1960)
Diagram IV for solo flute, Opus 18 (1961)
Genesis I: Elementi, Opus 19, string ensemble
Genesis II: Canti Strumentali, Opus 19, mixed ensemble
Genesis III: Monodramma, Opus 19, soprano and ensemble (1963)
Choros I, Opus 20, string orchestra (1964)
Refrain, Opus 21, full orchestra (1965)
Musiquette 1 for two trumpets and guitar, Opus 22 (1967)
Musiquette 2, Opus 23, mixed ensemble
Old Polish Music (Muzyka Staropolska), Opus 24, full orchestra (1969)
Musiquette 3, Opus 25, viola ensemble (1967)
Cantata for organ, Opus 26 (1968)
Canticum Graduum, Opus 27, full orchestra (year?)
Musiquette 4, Opus 28, Trombone Concerto, mixed ensemble
Ad Matrem, Opus 29, chorus and orchestra (1971)
Two Sacred Songs, Opus 30
Symphony No. 2 “Copernican”, Opus 31, chorus and orchestra (1972)
Euntes Ibant et Flebant, Opus 32, chorus a cappella
Two Little Songs for choir, Opus 33 (1972)
Three Dances, Opus 34, full orchestra (1973)
Amen, Opus 35, chorus a cappella (1975)
Symphony No. 3 “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, Opus 36, soprano and orchestra (1976)
3 Little Pieces, Opus 37, Violin, Piano
Beatus Vir, Opus 38, chorus and orchestra (1979)
Broad Waters, Opus 39, chorus a cappella
Broad Waters, Opus 39, Mixed Voices
Harpsichord Concerto, Opus 40, harpsichord and orchestra (1980)
Mazurkas for piano, Opus 41
Two Songs, Opus 42
Blessed Raspberry Songs, Opus 43, solo voice (unspecified) and piano
Miserere, Opus 44, chorus a cappella (1981)
“Wieczór ciemny się uniża” for a capella choir, Opus 45 (1981)
My Vistula, grey Vistula, Opus 46, chorus a cappella
Lullabies and Dances for violin and piano, Opus 47 (1982)
Songs to words by J. Słowacky, Opus 48 (1983)
Lullabies, Opus 49, Mixed Voices (1984)
"Ach, mój wianku lewandowy, for a capella choir, Opus 50
"Idzie chmura, pada deszcz" for a capella choir, Opus 51
Sundry Pieces for piano, Opus 52 (1956–1961)
Lerchenmusik, for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Opus 53 (1986)
Recitatives and Ariosos “Lerchenmusik”, Opus 53, mixed ensemble
Five Marian Songs, Opus 54, chorus a cappella (1985)
“O Domina Nostra”, Opus 55
“Pod Twoją obronę” for a capella choir, Opus 56
Na Aniol Panski, Opus 57, chorus a cappella
For You, Anne-Lill, Opus 58, flute and piano (1986)
Aria, Opus 59 mixed ensemble
Totus Tuus, Opus 60 (1987)
“Przybądź Duchu Święty” for a capella choir, Opus 61 (1988)
Already it is Dusk, Opus 62, string quartet (1988)
Good Night, Opus 63, soprano and ensemble (1990)
Quasi una fantasia, Opus 64, string quartet (1991)
Concerto-Cantata for flute and orchestra, Opus 65 (1992)
Kleines Requiem für eine Polka, Opus 66, mixed ensemble (1993)
…songs are sung, Opus 67, string quartet
Salve, sidus Polonorum, Opus 72, chorus and ensemble
Little Fantasia, Opus 73, violin and piano
Five Kurpian Songs, Opus 75, chorus a cappella (1999)
Lobgesang, Opus 76, chorus a cappella
Quasi una fantasia, Opus 78, string orchestra
Dla Jasiunia, Opus 79, violin and piano
The Song of Rodziny Katynskie, Opus 81, chorus a cappella

source: Wikipedia and  http://www.classical-composers.org/comp/gorecki

Interview with Henryk Gorecki (1994)