GORECKI: Symphony No. 3 / Three Olden Style Pieces (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Zofia Kilanowicz) (Naxos: 8.550822)
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Henryk Górecki (b. 1933)
Symphony No.3, Op. 36 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
Three Pieces in Olden Style
The Polish composer Henryk Górecki was born in Silesia in 1933 and studied at the Katowice Conservatory and in Paris with Olivier Messiaen. He has made his subsequent career largely in Katowice, where he was appointed as a member of the Conservatory teaching staff. He has won a number of important awards for composition both at home and abroad, but earlier successes have been eclipsed by the phenomenal popularity of his Third Symphony, which has had a much wider appeal than could have been forecast, in part because of the relatively approachable musical language in which it is couched and in part because of its peculiar relevance to the mood of today, its anxieties, sorrows and hopes.
Górecki's musical idiom has developed gradually into a language of great originality. In earlier years influenced by serialism, in common with many other composers, he later shows the more overt influence of Messiaen and above all a preoccupation with instrumental sonorities. His interest in earlier music, in devotional texts and music often of Medieval origin, coupled with a fascination with the resources of the modern orchestra is often evident.
The Third Symphony was written in Katowice between October and December 1976 and dedicated to Górecki's wife. It was first performed at the avant-garde Festival of Royan the following year. The first movement opens with a canon for strings, building gradually through the possible orchestral register, starting with the double basses and mounting in pitch and intensity, as each part enters in imitation. At the heart of the movement is the 15th century Polish Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery, in which the Mother of Christ begs her dying Son to speak to her. After this the canon resumes, descending, as before it had risen, in both pitch and intensity, slowly unwinding to end with the single melodic line, the cantus firmus with which the movement had begun.
The second and third movements of the symphony together are as long as the first movement. All three are marked Lento, but this direction conceals many nuances of tempo, delicate and subtle changes of pace. The second movement offers an immediate contrast to the sombre elegiac tone of the first. The words of the song are none the less tragic, a prayer scratched on the wall of a Gestapo cell by an eighteen-year-old Polish girl seeking the protection of the Queen of Heaven. The melodic line, with its accompaniment of clustered sonorities, is sad but lyrical in its gentle beauty, touching the heart of the listener in part because of its textual and historical source, to which the music adds even greater poignancy. A repeated motif introduces the third movement, with its folk-song in which a mother laments the loss of her son, whose body she now seeks, the insistent ostinato of the orchestra pointing a melodic line of the greatest simplicity. The symphony ends with an expression of hope, allowing the boy, killed by cruel enemies, to rest in peace, lulled by God's song-birds and surrounded by the flowers of God.
In 1963 Górecki wrote Three Pieces in Olden Style for string orchestra, combining elements of folk origin with more recent musical techniques. The three pieces, which in many ways suggest something of the mood and technique of the Third Symphony, open with music that gradually builds in intensity. A quicker second piece is followed by a final piece that echoes the mood of the first.
I. Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery (15th century)