Friday, November 12, 2010

Slow, Sad, and Beautiful

Sad news to report -- Henryk Górecki, the Polish composer whose Second Symphony "Copernican" we've already written up, has passed away at 76 after a fight with prolonged illness. You can read more here, here, and here.

Górecki deserves a special tribute here, as somehow, against all odds, his Third Symphony "Sorrowful Songs" (1976) managed to defy the "Unsung" assumption for late 20th Century Symphonies -- the 1992 Elektra-Nonesuch recording with soprano Dawn Upshaw sold an unprecedented number of copies for a contemporary classical work, spawning 12+ rerecordings (!) and angering critics who mistook the symphony's glacial floes of grief and memory for simple monotony. All this popularity perplexed the supremely modest composer, of course. Hearing past the hype is not something we're used to asking at this blog (symphonic hype? we wish), but Górecki's Third really deserves to be heard with fresh, attentive ears.

Heartbreakingly, Gorecki never completed his Fourth Symphony, a work that was scheduled for first performance earlier this year by the London Phil, only to be cancelled because of his illness. Given that 
Górecki's compositional output slowed to a minuscule dribble in his later years, the importance of this work will be all the greater - that is if it eventually is completed by someone else and premieres posthumously (rest assured, we will cover it).

So many of 
Górecki's compositions are laments that it is almost impossible to single out a particular work to leave you with. So we'll go with the obvious choice and offer his Third. Here is the gargantuan aeolian canon based a hybrid of two Polish songs, "Oto Jesus umiera" and "Niechaj bendzie pochwalony" that grows to such an agonized climax before giving way to Upshaw's vocals on a 14th Century Polish Marian lament "O my son, beloved and chosen, Share your wounds with your mother..."

1 comment:

  1. One of my all-time favourite symphonies, hype or not. RIP maestro.

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