Polish composer Henryk Gorecki died today at the age of 76. Gorecki was one of Poland’s most prominent musical figures and, along with Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Englishman John Tavener, is widely credited with popularizing the “spiritual minimalism” strain of Postmodern era European music.

He is perhaps best known for his Symphony no. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1976). Fifteen years after its premiere, a Nonesuch CD recording of the work, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and conducted by David Zinman, became a best-seller in 1992, breaking into the mainstream charts in the UK and dominating US classical sales during that year.

While the composer has denied a direct program for the work, it’s frequently been linked with the experiences of the Polish people under German occupation during the Second World War; in particular, with the Holocaust. Below is a video excerpt of the symphony performed at Auschwitz, from a film commemorating victims of genocide during WWII.

7 thoughts on “RIP Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010)”
  1. later …

    Richard, the Osvaldo Golijov five-minute holocaust memorial Tekyah (2004) – commissioned by the BBC – is included on the full 90 minute film available at the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum shop – and perhaps elsewhere. Perhaps the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum has a copy of it. I can’t find it on YouTube, but perhaps someone who knows how to research video can do so.

    The 90 minute film was broadcast on European Union television on January 27, 2005.

    Golijov’s 2007 Chicago Symphony commission “Rose of the Winds” incorporates “Tekyah” in its closing – transposing the work from one for David Krakauer’s klezmer clarinet, Michael Ward-Bergeman’s accordion with sound processing, 3 trumpets, 3 horns, 2 trombones (also doubling on shofars), and 4 additional shofars; to one for Kayhan Kalhor’s kemancheh, strings, clarinets, and ten Chicago brass players blowing on shofars.



  2. Richard, here is the link for the credits for the James Kent film clip from the
    2005 co-production between the BBC, TVP (Poland), CBC (Canada), and ZDF (Germany).

    Besides soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian with the Sinfonietta Krakowia and Camerata Silesia conducted by John Axelrod, the concert included Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, the Lviv-born (then Poland) American pianist Emanuel Ax, soprano Kate Royal, mezzo-soprano Tove Dahlberg, and bass-baritone Gerald Finlay.


    The film includes music from the Jewish liturgy as well as works by Chopin, Górecki, Messiaen, Viktor Ullmann, and Bach.

    A new work for brass and shofars by Osvaldo Golijov was specially commissioned for the film. I don’t have time to look for it on YouTube — perhaps someone else does.


    In early January 2007, the evening train that my wife and I were riding in between Wroclaw (formerly Breslau, Germany) and Krakow slowed to less than 1 MPH for many minutes as we passed near the Auschwitz site, and perhaps that memory of the powerful sense of evil affected my dissatisfaction with the film clip ending with a graffito of a Jesus image with a Jesuit heart, rather than a picture of the actual graffito of the Zakopane, Poland inscription (the inspiration for the second movement of the Gorecki work), which I recall seeing in a book – as preserved under glass or plexi-glass.

  3. Oh dear! Much is devoted to “rabbiting-on” about Symphony #3 but what happened to Symphony #4?

    Marin Alsop was to have premièred that work in April with the London PO together with Turnage’s “Texan Tenebrae” and Glass’ “American Four Seasons” but, I quote from http://www.classicalsource.com:

    “It was supposed to be three premieres – a UK first for the Turnage, the Glass receiving its first outing in Europe and a world first in Górecki’s 4th Symphony. It didn’t happen. Henryk Górecki is ill and symphony hasn’t yet been completed. Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” took its place, this performance dedicated to the victims of the recent plane crash which claimed the lives of the Polish president and many high-ranking members of the government and the military.”

    No mention of that…


Comments are closed.