July 15, 2004

TOP OF THE POPS (via ef brown):

CD OF THE WEEK: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (#3) (Henryk Gorecki)

An unknown Polish composer, writing very dark, sombre music, based on deeply religious texts, in a style that does not have instant appeal, but demands the attention of the listener for almost an hour. Hardly the stuff to outsell Madonna and Britany.

And yet, that is what Henryk Gorecki's Symphony no.3 (The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) did. In 1993, a recording with Dawn Upshaw and the London Symphonietta topped not only the classical music charts, but the popular charts as well, and remains the best-selling album ever of music by a contemporary composer.

That any classical CD should sell so well is remarkable, but for a contemporary classical piece, full of such depth of feeling to sell over one million copies is unheard of.

And most surprised of all, perhaps, was Henryk Gorecki himself, who never set out to write popular music. He was part of the radical school of composers that included Szymanowski and Serocki who became known as the Polish school, known for their difficult, dissonant sound mass composition style. The group wrote music that dispensed with rhythm and melody and focussed only on tone color - and the harsher, louder and more jarring, the better.

But Gorecki was always an individual whose compositional style has changed with time. He came late to composition but eventually became the Professor of music at the university in Katowice. He studied in Paris, and was influenced by Webern, Stockhausen, and especially Messiaen, their music unavailable in communist-controlled Poland.

Gorecki's biggest source of inspiration, however, has always been his fervent Catholicism and his respect for his Polish cultural heritage, including folk and medieval texts. For Gorecki, music should always have meaning and message.

After the 1960's avant-garde period, Gorecki moved away from dissonance to consonance, away from harshness to harmony. In the 1970's he picked up on the minimalist movement in the west and fused all these ideas and influences into his unique voice.

Funny how once you actually start trying to communicate to listeners instead of tickling your own navel and those of fellow intellectuals you can move folks to tears.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2004 11:20 PM

I can't say that I enjoy Gorecki's 3rd, but there is something in that music that speaks to me on a deep emotional level. It seems that I'm not the only one.

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at July 16, 2004 10:37 AM